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The neoliberal revolution within the Church The ancient institution has been asset-stripped by an expanding bureaucracy of management-speak types

The ancient English parish church. Photo by Sam Mellish / In Pictures via Getty Images

The ancient English parish church. Photo by Sam Mellish / In Pictures via Getty Images


August 6, 2020   6 mins

On the ground, many of us parish clergy are getting increasingly cheesed off. In The Church Times this week there is yet another advertisement for a non-parish job loaded full of vacuous HR devised buzzwords. Sheffield Diocese are looking for an Associate Archdeacon — which is a new one on me — to be a “transition enabler”.

Their job will be to “grow teams of lay and ordained leaders shaping a mission-focused church fit for the challenges of the 21stcentury.” This is the new church-speak, a strange combination of woke-ish managerialism and charismatic Christianity, and which represents an almost unreported revolution within the Church of England.

It is one of the biggest changes in the Church’s history, although a revolution more Thatcher than Tudor in nature. It is the story of how the parish church was stripped of its treasure, its talent and its energy — and the most miserable part of the story is that it was an inside job.

The parish church is the oldest institution in the country, predating the Church of England itself by several hundred years, and the cornerstone of the historic relationship between Christianity and the land. The existence of a parish church in every community is the main reason that the C of E is given a seat at the high table of the establishment.

These days, however, many parishes are close to collapse, exhausted by financial worries and increasingly by a shortage of suitable clergy. Many parishes in the countryside are being forced together into ever greater economies of scale; just recently Chelmsford Diocese announced that it will lose 60 clergy posts over the next 18 months. The squeeze is on.

Yet other parts of the Church seem to be growing fast. Last year a report to the General Synod of the Church of England (GS 2142) spoke of the rapid expansion of what it calls “Pioneer Ministry”. “Recently Ministry Division has set an ambitious goal to double and double again the number of pioneers by 2027,” it stated: “If achieved this would see approximately 6,000 pioneers.” Such pioneers can be what are called “fresh start” pioneers, which means they “work from a blank canvass, in unreached places, released from inherited incumbency obligations”.

This new Church movement, known collectively as “Fresh Expressions” (or FX) has developed into a kind of para-church, operating alongside the traditional structures of the parish church but not necessarily a part of them. There are no reliable and recent figures for the growth is this new movement: officially, there were 1,109 fresh expressions chapters in 2014: a report from 2016 suggested that, by then, there was over 2,000 across the country. And big claims are made for the future of the group: “Fresh Expressions do twice as well as parish churches in attracting those under 16”, the General Synod report explains.

The leadership of Fresh Expressions is keen to insist that they want to take nothing away from the traditional structures of the Church of England, but as per the sentence above, comparisons are always being made between the new and the old. And this new church is developing its own structures alongside the old, with the 2016 report mentioning a whole network of bureaucratic structures.

One interpretation of what is going on is this: for years, perhaps even for centuries, the wider evangelical movement has looked on the Church of England with a certain amount of envy as a very convenient perch from which to fish for souls. It would like its money, its embeddedness, its position in the heart of the nation, but it doesn’t like the very ancient church structures that locate a great deal of power at local level.

The parish priest, protected by the rules of incumbency, is the very model of subsidiarity — the bishop has lots of moral authority within a parish, but much less actual authority than many imagine. This means that a bishop is not able to sack clergy with whom he disagrees with theologically. These ancient terms of employment were historically the basis for academic tenure, and exist for the same reason: to maintain a diversity of thought, highly necessary in such a broad theological coalition as the Church of England.

But the downside of these structures is that ineffective clergy are often impossible to remove. Changes in some parishes can only come about through death or retirement. In other words, the traditional structures of the Church of England emphasise stability and subsidiarity, but not necessarily the energy and dynamism required for missionary zeal. And given that these structures are lodged in the law of the land, it is almost impossible to change them. That is why those who want to start a theological revolution from within the Church of England often find they have to leave it to bring about their vision — see Methodism.

But FX has found a more ingenious way. In the seventies the wealth of parishes was taken into diocesan control, done for the perfectly noble reason of wanting to level out what the clergy were paid and stop richer parishes paying their clergy more and poorer ones not much at all.

