Emma Thompson describes the Conference held by STP on 6th July 2023 in York before General Synod

SUNDAY 9TH JULY 2023 11.00AM


“Save the Parish” celebrates the success of its second York Summer Conference: “The Church in Action: Parish at the Heart of Our Communities”


Campaign group Save the Parish (“STP”) [Notes 1 and 2] on Thursday 6th July held a summer conference, the day before the latest General Synod meeting began in York.


The event was held at St Lawrence Parish Church, York’s largest parish church.  It attracted over 100 attendees from around the country.


Emma Thompson of STP, summing up the day, said:

“Our conference highlighted the role and value of churches ‘in action’.  There are many more lay people in our churches than clergy and STP naturally has many lay supporters.  Yet STP now appears to be attracting more overt support from courageous clergy.  They seem relieved to feel not alone in thinking that new schemes, to put parish clergy into more itinerant “oversight” roles, are not what they were ‘called’ to do.  Unfortunately, Church leaders’ promotion of these new schemes have undermined people’s self-confidence in what Anglicanism stands for to such an extent that they are losing motivation and hope.  By restating the value of the parish church’s clergy and people in action in local communities, STP is reasserting the value of what it is they think they are there to do.’



Revd Marcus Walker, chair of STP, in his opening remarks, said that STP has “raised the profile of parish ministry in England”.   The genius of the parish system is that it is not top-down, but each community knowing how best to serve its community.

At the last General Synod meeting, STP managed to achieve its first change to church law.  At this Synod, a big proposal which STP is launching is to reallocate funding, out of the investment income from the Church Commissioners, to the poorest parishes.  [Note 3]  

The independent Chote Report in 2022 found that projects previously supported by grants from this source, then described as “Strategic Development Funding“, delivered very poor resultsTo borrow from Einstein, Revd Marcus said, the sign of madness is to keep doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results!  So the “SMMI” funding  as it is now called needs allocating more effectively. 



Rachael Maskell MP, the first speaker and a member of the Ecclesiastical Committee having oversight of Church legislation in Parliament, quoted the Bishop of Bristol telling Parliament that “parish churches are vital to the flourishing of their communities” [Note 4].  Ms Maskell quoted a diocese employee who had commented: “Flog everything that moves because it’s people which matters”.  Ms Maskell, disagreeing, spoke of the identity which place gives us.  She asked: “Why would we accept the removal of the asset (the church building) and our identity?”  She commented: “What the Christians of North Korea would give for the set-up we have!  Have hope that your parish church is so important to your community.”   Ms Maskell advised parishioners to use their MPs, who can ask 20 written questions a day.  “Tell MPs what representation YOU feel is necessary.”



A parishioners’ forum gave grassroots volunteers the opportunity to speak powerfully in the presence of Ms Maskell of the value they place on the longstanding localised system of ministry and their distress at the way in which resources are being taken away from parish ministry.  Those who spoke included Neil Wallis from Truro diocese, who said:

“Church life in Cornwall faces irreversible changes – for the worse – due to restructuring plans known as On The Way being pushed through by Bishops and Archdeacons of the Diocese of Truro. In one deanery – Kerrier – the final approved plan calls for just two priests to be in charge of 23 separate and widespread churches. By default, many of the churches in this historic area will face closure: who will nurture congregations to keep them open?  Churchwardens, treasurers, church council members, lay readers, ordinary parishioners and even non-churchgoers across the county are now fighting back and saying ‘no’ to their bishops and archdeacons.”

[Note 5]



Eddie Tulasiewicz of the National Churches Trust reminded us of its “House of Good” report on the huge social care value of churches.  Church buildings are our heritage and we “can’t have a warm space on the internet… you need a building”.   Tasmin Little and Ed Sheeran started  their musical careers in a church!  Rural churches are sometimes it’s the only place people can gather. The NCT is doing new research into the work of parish churches in combatting loneliness.



A panel of parish clergy (Revd Oliver Coss from Peterborough diocese, Revd Arwen Folkes from Chichester diocese, Revd Tom Woolford from Blackburn diocese and Revd Daniel Valentine from Manchester diocese), chaired by Prudence Dailey MBE, was then asked to address questions.

Revd Daniel Valentine spoke of his anger that £7.5m had been spent on opening a ‘resource church’ 400m away from his church.  Manchester had been turned into seven ‘Super Area deaneries’ and deans – “SADs”! – and this had been an unmitigated disaster. The lay people he ministers to do not have the confidence or skills to do what it is they are now being asked to do – but nobody is listening!

Revd Tom Woolford said he felt worse than angry: disappointed, He asked why we have lost confidence in the parish.  Rootedness has long been an integral part of Anglicanism. In Tom’s diocese, Blackburn, the bishops have been committed to maintaining clergy numbers – so when they saw the league tables for post-Covid recovery Blackburn was at the top (Manchester was at the bottom).

