MEGA-PARISHES AND PARISH MERGERS
1 Q: Our diocese has put forward proposals for amalgamating our benefice with others. Can we refuse the proposals?
A: Yes, you can refuse to accept this ‘mega-parish’ model.
The evidence shows that amalgamating parishes drives decline (please see ‘From Anecdote to Evidence’ in the Studies section of our website: https://www.churchofengland.org/sites/default/files/2019-06/from_anecdote_to_evidence_-_the_report.pdf).
Please arm yourselves by reading our Parish Pack: https://savetheparish.com/parish-pack/ and How To Object: https://savetheparish.com/how-to-object-to-pastoral-reorganisation-proposals/ and circulate both to your PCC members.
2 Q: How can I check the diocese’s financial arguments for cutting clergy and merging parishes?
A: Dioceses often claim that relatively small financial deficits justify huge reorganisations. It would seem ludicrous to destroy the proven parish system for a relatively trivial deficit when the Church Commissioners have so much money. See https://savetheparish.com/church-of-england-finance/ Talk of money shortages is used by some dioceses as a smokescreen for ‘reimagining’ the parish system (which some saw Covid lockdowns as an ‘opportunity’ to do). You can check for example whether your diocese has too many bureaucrats in relation to the number of stipendiary (paid) clergy.
Here is by-diocese financial information on our website: https://savetheparish.com/church-of-england-finance-by-diocese/ (check the ratio of diocesan staff to parish clergy and whether it could save money by cutting bureaucrats rather than vicars). Many dioceses could do more to maximise the funds for stipends from their Diocesan Stipends Fund. https://savetheparish.com/diocesan-stipends-funds/ Check whether your diocese is using Total Return Accounting – if not it is a failure of prudent financial management – and maximising Diocesan Stipends Funds to pay clergy stipends. Watch our recently-circulated video: https://m.youtube.com/watch?v=45nrep1IvWk for an explanation of how dioceses are wasting money and/or investing poorly.
3 Q: Can we make alternative proposals?
A: Yes, you can make alternative proposals. Insisting on becoming independent of the diocese is sadly unlikely to be tolerated especially if you are a wealthy parish! However, it is entirely within your rights to challenge amalgamation plans. The MPM Code of Practice (para 2.35, third bullet, and para 2.38) shows that the diocese must consider alternatives: https://www.churchofengland.org/sites/default/files/2021-05/MPM%202011%20Code%20of%20Practice%20-%20volume%201%20-%206th%20May%202021.pdf Here is the link to the CofE’s own guidance: https://www.churchofengland.org/resources/parish-reorganisation-and-closed-church-buildings/parish-reorganisation#na
4 Q: Should we keep records of all meetings?
A: As soon as you suspect the diocese is contemplating the merger or restructuring of your parish, please document every single thing which happens, and save all diocesan documents sent as links as PDFs. Failure to consult you and others with rights properly, and/or follow the processes set out in the 2011 Mission and Pastoral Measure, makes a good ground for appeal if the diocese tries to force you into a reorganisation scheme. You must also keep a record of every PCC vote on the topic.
5 Q: Is it unwise to agree to merging even with one other adjacent parish?
Please do not on any account agree to merge your PCC, or it stands to lose its legal rights and control of your parish assets. The Church Commissioners have just ruled on the closure and sale of a church in Southampton. Some might say this is a textbook example of how parish merger can lead to closure and asset-stripping: please see https://savetheparish.com/past-examples-of-pastoral-reorganisations/
- St Jude’s was merged with Maybush, meaning there was no St Jude’s PCC, only Maybush PCC.
- Maybush found its money useful but had no love for it, and voted to close it.
- The Church Commissioners concluded that ‘the PCC voted for closure so we shouldn’t intervene’.
- St Jude’s church building and its hall are being sold by the diocese to a group which includes property development companies.
That pattern could be repeated in merged PCCs all across the country in the future.
You may also like to read this Parish Story on our website about the disaster of centralisation: https://savetheparish.com/2022/01/30/the-disaster-of-super-parishes-in-wales-a-cautionary-tale-church-in-wales/. As the second note at the bottom describes, the ‘vicar will have fewer meetings’ argument for amalgamating PCCs is a red herring. The vicar does not need to attend PCC meetings, which can be chaired by the lay vice-chair.