But the effect of centralising the church’s finances in the Diocese Board of Finance was, for the first time in history, to shift power away from the parish and towards the Diocese. And as a consequence, the Diocese grew with ever greater numbers of staff, and the development of greater bureaucratic control.

So somebody came up with an ingenious plan. Perhaps it was the now retired Bishop Graham Cray who published what was the founding document of the FX movement, called Mission-Shaped Church, back in 2004. The plan was this: ignore the impossible-to-change structures of the Church of England, especially those lodged in the parish. Simply by-pass them. Build a para church structure, alongside the parish, and then divert resourses into that. The parish church will limp along, but eventually it will wither on the vine and FX will be there to pick up the baton. It was essential that FX was not positioned as any sort of threat to the parish or the plan would be rumbled; that’s why there was lots of talk of the “need for a mixed economy”, room for everyone etc.

But it’s not working out like that. The Rev’d Professor Michael Northcott, who has spent much of his academic life studying the organisational structures of the Church of England, described what he believed is going on in a series of tweets this week. The “neoliberal destruction of parishes is a corporate strategy,” he wrote: “to hollow out an organisation with managerialism by dissolving its historic procedures.”

And he explains how this is done: “one of the oldest Sees — Winchester Diocese — borrowed £3 million from Church Commissioners to invest in what it calls pioneer missions outside of parish ministry. That diocese is borrowing to create a para-church to compete with parishes.” The Rev’d Stephen Trott, a Vicar in Peterborough Diocese, puts it even more strongly: the parish is “being asset-stripped.”

The most extensive study of the theology of FX is a book now ten years old, and looking back, highly prophetic. In For the Parish: A Critique of Fresh Expressions Alison Milbank and Andrew Davison opened with an ominous warning:

“This book is written in the belief that an important choice is offered to the Church of England: to embrace her historic mission to evangelize and serve the whole people of this country, or to decline into a sect. What is new about these Fresh Expressions initiatives as officially conceived is that they are not intended to be out-workings of the mission of the local church but independent entities without any relation to the parish in which they operate.”

Milbank and Davison are unsparing in their critique. And, at the time, many dismissed them as over-reacting. But the Covid crisis has shone a light on the attitude of many in the hierarchy of the Church of England towards the crumbly old parish church and its boring old vicar. “Some bishops and church bureaucrats are now quite open about their contempt for the parish church,” writes Canon Angela Tilby.

And, a decade on, Andrew Davison has not had a change of heart about his warning. Talking to me this week he noted that since he wrote the book church attendance has declined by 15% which “suggests that Fresh Expressions has not offered the turnaround that their early proponents hoped for.” Indeed FX is an “extraordinarily expensive experiment”.

What’s happened in the national church is the perfect heist, one where the victim does not even realise they had even been robbed, only vaguely aware that something is missing. In terms of its long-term cultural consequences, this could be the heist of the century. And yet most people don’t even know it’s happening.

The importance of the parish goes way beyond Church of England attendees. Some parishes date to the time of St Augustine, the oldest and deepest social structure in the land, and their decline and bankruptcy — aggravated now by Covid — will have an immense impact on the country’s wider social structure.

 


Giles Fraser is a journalist, broadcaster and Vicar of St Anne’s, Kew.

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James Blott
James Blott
3 years ago

I wish you were exaggerating, but I fear the situation is even worse than you describe. The change in finances in the 1970s that you refer to had the effect of shifting money from rural to urban parishes (via the appropriation of glebe income) and that change has accelerated, leaving thousands (literally) of near bankrupt rural parishes, many of which will find COVID (and the C of E’s dreadful response to it) the hair that breaks the camel’s back. What are we going to do with the incredible number of architectural gems that will become unused? And how will rural areas be saved from disaster, if almost their last ‘public’ building closes (following closure of village schools, shops and pubs)? The ‘management’ of the C of E is doing everything it can to hasten its own ultimate collapse

authorjf
authorjf
3 years ago
Reply to  James Blott

It is certainly sad. I am afraid that the perceived lack of theological coherence in the Church of England is a challenge; I believe if it is to be saved from disaster, they will need to pick a side on a lot of sensitive topics. That would take a truly extraordinary Archbishop of Canterbury.

Paul Morrell
Paul Morrell
3 years ago

You begin to wonder if Christianity is safe in the hands of Christians.

