This article seeks to explain why the so-called mega-parish is deeply damaging to the
fabric of the Church of England. A mega-parish is defined as a grouping of typically
15-25 parishes, or former parishes, into either a single large benefice of parishes,
probably with a Joint Church Council rather than individual Parochial Church
Councils (PCCs), or into a single parish with just one PCC. In the latter case the
individual churches would lose their status as a parish with their assets, rights and
responsibilities of a PCC.
Theological and Ecclesiological
1. The Foundation of the Parish. The reason for the creation of the parish was to ensure
real local ministry, where the people were. That is its whole reason for existence: the
importance of the sacraments and pastoral care where people live. That direct, personal cure
of souls in the merging of parishes and centralising of ministry is denied in a mega-parish and
goes against the whole history of Christianity. In the early church, priests were sent out to
minister to those beyond the city, the paroikiai, which means those ‘beside the house’ in
Greek. There were even special country bishops in the third century, according to ancient
documents. Scholars such as Thomas Robinson demonstrate that there were many more
country peasant Christians in the first two centuries than we used to think.
2. The Diocese alongside the Parish. One needs a bishop to have local ministry, buildings
and sacraments, but this does not mean the parish has no ecclesiological value. Indeed, the
diocese as a geographical entity is the parishes in union with their bishop. Each incarnates
the Church in a particular place, offering the ministry of presence to which the Church of
England claims still to be committed. The bishop’s authority, pastoring and teaching of the
gospel is held by the parish priest as the cure of souls. So, the parish has real ecclesiological
meaning. Moreover, the diocese is newer than the parish. It was a term used in the later
Roman Empire for a geographical area and was revived by Charlemagne in the eighth century
to make his Christian empire sound Roman. Before that, the bishop was the pastor of the
people in an area. The local church is defined as the diocese, in Anglican ecclesiological
terms because it is the locus of the bishop’s authority.
3. Priest and Place. Each time someone is ordained, he or she is linked to a particular place.
Priests are in one sense ordained into the Church of God, but this is never separated from the
location in which that priest is to operate. In the ordination service each ordinand is
presented: “Rev Father in God, I present M/F to be ordained to the office of priest in the
Church of God; he/she is to serve in the parish of N.”’ And the orders of service produced on
such occasions always have this information in them. If clergy are precisely located, they are
more accountable, which is why ordinations usually happen in cathedrals or in the ordinand’s
parish church, so that the Bishop can keep a pastoral eye on them, and send them to their
place of ministry. Place matters here because it is a way of preventing abuse and
manipulation – in other words it is a safeguarding issue! We are an established church, offering a kind of spiritual NHS to each part of our country, and our self-understanding is that
we serve every place. Removing the specificity of place is a dereliction of this mission to
4. Amalgamation. To amalgamate parishes into central hubs tells a particular parish, village
or area: you are no longer a real place. Implicitly, it also tells the community that it is not
worth preserving and serving. This is especially the case in where financial reasons are not
officially the major driver of change. Such reorganisations limit severely the number of
services. Potentially a bishop breaks Canon C18, which demands that the bishop ‘shall
provide, as much as in him lies, that in every place within his diocese there shall be sufficient
priests to minister the word and sacraments to the people that are therein’. Canon B14 also
call for Holy Communion to be offered every Sunday and major feast-day in a parish church.
Reorganisations are one key move to get round this requirement. Yet since the earliest times,
the local church has gathered on the Lord’s Day to worship together and the development of
parishes in the second century was a means to ensure this as research by John Zizioulas has
demonstrated. Anglican congregations in the parishes have to a great extent understood
themselves as liturgical communities, centred round the Holy Communion. This has been
encouraged by the liturgical revisions undertaken by the Church of England. Making Holy
Communion impossible for that community week by week puts this very identity at risk.
Indeed, it makes it impossible.
5. Anglican Priestly Ministry. Clerical cure of souls by which the incumbent shares the
bishop’s oversight has hitherto been united with the diaconal element of pastoral care and the
presbyteral teaching of the word. In a mega-parish these roles would all be separated out,
which is untrue to the ordination understanding of priestly ministry. Even a bishop or
archbishop has all three elements as part of his or her ministry and this separating out of roles
will hollow out priestly ministry, making it functional rather than symbolic and
representational. The mega-parish model is closer to secular management than to Christian
ministry. Pastoral reorganisations of this type tend to involve removing the parish ministry
part of the post of archdeacons and even of area or rural deans who, with other ‘mission
enablers’ or equivalents similarly have thinned out functional roles rather than full priestly
ministry according to the ordinal.
6. Lay Substitution. Pastoral reorganization plans claim to show they care about the
erstwhile parish by making a lay person the ‘focal minister’. First, lay people have divine
callings to their own work. Secondly, ministers should be universal and not just part of a
local community or they risk being ‘parochial’ in an inward-looking sense. The cure of souls
is part of the bishop’s episcope/oversight and should only be held by ordained ministers.
While there are lay people with excellent pastoral and other skills, which can be a gift to the
Church, it is not fair to use them as a way of getting ministry ‘on the cheap’.