6 Q: Should we work with other PCCs to oppose merger schemes?
A: If at all possible, get all the members of your PCC to agree, and then make it clear to the diocese, that you will fight a merger. Be prepared (unfortunately, we have to say this after reading distressing stories in our postbag) for brutal diocesan treatment of congregations and PCCs. An unanimous PCC will be much stronger. Please spread the word to the surrounding PCCs too and suggest that you all register as organisations to join Save The Parish. https://savetheparish.com/organisation-join/ Parishes have no representative trade body and, the more parishes we can say that we speak for, the better. If all the parishes in your diocese know about Save The Parish, they can defend themselves together rather than feel alone, and if all their PCCs register to join us, STP can say that it represents x% of PCCs. We at STP are all volunteers, so please help our efforts by spreading the word as much as possible.
7 Q: What is the law on merging PCCs?
A: The responsibilities and powers of the PCC are set out in the Parochial Church Councils (Powers) Measure 1956 – https://www.legislation.gov.uk/ukcm/Eliz2/4-5/3/contents As the Measure suggests, the PCC is an adjunct to the ministry and trusteeship of the incumbent (priest), not his/her employer. The legal duties of an incumbent are numerous but they provide a job description of sorts; they are connected to the freehold of the church, churchyard and parsonage. Any tampering with this would certainly weaken the independence of the parish.
Every PCC, which is a local body, should absolutely refuse to be merged (on a one-way ticket!) into a larger PCC for a multi-parish benefice. If they do this, they effectively cease to exist and the parish loses its protector against external depredations.
The assets of a parish have been vested since Norman times in the parson – church, churchyard, glebe and rectory. But all of these were provided so that the parish could have a priest, and vested in him so that they were protected from misappropriation of precisely the kind we have seen since 1976 when Synod created the power by Measure to take what belonged to the local parish and use it elsewhere. Locally provided and locally owned assets held in trust for the local community.
When a priest is appointed they become the incumbent of the whole benefice whether it is one parish or many – the whole territory. They can for almost all purposes exclude third party interlopers, and decide who is able to minister within the benefice. Or not, as the case may be, e.g. where someone is attempting an unwelcome church plant in the benefice (the parish priest has the right to be consulted first).
Do not be conned into merging your PCC on the basis that the priest has too many PCC meetings to attend. Although the parish priest is automatically ex-officio Chair of every PCC, he/she is not required to perform this role. PCC meetings can properly be run by lay Vice-Chairs.
8 Q: Should we worry about losing our property and funds if we are merged?
A: Yes, definitely. You need to make sure you identify all your assets and take steps such as to ensure that reserves are put out of reach of the diocese in trusts with independent trustees and a provision that, if the church is closed, the assets will revert as decided by the trustees, not the diocese. If you know any retired solicitors locally (ideally of course those who specialise in ecclesiastical law but those who do charity or private client work would be good too), it may be wise to seek some legal help.
9 Q: Can we get advice from the Church Commissioners?
A: Yes. You may wish to consult some of the people who work or used to work on the Pastoral and Closed Churches Team at Church House. They state that they offer free, neutral advice on questions of church closures, imposed reorganisations, and so on. E.g. Peter Wagon or Harvey Howlett firstname.lastname@example.org and email@example.com
are both people who have worked at Church House for many years and have depth of knowledge and experience. It is very important that this team should become more aware at an early stage of cases when parishes are not being treated properly by dioceses/hierarchy.
10 Q: Could our Patron help?
You can also write to your church’s patron – who will have an inalienable property right to appoint a priest which cannot just be taken away – for protection (unless it is the bishop!) There is an explanation about Patrons on the STP website, here: https://savetheparish.com/patrons-and-pastoral-reorganisation/
Here is a template letter:
“Dear [Patrons’ name],
I am writing to you as the [e.g. churchwarden] of [name of church]. It is my understanding that you are our church’s patron.
I would like to bring to your attention that… [details]. It appears that this proposal may adversely affect your inalienable property right to appoint a vicar.
Our parish is inclined to resist [action proposed] and would be delighted to have your support. Please, could you very kindly let us know (i) whether you have been consulted on this matter and (ii) whether you would be prepared to make representations against the proposals, in support of our position?