Linda Brown
Linda Brown
3 years ago
Reply to  Paul Morrell

It certainly isn’t safe under the current `leadership’ of the C of E.

Stephen Follows
Stephen Follows
3 years ago
Reply to  Linda Brown

Although that’s clearly not the same thing at all.

authorjf
authorjf
3 years ago
Reply to  Paul Morrell

The lack of theological consensus is at the root of this; what Canon Fraser talks about is worth discussing, but it’s ultimately a secondary symptom of a broader malaise in the Church of England, as well as elsewhere in the faith. People want consistency on important topics like sex, contraception, abortion, economics and the afterlife.

jmarsden1961
jmarsden1961
3 years ago

I am sorry for rural parishes and I love the history and beauty of our country churches but sorry – when One enters Southwark cathedral and is met with a great big chest demanding (sic) money to go in there is a conflict between church as a place of worship and church as a tourist attraction.

I need somewhere that will engage and challenge my kids (and me!) to think about where faith fits in with the world we all live in.

I am involved with an FX (sic) church in Wallington Surrey. Our vicar and curate are still bound by C of E doctrines and articles

However, we have a thriving crÚche, young people and Youth work employing 4/5 paid staff.

In urban areas we constantly bemoan how bad ‘yoof’ behave. My son soon turns 18 and he will spend a gap year working with homeless people as part of an East End church. I couldn’t be more proud.

This is because our FX church nurtured and challenged him.

Perhaps we in the C of E a ‘broad’ church to be sure- need to decide what our priorities are in the next 10 years.

We can’t have our cake AND eat it…

Claire D
Claire D
3 years ago
Reply to  jmarsden1961

Mind you great churches like Southwark were sort of “tourist attractions” up until the Reformation, when pilgrims visited shrines and donations of all kinds poured in. It’s just that back then money was raised indirectly via belief rather than directly by asking from tourists.

I don’t know what the answer is, but I do know that hundreds, sometimes thousands of people were joining live streamed services and masses during lockdown.

That’s great about your son.

cathyedis3
cathyedis3
3 years ago

I now understand why there was so little effort to keep churches open during lockdown. The ghastly celebration of Easter mass at the Archbishop’s kitchen table, as opposed to filming it from Lambeth Palace chapel, will forever be a statement of how the church is moving away from the parish church and thus its history.

Lee Johnson
Lee Johnson
3 years ago

Sounds eerily familiar with what happened to the Samaritans 15 years back. They brought in management consultants – I won’t reveal what changes were made but I left.
Mr Welby is a prime suspect for bringing managerialism to a problem which doesn’t need fixing.
This year was the last straw, CoE will not be getting my donation but I feel bitterly sorry for the rector who is a very good man.

Geoff Cox
Geoff Cox
3 years ago
Reply to  Lee Johnson

I’m not a believer, Lee, but we have to keep paying in the hope that something survives aprÚs le déluge.

Richard Spicer
Richard Spicer
3 years ago

It seems to me that the Church may be going the way of the NHS. A service which was once run by doctors, nurses and other clinical staff is now mangerialised, redisorganised and centrally run by a massive and expensive bureaucracy awash with management speak. This sort of system suits politicians but is very bad for human beings and their health. 500 years ago this tendency was satirised by Etienne La Boetie and Michel de Montaigne ; they called it ‘Voluntary Servitude’ and sadly we have not learned from their wise warning. The Church must rise up against this deplorable tendency. Clinicians have been swamped by it.

Susan Imgrund
Susan Imgrund
3 years ago
Reply to  Richard Spicer

I wrote a blog post a couple of years back entitled “The Gospel according to Powerpoint”, prompted by my experience at my local church. In it, I remarked how management and marketing-speak has borrowed from religious vocabulary (as well as martial vocabulary) with “Mission”, “Vision” or “Followers”. However, these expressions seem odd when used again in a religious context, but with their 21st-century management connotations.

lowzieuk
lowzieuk
3 years ago

Allow me to fill in the details of actual life as a pioneer minister leading a Fresh Expression of Church… There is no support available for us so we are entirely self supporting with none of the protections of stipended parish clergy. Pioneer ministers are the last to be employed and the first to be made redundant and in the latest crisis were immediately furloughed. Most of us have to find ways of supporting ourselves to do what God has called us to do. The Church of England only knows how to support parish ministry and struggles to do anything else. We serve God in his founding of fresh expression of church out of vocation. So yeah, thanks for kicking us whilst down. And by the way, this mystical church you speak of is no zero sum game.