Practical and Ethical
7. Mergers Drive Decline. It has been shown by several pieces of research, including both
the Church of England’s own reports, From Anecdote to Evidence and Going Deeper, that
this policy does not arrest decline but drives it: ‘Multi-church amalgamations and teams are
less likely to grow. Churches are more likely to grow when there is one leader for one
community’. Moreover, the Review of the Mission and Pastoral Measure (GS222) states
‘The data leans towards the parishes in the non-teams having a better trend of attendance
change that the team parishes’ and ‘Anecdotal evidence from Wales suggests a super-parish
type model has not worked well’. The distinguished writer on Anglicanism, Paul Avis, wrote
in Church Drawing Near: ‘Proposals to merge parishes, combine PCCs and close church
buildings are usually profoundly misguided. Centralised paternalism is a stock recipe for
8. Discrimination. Mega-parishes and hubs discriminate against the poor, the disabled and
the elderly, who must travel distances to worship. Public transport in most areas outside
cities is non-existent on a Sunday. Travel will also cost money and discriminate again
against the poor. Again, these policies tell such people that they do not matter.
9. Environmental Impact. Linked to this last point is the fact that the Church of England
aims to be carbon-neutral by 2030, while instituting practices that will increase emissions and
are hardly ecological. The ResPublica report, Holistic Mission: Social Action and the Church
of England showed that currently 64% of people still travel under a mile to attend church,
while a further 24% travel 1-2 miles.
10. Access to Pastoral Care. These reorganisations will lessen access to pastoral care,
which is usually given to one minister to provide for the whole benefice, which could be
twenty former parishes or more. The Mission and Pastoral Measure is supposed to make
changes to improve pastoral care, not make it less effective.
11. Occasional Offices. In a hub or mega-parish system, occasional offices such as
funerals are more likely to taken on a ‘taxi-rank’ system, which removes the relational and
personal care of the local parson, known often to those to whom she or he ministers.
12. Styles of Worship. Colour, local custom and tradition of individual churches will be
lost in a mega-parish. Again, the Pastoral Measure Part 3 C. 2 says that ‘traditions, needs
and characteristics’ of an individual parish should be taken into account. All the evidence
so far of large parish mergers demonstrates the opposite. There is a danger of worship
being reduced to the non-liturgical music/sermon of the resource church model, whether
for ideological or sheerly practical reasons. Provision of sacramental worship, which
thanks to the ‘parish and people’ movement of the last century has become almost
universal as the central liturgy will become scarce in mega-parishes.
13. Loss of PCC. The removal of individual parish PCCs will remove agency of local
congregations who will lose representation, being only one or two if any on a central PCC drawn from a central electoral roll. There are middle ways with a JCC whereby the parish
PCC may be maintained in principle, while a number of functions are centralised where
this aids efficiency. Such a middle way saves on numbers of meetings, which can be a
burden for a priest with several PCCs, but this option tends to be a way-point towards the
formation of a single PCC. Instead, a further layer of bureaucracy will be added as each
church will have a ‘Church Council’ (the old PCC) and then again, the ‘new united PCC’
(the mega-parish PCC). There is more on this topic in the Parish Pack, on the Save The
14. Impact on Clergy. Clerical posts in a mega-parish will be less holistic. Most
stipendiary clergy will have to take on primarily managerial roles. Work for clergy in
these new arrangements will tough, without the closeness and support of the parochial
community. Clerical burn-out is all too likely. In General Synod, Bishop Martin Seeley
said about mega-parishes, ‘I think we are in danger of creating impossible jobs, and many
jobs have become impossible, where the ministry for the cure of souls becomes the
ministry of managing a team’. There is already anecdotal evidence of clergy leaving or
avoiding dioceses putting these schemes in place. In the later twentieth century, there was
a move to team ministry, with the argument that this would be a less lonely life for parish
clergy, but teams were mainly abandoned when they proved unpopular.
15. Impact on Parish Share. With a loss of parish priest and agency, and even the
ability to worship easily, people are unlikely to want to pay as much parish share as
before. This type of reorganisation will drive decline, as is the case with the free churches,
who have already almost abandoned the countryside and exist primarily in financially
16. Impact on Schools. Schools work is often parcelled out to one chaplain figure in
these re-organisations. Schools lose the link with the local church and if church links are
forged by the chaplain, they are likely to be with one central resource church. This sets up
local churches to fail in their ministry to young people.
Ten reasons against amalgamations and mega-parishes;
1. You will no longer be a eucharistic community, with local regular Holy Communion
2. You lose the close connection with your vicar. The cure of souls is lost.
3. A taxi-rank system for funerals, etc will mean impersonal ministry.
4. The whole point of a parish is the worshipping heart and outreach to a particular
place. This policy tells a place it does not matter or have value.
5. Services will be rationed, potentially breaking Canon C18 which says a bishop must
provide enough priests ‘to minister the word and sacrament’.
6. Lay people are being asked to carry the burden. This undervalues their own lay
vocations to their work.
7. All the available evidence shows amalgamations drive decline. There will be even
8. Amalgamations discriminate against the poor and the elderly, who are less mobile and
often rely on public transport.
9. People are forced into cars to travel to worship, thus undermining the Church of
England’s own environmental agenda.
10. Parishes can lose PCCs and their assets, while creating a new layer of bureaucracy.