Yours sincerely… [full contact details]”
11 Q: Could our MP help?
Yes, you should write to your MP to say that you are concerned about the threat of disenfranchisement and being pushed into an arrangement against your wishes. Issues of democracy and ownership should be of concern to your MP. There is advice on how to do this here: https://savetheparish.com/contact-your-mp/
Chris Loder, MP for West Dorset, organised a Save The Parish Parliamentary meeting for MPs on Tuesday 25th April at 6pm at Westminster in Committee Room 14 (please see https://savetheparish.com/save-the-parish-in-parliament/ )
Please ask your MP to contact Chris Loder MP, who is gathering a group of MPs interested in protecting the parish system. You should obviously describe to your MP briefly what is happening to you and how implementing this plan would adversely affect your local community. Many MPs do not realise that Parliament is the ultimate authority over the Established Church and will also need this explained.
To explain the wider context to your MP, you might want to attach:
(i) the link to this Credo column: https://savetheparish.com/2022/09/04/church-needs-to-do-more-to-support-rural-parishes-the-times/ and
(ii) the link to the financial information on our website, suggesting reading the ‘Did You Knows’ on this page: https://savetheparish.com/church-of-england-finance/
You can also attach the transcripts from our Parliamentary meeting, available here: https://savetheparish.com/save-the-parish-in-parliament/
You will have had an email report from us on the Parliamentary meeting.
You could ask the MP to ask a Parliamentary Question to establish facts which have not been made clear to you – there are rules and a PQ needs to seek information on matters of fact: here is some advice with some examples: https://savetheparish.com/parliamentary-questions-answers/.
12 Q: Can our Deanery Synod help?
A: It makes sense to find out who your Synod (church Parliament) representatives are and to start to lobby them, especially the members of the diocesan synod, who will come into contact with the bishop. Your deanery synod is the first (lowest) level of church democracy above the parish and there to push parish problems upstream, to the diocesan synod which is the next level.
Support is not guaranteed and these synods can be placed under immense pressure by the diocese to conform with the diocese’s plans rather than the plan of your parish. The parishes need to be braced to stand up and object through the various stages of the process.
Please get pro-parish PCC members to join your deanery synod at the APCM. There is advice on this here: https://savetheparish.com/stand-for-election/ and here: https://savetheparish.com/wp-content/uploads/2023/01/Standing-for-Deanery-Synods.pdf The Deanery Synod is also the electorate for the Diocesan and General Synods, to which we need more pro-parish people elected.
Being a member of your Deanery or Diocesan Synod will allow you to talk to other parishes and find out more about what is being done in your area, how many vacancies there are and whether others are being treated as you are. Parishes need to know their rights and use them.
There is a cautionary tale about how deaneries can be subverted by the diocese against the wishes of many parishes here: https://savetheparish.blogspot.com/2022_07_14_archive.html
13 Q: Is our parish more vulnerable when in vacancy (used to be called an interregnum)?
A: Yes, definitely. When you have no clergy in your parish or benefice it is probable that attendance, giving and commitment will drop – especially if the vacancy is prolonged. Volunteers can tire in the absence of leadership and find it hard to identify successors, for example for Churchwardens. Dioceses have been known to leave parishes in vacancy as a precursor to reorganisation, sometimes waiting for a particular vicar to retire, leaving the way open. They can also suspend the parish which prevents a patron appointing a vicar. Either way, this is dangerous and demotivating for the future of your parish. Your PCC needs to fight it using all the suggestions listed above.
14 Q: Our diocese is about to submit mega-parish/amalgamation proposals to the Church Commissioners. How do we carry on fighting this?
A: Too often, people give up objecting after the first stage of consultation – with the diocese. They are giving up their rights to ask someone else to overrule it. If the Scheme (as they are called) is put forward to the CCs for formal approval, one of the best grounds for challenge is if proper process has not been followed. So, it is sort of good news which you can turn to your advantage if the proper procedure has not been followed – provided that you make determined use of it.
- Please record absolutely everything from and to you about this matter.
- Keep a regular check on the CofE website page where schemes are published, in case yours comes up and they don’t do you the justice of telling you (especially if you are not an ‘interested party’): https://www.churchofengland.org/resources/parish-reorganisation-and-closed-church-buildings/consultation-parish-reorganisation-7 (Some of the links available down the side of that page may also be informative.)
- Please also save as PDFs copies of any documents which may come your way from the CofE (some of the documents from past cases have now been removed from the CofE website, unfortunately, so one cannot keep relying on the links to stay open for future reference in other cases).