Peter Boreham
Peter Boreham
3 years ago

Huh? Your third-to-last para (church attendance -15%) is meaningless unless we break down the FX and parish church statistics. Even in that case, the data may be flaky since many parish churches have more in common with FX than traditional parish set ups.

And sure context is all. In some contexts, (e.g. rural communities not near a big population centre) then a geographical approach to mission makes a lot of sense. But in others (e.g. younger city dwellers) it makes sense to tackle via networks rather than post code.

Brian Dorsley
Brian Dorsley
3 years ago

Not a big fan of managerialism. Managers acts as overseers to draw out every scrap of work from employees, while extracting as much wealth as they can from their departments in order to pad the salaries of those higher-up in the food-chain.

Mark Melvin
Mark Melvin
3 years ago

This is a really interesting piece very much in keeping with the ethos of Unherd. Thank you. Much to ponder.

Tim Hurren
Tim Hurren
3 years ago

I think I am right in saying that the parish system of church organisation in England goes back to the Norman Conquest. Is it any wonder that it is under strain after 1000 years? It still has much to commend it but we surely need to be open to God to reshape how we express the Christian faith in our contemporary world. Parish boundaries make a lot of sense in some, particularly rural, areas. However carving up cities and towns in that way is only part of the picture, and most people who are not CofE insiders find it strange. It can smack of imperialism and often does not match the community life of many people who might be encouraged to participate in Christianity and church life in other ways.

This does not however mean that we have to be wedded to a purely managerial approach, which is where I heartily agree with Giles.

Chris Milburn
Chris Milburn
3 years ago

Great article – I love the summary of the broad sweep of the area’s history. The description makes me want to move there!!

Ian McGregor
Ian McGregor
3 years ago

Like some form of mad apothecary, we have been conditioned by liberal elitists, like Blair, to believe our greatest future can only be achieved by mixing as many varieties and volumes of humanity into the smallest possible area in order to enhance our civilisation. This is, of course, nonsense.

Each cultural group, unless very small, coalesces together and carries on identifying with its own indigenous and in some obvious cases conflicting cultures, taking on not very much from its new home.

You can call it what you like: a community, a gang or even a ‘no go area’ but cultural variation brings conflict and conflicts inhibit cultural stability. Catholics and Protestants in Ireland are an obvious long running example. Why our Establishment decided that mixing many more races, cultures and religions would build a very steady, progressive ship is something I cannot understand. The idealism is nice but the reality is volatile and dangerous. Pakistanis and Indians cannot coexist in their sub-continent peacefully so why should they do so here?

China, Russia and many recently freed Eastern European countries are rightly concerned about who and how many they allow into their countries as they are more than well aware of the risks and lack of rewards this can bring. The much lauded racial mix in America is now literally blowing it apart and no amount of disingenuous liberal left white appeasement, historical hand wringing or worse, denial of the fact is going to stop this. In the end the bigger, stronger more violent proposition will win out. I do hope you like tribalism or feudalism because this is where it will end.

When you build a house with no doors do not be surprised to find unwanted and quite anti-social guests when you come home.

robert scheetz
robert scheetz
3 years ago
Reply to  Ian McGregor

And almost all of these refugees are from failed states, the result of US regime change operations, the genius of Cheney, Hillary and Reagan’s Central Am wars of the “80’s. The Euro countries should send them all to England and the US. Put up tents on Bush’s ranch, and Cheney’s, Hillary’s NY estate,….

Mark Beal
Mark Beal
3 years ago

Am I the only one who thinks the name “Fresh Expressions” sounds like a brand desperately seeking substance?

Stephen Follows
Stephen Follows
3 years ago
Reply to  Mark Beal

It’s a yoghurt.

Kelly Mitchell
Kelly Mitchell
3 years ago

“Weiwei observes that “China draws on its ancient traditions and wisdoms,” and ‘stability.’

Yeah – kind of blanks out the whole Cultural Revolution, there, didn’t you Weiwei?

