Campaigners from the group Save the Parish today celebrate one year since the formation of their group.
One year ago today, the Rev’d Marcus Walker gathered members of the Church of England at his church in London. With an audience of over 200 in person and thousands online, he, alongside the Rev’d Prof. Alison Milbank and the Rev’d Stephen Trott launched a campaign for General Synod, with people committing to stand under the banner “Save the Parish.”
Since then, the campaign has enjoyed several victories, with STP supporters elected to General Synod, a considerable shift in CofE language towards parishes, all culminating in a well-attended conference in York, with the Archbishop of York in attendance.
Today, STP celebrates the progress that has been made in the space of a year and looks ahead to the future.
In a comment on the year anniversary of STP, The Rev’d Marcus Walker said: “Save the Parish has had a blinder of a year. Just to think, this time last year, no-one in the CofE hierarchy was seriously talking about the importance of the Parish system and dioceses were getting away with huge re-organisation efforts unchallenged.
“In just a year we’ve been able to go from nothing to a thriving movement that is seeking change from top to bottom and seeing results.
“We’ll continue to increase our efforts and expand STP until the Parish system is protected and central to the mission of the Church. We aren’t going anywhere.”
At the start of the Save the Parish movement, those standing for Synod stood under the banner pledged to resist plans to redirect money away from parochial ministry, and resist any further centralisation of power and authority away from parishes and towards dioceses and the central church.
Save the Parish quickly achieved success in its election campaign, with over 150 parish-supporting new synod members elected across the country.
At the same time, Save the Parish and its volunteers worked to turn what was a loosely organised call to action into a multi-faceted campaigning organisation- with aims, objectives, and a plan to take the CofE to task in print, on the airwaves, and on social media.
STP enjoyed another success earlier this year, when it was announced that significant funds from the Church Commissioners would be unlocked to fund grants for parishes.
Whilst STP had, and continue to have, serious questions about the availability and selection process of these grants, they recognised the significant change in the direction of travel of the Church of England because of their campaign, as well as the pro-parish campaigning of others.
The Archbishop of York Stephen Cottrell said at the time: “I don’t think we need to be embarrassed by saying we’ve learned, we’ve listened, we’ve changed our mind.”
Speaking at the time, Admiral Sir James Burnell-Nugent (of STP) said: “It is very pleasing that rural and small parishes will be able to apply for the new funding, having been deliberately excluded from the previous three-year round.
“The proof of the pudding will be whether these new funds are genuinely accessible in a way that eases the huge burden of the parish share which is a struggle for so many parishes.”
Next on the horizon for STP was to plant their flag at General Synod. They had already been working within Synod to build further support for the Parish movement. So, in July, they decided to host a conference in York the day before the General Synod session began.
STP attracted over 100 attendees to their event at All Saints’ Pavement in the city centre, which hosted the Archbishop of York Stephen Cottrell after a last-minute change to the running order.
The Rev’d Canon Giles Fraser grilled the Archbishop for almost an hour, taking questions from the audience in a packed church.
Archbishop Cottrell joined the conference for lunch, then was taken to task about “cuts to stipendiary posts, the distribution of the Church Commissioners’ millions, and deep distrust between the Church’s centre and the parishes,” as Madeleine Davies wrote in a recent Church Times article about the conference.
Jacob Groet, one of the event organisers, said at the time: “STP is less than a year old, and in that time, we’ve been able to host two events at opposite ends of the country that have attracted large groups of attendees. That’s not because we have any special ability as event organisers, but because of the immense love people feel toward their parishes.
“We hate seeing our parishes struggling, seeing them close and be merged into oblivion. The reason events like these are so successful is because they talk about what the Archbishops and the dioceses don’t. If they continue to ignore these issues, I think we will need to find a bigger venue!”