- Some history of Church Commissioners’ judgements is on the STP website: https://savetheparish.com/past-examples-of-pastoral-reorganisations/
15 Q: How do the Church Commissioners decide whether to approve or disapprove of a Scheme?
A: Consideration of Schemes is done by a sub-committee of the Church Commissioners, called the Mission, Pastoral and Church Property Committee (MPCPC). https://www.churchofengland.org/resources/parish-reorganisation-and-closed-church-buildings/mission-pastoral-church-property
We believe that the criteria on which reorganisations will be judged by the MPCPC are:
- Does the scheme further cure of souls and mission?
- Has the scheme been proposed for a proper purpose (e.g. not to rid the diocese of a meddlesome priest)?
- Has the consultation been conducted correctly?
- Does the scheme respect all traditions?
- Financial considerations if the diocese claims that there is no other financial alternative. The MPCPC do not have any forensic financial capability. Really the only way to get it investigated is via a representation from you. It seems well worth contesting if this is the ground claimed for the reorganisation.
You need to gather evidence on all of these. Mutual support to and from other parishes can be used at this stage. Unlike consultation at the diocesan stage, any English citizen (wherever they live) can make a representation to the Church Commissioners for or against a Scheme. There may be an oral hearing, at the discretion of the MPCPC. Only those who have made a representation can be heard at an oral hearing.
16 Q: Can we continue to lobby publicly when the re-organisation is being considered by the Church Commissioners?
A: Yes, definitely – keep on going by every method. Write to the Church Times asking why the parishes fund the dioceses yet cannot seem to hold them to account, including when they try to impose a reorganisation without proper consultation and proper process. Letters to the Editor can be sent to firstname.lastname@example.org. Local papers can also be interested in these stories. National media pick up stories from local media – and you never know, you might strike lucky. In general, airing in public how you are being treated is unfortunately more effective than private letters – and other parishes need to know that they are not alone. Encourage them to join STP. you will be much better off in your battle with the diocese if all the parishes in your diocese join Save The Parish and start fighting back together rather than alone. Keep writing to your MP at each stage. If the Church Commissioners know that there is political interest it may influence their decision whether to have an oral hearing.
17 Q: What is wrong with the mega-parish?
A: There are two good articles on this. One on the Save The Parish website – https://savetheparish.com/problems-with-megaparishes/ which goes into some theological reasons why.
A more punchy version is at – https://savetheparish.blogspot.com/2023/01/why-we-must-stand-up-against-mega-parish.html Please feel free to deploy any of these arguments as they apply to your diocese.
You can find the key financial facts and figures about your diocese here – https://savetheparish.com/church-of-england-finance-by-diocese/
Here are some further links about the mega-parish:
18 CHURCH TRADITION
Q: It has been suggested that we amalgamate with a parish of a different tradition. By linking with Evangelical parishes, we have been told that the expectation would be for lay led services of the Word to be provided rather than sacramental worship. What are the rules?
A: Most parish churches (apart from high ones) will have had Mattins as their main service in 19C and early 20C (with an 8 a.m. Holy Communion (“HC”)). Only with the ‘parish and people’ movement of the 1950s did HC become the central service in most Anglican churches. This was to return to the practice of the universal church pre-Reformation.
It is now canon (church) law that HC should be available in every benefice on Sundays and in most resource churches. HTB does not observe this, although old-style evangelical churches such as All Souls Langham Place do hold an 8 am service. Most parish churches now see themselves as centred round HC, so it is cruel to deny them.
The legislation that guides the considerations of the Church Commissioners’ Mission, Pastoral and Church Property Committee requires them to consider tradition:
“In carrying out any of its functions the mission and pastoral committee shall also have regard to — … (c) the traditions, needs and characteristics of particular parishes.”
See Part 2, Section 3. (2)(c) of https://www.churchofengland.org/sites/default/files/2019-04/MPM%202011%20as%20in%20effect%2001032019.pdf
19 Q: Who owns the church? Who gets the money if it is closed and sold?
A. The legal ownership of a church and its churchyard (and parsonage house) is vested personally in the incumbent of the benefice (the Rector or Vicar) for the time being.The contents of the church building are vested in the Churchwardens of the parish, and subject to the Faculty Jurisdiction of the Diocese concerned.