Giulia Khawaja
Giulia Khawaja
3 years ago

“The rapid climb of the Middle Kingdom back to its historic global primacy “
When was this ? China might have regarded itself as the centre of the world but that was surely because it was so inward looking that it didn’t know about the rest of the world.
Did the navy of the Middle Kingdom sail out and discover new lands? Have it’s ideas/art/literature/language/music influenced the world?
China even killed off its own historic culture with Communism.

Andrew Baldwin
Andrew Baldwin
3 years ago
Reply to  Giulia Khawaja

I suspect Aris is speaking of China’s phenomenal economic growth rate. As of 2019, Chinese real GDP on a PPP basis was greater than that of the US, Mexico and Canada combined, so, yes, “global primacy” seems like an accurate evaluation.

Derek Hurton
Derek Hurton
3 years ago

Maybe there’s a lot wrong with the CofE’s leadership and maybe there isn’t, but there’s definitely something unsustainable with its finances. Giles Fraser demonstrated in his R4 PM interview earlier in lockdown and in a recent DTel article that he doesn’t have a good grasp of church finance.
Fundamentally, the local church pays for the local church (& its clergy), but with substantial cross subsidy from wealthier to less wealthy parishes (& often from more evangelical to less evangelical ones). Other diocesan income is significant but not fundamental. As local church contributions fall, Dioceses can afford fewer clergy in parishes.
Expenditure on other posts (including pioneers or archdeacons or diocesan missioners etc) is significant but not at all fundamental, and even if it was all diverted into paying for more clergy it would mean a few more posts for a few more years.
One diocese has seen the cash contributions from the local churches fall by 40% in real terms in 10 years. If this continues (& there’s no sign that the trend is reversing) there will continue to be reductions in clergy numbers and the parish system will come under increasing pressure.
Without a bigger number of churchgoers giving more money (something that Giles & co have failed to see [?? witness/achieve/deliver/oversee/manage ??] for multiple generations), a financial miracle, or a lower cost model of ministry/church, further rationalisation is inevitable.
So by all means complain about the hierarchy, but don’t try to shift the blame for the CofE’s underlying financial woes onto them.

Vanessa Elston
Vanessa Elston
3 years ago

The parish isn’t being asset stripped, the reality that Giles avoids throughout this article is that people are no longer attending church. This is why the parish system is dying. It no longer has the numbers to make it financially viable. The amount of money going into FX is negligible compared to stipendiary ministry and the structures that support it. This is a result of the long slow road of modernity, that began back in the thirteenth century, which began the process of putting the individual as the prime agency and determinant of reality, in partnership with the state, and capitalism, a very long road which included the project of empire, but the chickens have really finally come home to roost. The church has largely been in bed with the Western modern project of progress and prosperity, or asleep. Managerialism aside, we (I speak as a ‘pioneer curate’ in the C of E) we won’t get anywhere fighting over what remains and blaming each other as the cause of our decline. An adaptive (not technical) spiritual and authentic journey is called for. Not slinging stones.

Robin P
Robin P
3 years ago
Reply to  Vanessa Elston

Probably dying in the same way that many local pubs are dying. Due to the dominance of Big Globalised in more and more respects. Even if you don’t believe in the Anglican or any other religion, these local institutions doubtless have considerable importance outside the realm of money-obsessed assessments of value.

opn
opn
3 years ago

Did they not find the original brazen nose in a girl’s school in Stamford in the 19th century and return it to BNC ?

Dr Irene Lancaster
Dr Irene Lancaster
3 years ago

Facile ecclesiastical culture-warring, lazily argued and badly informed. Although many of my best friends are Anglican clergy and lay readers, doing their best in a brittle world, I thank G-d every day for being a Jew.

cjhartnett1
cjhartnett1
3 years ago

The church is to be pitied.
There is no biblical or prophetic knowledge or teaching, hasnt been for years.
The Anglicans relied on some new input from Billy Graham and Cliff Richard, and threw away their teachers and decent scholars . And the likes of Jonathan Edwards, Steve Chalke and Dianne Louise Jordan only mark the precipitous venal uselessness of Christianity as a movement.
Of course Jesus isn’t going anywhere. Least of all to those useless franchise squatters who infest great buildings and traditions that great people freely lived and died for.
Giles himself portrays the social gospel blowhards whose God is as much Sir Tony Hall as the one he tickles on Sundays( well, no longer, but it’s not as if he meant anything by it all,really).
And to think Spurgeon used to preach to packed crowds in a massive tabernacle within a Toronto Blessing flatus of his decrepit rubble of a ministry.
No, Jesus is here and alive. He wins, but the current crop of Moaners and climate change/ refugee smarming recycling foodbanking battery hoarders aren’t fit to be trampled in the winepress. You’d only get Kool Aid from the press anyway.

