Talk given by Professor Canon the Rev. Alison Milbank at a Save The Parish meeting for MPs and supporters in the House of Commons on 25 Apr 2023.
Why do parish churches matter? Why, whatever your own or your constituents’ faith background, should you care?
Government figures obtained by the National Churches Trust showed the amazing figure of 55billion pounds in social benefit by churches every single year, and Church of England parishes account for a good proportion of that.
And another report by ResPublica found that 81% of regular Anglican worshippers are involved in faith based social service projects.
And what is particular to parish social support is that it is first, universal, in every community, because of the parish system. And secondly, it is stable and long-term, there when other time-limited projects end.
So how do we help? Well in supporting people affected by the cost of living crisis we have food-banks, parish food and clothing cooperatives, groups to teach cooking and share food, community cafes, parish allotments
We support people into work with over half our churches offering debt advice. Some parishes offer computer access and training, skills training like this repair and ride workshop and migrant support and integration, language classes and friendship groups.
We do lots to prevent social isolation and support communities. This East London choir is trained in school by the church organist and also sing in care homes regularly. The parish nurse scheme offers holistic care. Parishes cover social housing estates and offer leadership development. I could go on and on
So we offer benefit to the whole community. Our second massive task is maintaining the world-class collection of historic churches, 12,200 of which are listed. 45% of the top grade 1 listed buildings in the country are parish churches. In other European countries like France the communes maintain their historic churches but in Britain, the heroic lay volunteers do it all.
But Anglican mission policy is moving away from geographical provision, which is for everyone, to a more gathered model. In the new resource churches, there is no provision of funeral and bereavement ministry, whereas a local vicar was up last week at 3 a.m. with a dying baby.
Parishes are being asset-stripped, amalgamated, closed. And what will that mean?
We lose that social benefit and who will now pay? Replace that service?
Poorer parishes in a Manchester study were found to be twice as vulnerable to closure and they NEED that community support.
Tourism accounts for 9% of GDP and between 35 and 50 million people visit parish churches annually.
Upkeep of redundant churches, which are often hard to sell, will fall on the state-supported Churches Conservation Trust. Again, who will pay to keep our national treasures from crumbling to dust?
75% of non-churchgoers wanted churches open for reflection during Covid. Religious or not, we all need peace for our mental health.
Taken to church for the first time by his uncle, William Habergham told him,’ as we get older (he was 28!) wellness is a big thing with us, both physical and mental. The Church has all these beautiful old buildings and rituals, which can aid mental and spiritual wellness.
We all need the parish. They are our inheritance. Don’t let them disappear under your watch, when, as Sir James will now demonstrate, there is an alternative to asset-stripping.