The contents of the church building are the responsibility of the Churchwardens, but the keys belong to the incumbent of the benefice (which is held in trust by the bishop during any interregnum).
The PCC has no locus standi so far as the ownership of the benefice property (church, churchyard, parsonage house) is concerned. It has a duty to maintain the church and the churchyard.
The role of the PCC is set out in the Parochial Church Councils (Powers) Measure 1956 This can be found on our website here
General functions of council.
It shall be the duty of the minister and the parochial church council to consult together on matters of general concern and importance to the parish.
The proceeds from the sale of a church building are paid initially to the Church Commissioners, who then remit 2/3 to the Diocesan Board of Finance.
The remaining 1/3 is then used to fund the Commissioners’ temporary maintenance account, available for short term grants to dioceses for the repair of closed churches, and the balance is then generally paid over to the Churches Conservation Trust for the maintenance of the buildings vested in its care. See the Mission and Pastoral Measure 2011 at section 63 (5) and section 64.
There is a useful article by Professor Nicholas Orme here – https://savetheparish.com/2022/03/04/who-owns-our-churches-and-parishes-prof-nicholas-orme-exeter/
“If you only have a “priest-in-charge”, they only have rights affecting their personal “employment” status, via Common Tenure. While such an appointment is operational, the bishop is the acting trustee for the property of the benefice. This is possibly why so many dioceses prefer to appoint as many as possible as priest-in-charge. The diocese retains power over the property. “
20 Q: Who owns the parsonage? Who gets the money when it is sold?
A: The position on selling parsonages is as in our Parish Pack, section 2 (“Current threats to PCCs”): https://savetheparish.com/parish-pack/ – this legislation unfortunately went through unnoticed, “under the radar” before the existence of STP.
21 Q: Can I oppose the sale of our parsonage/rectory?
A: Yes, you can try, using financial and logistical arguments. Anthony Jennings in his book The Old Rectory estimated that £8bn of parsonages had been sold since 1945. You can consult the Save Our Parsonages website: http://www.saveourparsonages.co.uk/
22 Q: Can the diocese sell glebe land? Where do the proceeds go?
A: Glebe land that formerly belonged to individual parishes is now held centrally in each diocese’s Diocesan Stipends Fund. These are restricted endowment funds that can only be used for paying stipendiary clergy and closely associated costs (check your diocese is observing these restrictions). This fund may include residential and commercial property, land, investments and cash. If any element of the fund is sold the proceeds have to remain within the fund. There is more on this topic, including analysis diocese by diocese here – https://savetheparish.com/diocesan-stipends-funds/
23 Q: Do we have to pay parish share?
A: No, it is a voluntary, free will offering.
Some might call it pseudo-voluntary. In many instances we have heard of, dioceses have threatened not to supply a new vicar unless ‘arrears’ of parish share are paid up in full.
However, congregations are told that the parish share is to pay for parish ministry. If you have no vicar, it seems reasonable to ask the diocese what you are paying parish share for. Suggesting that you are considering not paying may concentrate their minds a little more perhaps.
If you are engaged with the diocese about not paying parish share and not having a vicar, then you might consider collecting your parish share and putting it aside until the argument is resolved to your satisfaction.
24 Q: Are parish mergers and clergy cuts financially necessary?
A: STP does not believe further amalgamations of parishes are financially necessary and we believe we have evidence that the parish share is often pitched too high. At the General Synod, we also had a successful fringe meeting about finance, interestingly attended by the CofE’s head of finance and his deputy. Here is the video link – https://m.youtube.com/watch?v=45nrep1IvWk
SUMMARY OF VIDEO CONTENTS:
STP believes that it is a misconception that the inherited parochial model is not financially sustainable. Our three Finscrute presenters on this video are Sir James Burnell-Nugent, Andrew Orange and Stephen Billyeald (followed by questions). To summarise:
James (1.30-5.30) talks about the myth that diocesan ‘mega-parish’ schemes (amalgamating parishes into large groups, overseen by fewer clergy) are a financial necessity. James shows how the parishes fund the dioceses, (i) by paying parish share and (ii) from the Diocesan Stipends Funds (‘glebe’ land and investments surrendered by the parishes in 1976), which are restricted funds for paying clergy.