Revd Arwen Folkes said sha had been a curate in Truro in a huge united benefice.  People were actually ‘hungry’ for the sacrament but were being ignored when they told the Church what sustains them.  Everything seemed upside down – the clergy incumbent was in a study doing all the admin behind a desk – and trying to train lay people to do their job!   She asked how clergy can be expected to provide all the support those lay people need and called for the Church Commissioners to release money for admin support so that clergy were free to do job. Revd Arwen said that the demands of the diocese were getting ever more bureaucratic.  Her combined two parishes receive a £120,000 demand for parish share! – they can’t afford it.

Revd Oliver Coss said he felt supported but not “invested in”.  When would it be the parishes’ turn for funding, parishes which were only just about coping, especially in poor areas.  “Investment” in people needs to be long term – trust is a really important thing for the Church at the moment.  Laying more responsibility on lay people can be crushing; and parish vicars are becoming “line managers”.



Final speaker Revd Fergus Butler-Gallie encouraged his audience to see STP as a theological exercise.  “God,” he said, “is not an ‘absentee landlord’ but was made flesh as a particular person in a specific place and time.   In doing that, God makes sacred a particular place and time; so, we can’t say that the glories of God can happen anywhere – no, it has to be somewhere.   Our job is now to convince the CofE that our ‘somewheres’ matter – each is a Bethlehem, a Nazareth, a Jerusalem.”  Revd Fergus trained in Liverpool, which was proud of its difference.  Parishes “do not have identikit parishioners” but “your somewhere can make it clear that it is part of the Kingdom of God” in all the classic ways: feeding the hungy, welcoming the stranger, visiting the sick, burying the dead…

The parish keeps you sane and rooted.  Revd Fergus has been an itinerant priest until recently and found it is disastrous for prayer life.

He advised his listeners to try to keep the Church of England here in your parish and argue against the attempt to “mush” particular roles, rip clergy out of rootedness and send them to “check in” on people.  Asked why he thought that the bishops promoted an alternative to the parish, he commented that many of the current bishops don’t believe in rootedness. Almost none came to faith in their parish church.  If you have never been in an ordinary parish, in a happy and healthy parish culture, you don’t know how it works.

He quoted from John Keble: “Should the Church of England fail, it will be found in my parish”.  The CofE is shaped around the parish system because it works!


The day ended with a choral evensong, with music by local singers.


“As Danny Kruger MP commented to STP on 7th July:

‘The Church of England’s plans to allow bishops to merge or abolish local parishes without the consent of parishioners is a bad trend, an echo of all the failed centralisations of the last 50 years that make British public services so bureaucratic and out of touch. The new spirit of the age, which the Church needs to catch up with, is localism, trust, and ‘power to the people’. The best approach is not to centralise but localise – empower the front-line, trust the vicars and PCCs, maintain the presence of the Church of England in the places where people live.’”



For further information:

Contact Emma Thompson of STP 07712 903059





Notes to Editors:


1) Save the Parish is a grassroots campaigning organisation, established in August 2021, whose goal is to push for reform for a Church of England that puts parishes at its core with clergy, financial security, and local strength. It operates a multi-faceted media, online, research-based, and electoral campaign to bring about this change.


2) Save the Parish was formed at an in-person event in London in 2021. There, organisation chairman The Revd Marcus Walker brought supporters together to rally for parish- supporting candidates to be elected to General Synod.  Save The Parish seeks a rebalancing of resources of all kinds – clergy, finance and  support for church buildings – towards parishes.


3) N.B. This proposal was the subject of a separate press release distributed by Revd Marcus Walker on 7/7/23.

This opportunity comes thanks to an opening created by the Archbishops’ Council bringing a motion (GS2314) to discuss ‘revitalising’ parishes. The relevant Synod debate will be held on Monday 10th July: see GS2314 here: https://www.churchofengland.org/sites/default/files/2023-06/gs-2314-revitalising-the-parish.pdf .  An amendment [See earlier press release, 7 July, for wording] is being presented by Revd Marcus. 

Re SMMI funding: https://www.churchofengland.org/about/vision-strategy/funding-strategic-mission-and-ministry


4) Bishop of Bristol quote here: https://churchinparliament.org/2023/01/17/levelling-up-bill-bishop-of-bristol-raises-concerns-about-support-for-parish-churches-and-housing-development/  Rachael Maskell MP has raised the importance of the parish in Parliament, through leading on an amendment to the Levelling Up and Regeneration Bill. This drive for recognition of the pariah system’s value was supported by STP which seeks to clarify that Parish Councils can legally provide funding to support parish church buildings.