A

Stephen Sichel
Stephen Sichel
3 years ago
Reply to  cjhartnett1

Think the situation and drift Giles outlines is accurate. However defenders of the traditional parish have plenty to answer for. Appealing to the past and describing the threat of Fresh Expressions was never going to be enough to counteract the organisational weakness of the traditional parish and its church in a culture both within and outside the C of E that had increasingly declared its independence from it. Think of the blindness for example of all the money that went to Church Urban Fund projects when the urban parish churches themselves were organisationally on their knees. Most of it would have been better spent on strengthening parishes internally. A decentralised strategy to strengthen traditional parishes should have been the direction a generation ago rather than keeping up the appearance of social relevance.

agpink01
agpink01
3 years ago

Thank you for this, Canon Giles.

Anton Nadal
Anton Nadal
3 years ago

This article is full of the importance of the C of E but from where I stand I don’t see its contribution and influence with the people of this country justifies its political status. In terms of participation and the people’s awareness of it the C of E isanother sect.

“The existence of a parish church in every community is the main reason that the C of E is given a seat at the high table of the establishment.”

The author can only mean that the reason for this status is the sheer size of the C of E property portfolio. He can’t be referring to the size of the flock nationwide, he must be referring to the fact that there are literally church buildings everywhere. Not a very sound justification for the place the Church gets, this situation is just more evidence of the deficit in democracy this country sustains. That clergymen such as this author are happy with, and even boast of, this state of affairs, makes me worry for their spiritual well being.

“These days, however, many parishes are close to collapse, exhausted by financial worries and increasingly by a shortage of suitable clergy”.

Probably, the laws of supply and demand have something to do with this. More than a shortage of clergy what we have here is a shortage of parishioners.

” “Fresh Expressions do twice as well as parish churches in attracting those under 16″, the General Synod report explains.”

Yikes! Don’t know what to say to that..I hope they have good lawyers.

“What’s happened in the national church is the perfect heist”

Power in the end only wants one thing: even more power. The C of E was born as the concoction of the mind of an English monarch and became another arm of the British elite to this day, with the enthusiastic collaboration of the here lamented parish vicar.

Then, its theology, together with the other European national Protestant churches, contributed to the capitalist ideology of individualism that after two centuries of stripping the planet of resources has led to the dire problems we are facing. It’s the turn of the parish church foot soldiers to be victimised now.

The monster turning on the hands that fed it, “first they came for the Reds, etc”, Frsnkenstein’s monster turning on its creator and his family, nothing to see here really, we’ll all be victims eventually. I think it’s fair to say that it’s a very bad idea for a spiritual group to become involved with power.

Simon Forde
Simon Forde
3 years ago

As a medievalist, I always love the medieval history and literature that the author regularly brings to her articles. Well researched and well done.

Robin P
Robin P
3 years ago

Once the C of E have handed back to the RC all those medieval churches and cathedrals, and paid for the rebuilding of all those monasteries demolished 500 years ago, then we can start a sensible discussion of who is left with the remaining crumbs!