Andrew (5.30-16.48) talks about the funds which could be liberated for more clergy stipends if diocesan staff overheads were reduced. The ‘worst’ staff/clergy ratio occurs in a diocese whose own staff (as opposed to parish people ‘out in the field’) represent a whopping 45% of the total staff deployed in that diocese. That is nearly one manager for every parish priest. Andrew points out that the problem with diocesan expense is not that diocesan staff don’t work hard but that, with 42 dioceses, there is “immense duplication” (which John Spence acknowledged on the record as a problem which needs to be addressed). In 2023, technology should allow dioceses to share resources.
Stephen (17.30-24.13) talks about the funds which could be liberated for stipends if all dioceses adopted Total Return Accounting (TRA) on their Diocesan Stipends Funds (DSFs). In the 2021 accounts, only 10 dioceses out of 40 (excluding Sodor and Man and Europe, which don’t have DSFs) were then using TRA. Of the total expenditure from DSFs on stipends of £33m, £26m came from the 10 dioceses which were using TRA as the actuarial rules allow them to do. If all the dioceses used TRA, that could free up another £44m for stipends for parish clergy! Many dioceses are imprudently underusing this vital source of parish priest funding.
25 Q: How do I begin to understand my diocese’s finances?
A: A team of accountants, auditors and experienced businessmen at Save The Parish have analysed all 42 sets of diocesan accounts up to 2021 (the most recent year for which they are published). Unlike the diocesan financial reports, all of which use different layouts and definitions, we have laid them out in a consistent simpler format. You can find a summary of every diocese’s accounts here – https://savetheparish.com/church-of-england-finance-by-diocese/
26 Q: How do I find out how much clergy numbers have dropped in my diocese over time?
A: The Church of England’s own figures show these vertiginous drops in clergy numbers: https://www.churchofengland.org/about/research-and-statistics/key-areas-research#ministry-statistics
With so few clergy, it seems no wonder that attendance has declined.
There is a lot of information on clergy numbers on the Church of England website – https://www.churchofengland.org/sites/default/files/2021-07/Ministry%20Statistics%202020%20report%20FINAL.pdf
The statistics for 2021 are long overdue for publication.
You can ask clergy to look at old CofE Year Books for back history. According to the 1990 CofE Year Book, in 1990 the Diocese of Truro (for example) had:
151 stipendiary clergy
Now, it has 64 stipendiary clergy going down to 54.
27 Q: How many diocesan staff in England are ordained and could be in parishes?
A: There are 980 clergy in ‘other’ posts.
28 Q: How much does a vicar cost?
A: in the region of £50k p.a., all in.
Two of our STP-supporting General Synod reps met the Bishop of Leicester on 17th Jan 2023 and he confirmed that, after much internal argy-bargy, his diocese has just agreed that the all-in cost of a stipendiary vicar is £ 51,000 p.a.
It does vary enormously between dioceses, depending what they decide to include or exclude. In Exeter Diocese the ‘Cost of Clergy’ is deemed to be £67,000 pa. There is no standard formula that has to be used by all dioceses.
29 Q: What is the retirement age for vicars?
A: The retirement age for clergy is 70. However, the bishop can extend the period when clergy can remain in office for another 5 years until the age of 75.
See the Ecclesiastical Offices (Terms of Service) Amendment Regulation 2017, which provides that clergy retire at 70 but under Regulation 29A it is provided that:
(5) A diocesan bishop may give a direction for a person who has attained the age of 70 years to hold or to continue to hold the office of incumbent of a benefice in the diocese, or to hold or to continue to hold an office in the diocese under a licence granted by the bishop, for the period specified in the direction (including in a case where the person was holding the office immediately before attaining that age).
Retired clergy are able to apply for Permission To Officiate (known as “PTO”).
30 Q: Is it true that rural churches are ‘better resourced’ than urban churches?
A: See PQ66286 here https://savetheparish.com/parliamentary-questions-answers/
The rural churches are providing a very high proportion of the giving.
Attendance and giving will dry up if you put the rural parishes into the Minster Communities model, because there will be no pastoral care.
This has already happened in Wales and Wigan, and is happening in Winchester (where the bishop lost a vote of no confidence at his Diocesan Synod, and was forced to resign).
So diocesan income will dry up. Dioceses cannot expect to cut clergy and increase giving. You can do one or the other; but not both.