Rachael Maskell MP‘s comments at STP’s conference can be summarised as follows: Ms Maskell set out the enormous importance of the parish church as the centre of mission, worship and community; a place where all can gather together and see needs met. Before buildings are discussed, the church must understand how it must fulfil its purpose.  The parish system ensures the ‘cure of souls’ the length and breadth of the land, giving focus to the ministry of the church in reaching out to all in the community, from its living hub, the parish church. Ms. Maskell went on to say that it is hard to see how the centralisation of the church’s decision-making, including that of property ownership, can deliver the necessary understanding or priorities of local communities. This has been made far more challenging by increasing the number of churches which share a vicar, as vicars end up stretching themselves between their many churches and communities. Ms Maskell, a former union representative for faith workers, told the conference: “The impact on clergy wellbeing is significant as they are stretched further to provide ‘service’ to an increasing number of people, and this then impacts the wellbeing of both community and clergy.” 


5) Why STP had the parishioners’ forum:

“Whenever STP hosts a gathering,” comments STP’s Admiral Sir James Burnell-Nugent, “we are struck by the testimony of people from parishes across the country, who discover that their problems (such being left for long periods in vacancy (vicarless)) are shared and widespread. They comment that their common experiences point to the existence of a national plan to “reimagine’ ministry in a way which will destroy any sense of localism and sense of the parish as a community, with its own vicar as a local community leader dwelling among the people”. 


6) Eddie Tulasiewicz is head of communications and public affairs at the National Churches Trust, which works to keep churches open and in good repair.   Eddie spoke passionately about the economic and social value of church buildings which provide a ready-made, efficient network of support which benefit local communities and the whole of the UK.  His talk referenced the findings of his organisation’s report “The House of Good”, last updated in 2021.  Using Treasury Green Book principles, the report attributed a staggering financial value of £55bn per annum to the social care provided by the UK’s parish churches (many Anglican) and their volunteers, including contributions to wellbeing and local economies.  This is roughly twice the total spend on adult social care by local authorities. Churches, Mr Tulasiewicz is fond of saying, are “not only Houses of God, but Houses of Good – good that we will risk losing if church buildings are not kept open, good that we may never be able to replace.  Each time a church closes, the good done by the volunteers who run foodbanks, drop in centres for socially isolated and the many other support services provided thanks to churches is lost. Every church matters, which is why it is so important that they receive the financial support needed from Government and others to keep them in good repair and with modern community facilities such as loos, kitchens and serveries.” 


7)  The Revd Oliver Coss is Rector of All Saints Northampton and Rural Dean of Northampton, in the Diocese of Peterborough 

The Revd Arwen Folkes is Rector of East Blatchington and Bishopstone, East Sussex, in the Diocese of Chichester and a member of the General Synod’s House of Clergy.  Revd Arwen was quoted in this article: https://www.churchtimes.co.uk/articles/2021/17-september/features/features/the-love-affair-with-the-parish-has-it-ended

The Revd Dr Tom Woolford is Vicar of New Longton in the Diocese of Blackburn, a Tutor in Theology at Emmanuel Theological College and a member of the General Synod’s House of Clergy

The Revd Daniel Valentine is an employment law solicitor, Priest-in-Charge of St Matthew with St Mary Crumpsall in the Diocese of Manchester and an honorary chaplain at Manchester Cathedral and a member of the General Synod’s House of Clergy

Prudence Dailey MBE is a member of the Steering Committee of STP and has been a member of the General Synod’s House of Laity since 2000.


8) The Rev’d Fergus Butler-Gallie is a clergyman and author, curate in Liverpool and held positions in London and Kent. He is the vicar designate of Charlbury in the Diocese of Oxford.


9) A recording of the event will go up on STP’s website savetheparish.com in due course. 


10) Photograph of the event are available from emma.c.thompson@btopenworld.com




Georgina Denison · 12 August 2023 at 4:26 pm

An excellent summary of a brilliant and encouraging day

Christopher Whitfeld · 13 August 2023 at 12:59 pm

Thank you. Good to hear so much said with which so many will empathise.
Here in Shillingstone, in rural Dorset, we are now part of a benfice of 4 parishes with 5 churches, 4 PCCs, 2 CoE primary schools. We are “cared for,” if that’s possible, by a part-time (3 days a week) priest-in-charge who lives 4 miles away (with his wife who is vicar of the nearby town of Sturminster Newon). Our own church is in the process of a much-needed, nearly £400,000 re-roofing job. When I asked at a PCC meeting what help could be expected from the Church Commissioners I was told, simply, none!
The downward spiral is the same as elsewhere: Single village parish with own Rector, to benefice of 5 or more parishes, to “group ministry” and probably quite soon to team ministry with “hub” in nearby town and “flying clergy” many of them retired and giving vountarily of their time and talent, to in the not-too-distant future closure of many village churches.
Is this what synods, bishops and archbishops want?

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