Parish priests like me operate at the coal face: we baptise; we marry; we bury; we console where we can. This is the work of the Church of England at the micro-level.

Where the Church does not have a compelling presence is at the national level, the macro level. It is here that there has been a complete lack of engagement, of witness, of imagination.  As entities, it’s 42 ‘dioceses’ (regional structures) have no practical or spiritual traction or presence.

They are failing institutions… and failing at great cost to the parishes. Without effective national witness, work at the parish level has been made far harder.

The 42-diocesan structure invariably means there is a huge and costly amount of replication. Nowhere is this more apparent than within the marketing and comms teams. Coming from a marketing and communications background myself before being ordained, it became immediately obvious to me how completely inept and immature the diocesan communications teams are.  A pack of poodles doing the Bishop’s bidding – and what the Church of England has ended up with is 42 inward-facing communications strategies, all of which are preaching to the diminishing choir.

The salt in the wound, here, is that the parishes are paying for this desperately poor service  (Diocesan costs are added into the ‘parish share’ bills for the provision of clergy).

Just go online.  Here is the evidence for who owns, and more importantly is contributing to, the current spiritual and religious narrative within the UK:

  • On YouTube, a year ago, Richard Dawkins tells a theology student his degree is useless: 659,000 views
  • Russell Brand discusses religion on Facebook: 952,000 views
  • Stephen Jenkinson talks about the meaning of death: 143,000 views

Now let’s have a look at how the leadership of the country’s main religious organisation, the Church of England, is performing:

  • The Archbishop of Canterbury’s address to the Anglican Communion: 4,000 views
  • The Bishop of Exeter’s Easter message: 62 views
  • The Bishop of Chichester’s Christmas message: 57 views
  • The Bishop of Reading (Oxford diocese) talking about COP26: 21 views
  • The Bishop of Truro’s ‘driving home for Christmas’ homily: 5 views

It is important to point out that each diocese separately employs paid communications advisers.  Google for example ‘Oxford diocese communications’ and you will find that it has a team of five. What is needed, instead, is in effect one national working creative department, whose staff understand how to communicate ideas and strategies at the macro level.

I have been a parish priest for nearly 30 years and, over that time, it has become increasingly obvious that the diocesan structures have become parasitic, feeding off and weakening the parishes. Forty-two dioceses, 112 Bishops, these ‘birds that cannot sing’.

Essay by Revd Peter Owen Jones: Parish priest, author and broadcaster

Categories: Essays

11 Comments

Annie · 11 April 2022 at 8:45 am

Thank you, this is so painfully accurate. My heart aches for the Parish priest at, as you say, the coal face. Praying for you all. xxxx

Daniel French · 11 April 2022 at 8:51 am

Well said Peter! The irony is that three Vicars podcasting for Irreverend can hit the number one spot and get a huge mail bag – mostly of new converts! Another output that is tanking is the weekly livestream which is has less viewing figures than my daughters TikTok account. But, I bet nationally it costs a fortune to make.

Ben Lovegrove · 11 April 2022 at 3:54 pm

I took at look at the Archbishop of Canterbury’s address to the Anglican Communion video on YouTube. There’s very little search engine optimisation applied to it so the chances of it being found through searches on YouTube or on Google are much less than they could be. The comms team could easily learn some basics that would at least give the videos a better chance of ranking higher in search results and as those videos on the right that are suggested to those viewing other videos. I have placed a link in the website field of this comment to a free guide. Please contact me if you want any free advice. I’m not trying to sell anything.

    Emma Thompson · 12 April 2022 at 8:17 am

    Thank you for your kind and helpful input; and for caring. Regrettably, and I hate to sound so cynical, our experience is that free advice from volunteers with relevant experience and proven track records falls on deaf ears. They seem to prefer to pay out donated money in salaries for poor advice, while cutting front line clergy.

      Emma Thompson · 12 April 2022 at 8:41 am

      P.S. ‘A volunteer is worth ten pressed men’

Rich Hall · 11 April 2022 at 7:56 pm

The leadership of the church aren’t actually remotely Christian. Rather they’ve given up on Christianity and worshipping the golden calf that their high priests Thunberg and Attenborough have fashioned, and the leadership has jumped on the band wagon. One only needs to look at Welby’s idiotic comments at COP26 to see this man is in no sense a Christian.

Rob · 12 April 2022 at 1:28 am

I think a national comms strategy/team is an excellent idea.

Anthony Smith · 12 April 2022 at 9:27 am

For what it’s worth, the Bishop of Truro’s “Home for Christmas” video now has 8 views – in the version shared by Sharfkin Media, that is – and 781 views – in the version shared by Truro Diocese. That’s all on YouTube. 240 on Facebook.

It could be that your figures are not entirely accurate.

    Emma Thompson · 13 April 2022 at 1:34 am

    Thank you. Will pass that on to Peter. However, your figures still serve to illustrate Peter’s point about who is driving the religious narrative in relative terms. All his points stand.

    rob dillingham · 25 April 2022 at 1:53 pm

    bishop of chichester had 3000 views on his christmas message

Archbishop Cranmer · 11 April 2022 at 1:41 pm

[…] on the ‘Save the Parish‘ website by the Rev’d Peter Owen Jones entitled ‘These birds that cannot sing‘, which observes the “complete lack of engagement, of witness, of imagination” of […]

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