31 Q: What is the ‘Governance Review’?
A: This is an upcoming proposal, in effect a power grab which would take further control to the top of the CofE. Some say that it represents the greatest threat of all to the parish system. The most recent paper on the review is here – https://www.churchofengland.org/sites/default/files/2023-01/GS%202290%20Governance%20Review.pdf It has not yet been discussed in the Church of England General Synod.
32 Q: Does the CofE have a Freedom of Information exemption?
33 Q: Does the CofE have an exemption from employment legislation?
34 Q: There is now a modern church locally in a new building which seems to be attracting young people away from our parish church. Have the parish churches had their day?
A: Things are not always as they seem. It isn’t necessarily a level playing field. Financial resources may be being pumped out of your parish church and the new one may be funded by a grant from the Strategic Development Fund (SDF) which allows it to have more staff and equipment.
If you can find out whether your home town church is getting SDF grant funding, then it can probably afford multiple members of staff and all sorts of mod cons. But will it become sustainable? Spending money is the easy part. The Archbishop of York is putting huge sums of money (via his ‘Vision and Strategy’ plan for 10,000 new ‘churches’ in people’s living rooms) from the investment income held by the Church Commissioners on replacing the localised parish church model.
However, without the parish system and an open local church, church will become redundant in many people’s lives. If you look at the Parliamentary Questions section of the website, you will see the answer to the question about the rural church which shows that 44% of income is contributed by the rural parishes with 24% of the population. Closing them down is sawing off the branch the Church is sitting on. At the moment, the bureaucrats need not care because they can sell church buildings and keep the capital proceeds.
35 Q: Our diocese suggests we Anglicans do not need our parish church kept open and can worship at the Methodist Chapel – is this proper?
A: This response assumes there is no particular value in Anglican sacraments, liturgy and ministry. The Church of England promises to offer a Christian presence in every community and, if they do not have parish coverage everywhere, they are breaking that promise. And sadly, the outlook for a small Methodist chapel is not likely to be long-term: the Methodist Church is shutting down large numbers of chapels outside the suburbs.
36 Q: Is the CofE led by ‘cakeists’?
A: The leaders do seem to think they can have their cake and eat it: spend the money elsewhere than the front line and talk modishly about a ‘mixed ecology’ of church. It’s not a mixed ecology if it kills the parishes, as Emma Thompson wrote in the Telegraph at Christmas. https://savetheparish.com/2022/12/23/the-church-of-england-is-neglecting-its-heart-and-soul-emma-thompson-the-telegraph/
37 Q: What can be put into a Miscellaneous Provisions Measure?
A: There is a 14-strong legal department at Church House who can answer this.
38 Q: Where parishes are declining, is it the congregations’ fault?
A: This Times Credo article outlines the two financial imbalances which are driving decline in the parishes: https://savetheparish.com/2022/09/04/church-needs-to-do-more-to-support-rural-parishes-the-times/
39 Q: In order to claim VAT on repairs to Churches that are listed The Listed Places of Worship Grant Scheme is available which is welcome. However, to meet the criteria for a claim you need to hold at least 6 services a year. This is all well and good but thanks to recent cut-backs and the lack of available clergy and lay readers in our Diocese this is currently a very difficult target to meet.
Any thoughts or ideas please? Perhaps a move to get the figure reduced.
A: This illustrates another way in which mega-parishes and parish amalgamation models, and lack of clergy provision, are driving decline. They are putting grants out of reach of small and rural churches. The figure of 6 seems fairly arbitrary and so I have passed your concern on to my contacts at various heritage bodies to make them aware of it: the National Churches Trust, the Friends of Friendless Churches and the Churches Conservation Trust.
I Googled the scheme website. It states that the DCMS and HM Treasury hold six-monthly meetings with faith group representatives to review the financial position and operation of the scheme. It is run by DCMS. There is a helpline which you could call to raise your concern: 0800 500 3009.
However, clearly the best solution to keep your church going long term would be if the diocese resourced you better with more priests so that you could hold more regular services (and save your parish)! I would be interested to know how much parish share you are paying and how much this works out at per service. I think you could take the issue of priest supply up with your Diocesan Secretary (who is supposed to work for everyone in the diocese and not just for the bishop). You may like to look at the financial information provided on our website by diocese and arm yourself with some facts about your diocesan finances before speaking to the diocesan secretary. Finance is used as an excuse for cutting clergy when it is not.