TIm Sledge
TIm Sledge
3 years ago

I hesitate to chip in here! I am a former “Mission Enabler”. I have created the strap lines and sold the jargon and its not all bad, but I do wince looking back and wonder how disconnected it all was from the reality of local parish life. After 5 years, I felt I couldn’t do the job with integrity without being a parish priest. Being a parish priest were the best of years. Being part of the nutrients in the soil of the community was a remarkable privilege (even though it burnt me out!) . But it was clear that there was contempt from the Diocesan Bishop for anything other than the evangelical and the brave and new and “HTB shaped”. There is nothing wrong with them at all, but there has to be balance. Cant we have a “both/and” approach still? My worry here is that we just “carry on as we have done before”, without a serious engagement in the challenges churches face locally. My take is this: the simple reality is that over 50% of stipendiary clergy are simply not up to the job. They take a stipend, and don’t do much, or enough, and there is little or no challenge or accountability. Furthermore, the ongoing training/CPD and support is woeful in most places and often run by people who cant run or cope with parish life.
So with all the talk of pioneers… where are the pioneer parish clergy? Why are we not harnessing and supporting this talent. I had little support at all.
We need a call to evangelisation. We need it across the board. We cannot hide behind altars and bibles and expect everything to change and just moan. There is too much griping . from the vicar’s stall and not enough action and re-energising of those who need to lead congregations and communities.
The world is not having these discussions. The world in fear is hungry for community, for a sense of place, and God preserve us from relevance, but would we had a church that at least had a resonance with the community it serves we might be onto something.
Perhaps if we put more effort and money into a local re-freshed expression of the parish church and had half-decent people to lead them, we might stand a chance.

Susan Imgrund
Susan Imgrund
3 years ago

A wrote a blog post on this tendency a couple of years back -“The Gospel according to Powerpoint” – slightly tongue in cheek https://secretagencyblog.bl

Edward Andrews
Edward Andrews
3 years ago

I found this very interesting as a detached observer from Scotland, where we had Church Without Walls some years before the CoE had the mission shaped Church, but the result has been similar.

The National/Established/State Church has a major problem, it is not only a Theologically based organisation – it has some idea of interacting with the Divine, but it is also a sociological one. These two positions cohabit uneasily together. On one hand you have the faith which is based on a person who told his followers to sell all they have, give to the poor and follow him. On the other hand you have an organisation which over the years has acquired tremendous assets, but which is cash poor.

Up to now the Churches have been living in the context of Christendom. We live in a Christian Society. But we don’t. One of the results of Globalisation is that people are challenged with other ways of doing the Spiritual, and perhaps above everything else the religious free market in the US means that the traditional Parish structure of Old England is being challenged. But then the Church which was formed in a rural society always had difficulties in contacting the Urban poor. (We have exactly the same problem in Scotland).

You add to this essentially sociological problem about the institution, deep concern about the theological nature of the Church ,and what it believes, – its product if you want managerial speak, and you have deep problems. The question which has to be answered is whether the Church is led by its theology or whether there is an institution so powerful that its very teaching has to be mounded to the structures.

You then look back to the Changes in the various understandings of the message of Christianity. It could be argued that the two understandings of Christianity the sacramental one and the evangelical one bunted along together down the years, each one having a primacy which was then overtaken. However the discovery of German Theology in the post war era meant that the teachings of Bultmann and Bonhoeffer were interpreted by the Bishop of Woolwich. Now it wasn’t so much what he wrote, but the opportunity to have an openness about the debate on the nature of God and his Church. This was international, but it is just that the Anglican Communion joined in.

Today there are many Christians who believe that Constantine was wrong. The Church took a wrong turning when it became the pet of the state. The whole concept of this was a debate among the professionally religious, but with social media people are able to pool their ignorance. The whole question of a National/Established/State Church and even the concept of Christendom is under challenge. The development of the Welfare State meant that many of the traditional charitable roles of the Church were taken over by the state. (The retreat of the state from its role in providing a safety net has reawakened the Church to this role) and the Church isolated in shrinking and changing societies did very badly.

Then came the Virus. The main reason for the church stopped dead. there was no public worship, and what there was, was radically changed. One area which people forget about is that the offerings of the people very largely stopped. What will happen over even the next 6 months is unknown and challenging. In the team I am part of the response as seen n on line worship ranges from really keeping the show on the road, a return to traditional ideas to a radical rethink of what we are doing.

Today the Church looks out at a radically changed society. In a way the destruction in Beirut reflects the destruction throughout the world from the virus.

Thank you very much for the essay which made me think and to start something which `i will be working up.

Dr Irene Lancaster
Dr Irene Lancaster
3 years ago

Couldn’t agree more about PhDs. Same could be said about dog collars though – never seen the point myself – often simply rampant prejudice in disguise

Michael Whittock
Michael Whittock
3 years ago

Giles,
1. You talk about the parish church being “stripped of its treasure,talent and energy”,but I’m not sure what you mean. As you say Glebe income has been centralised,but that is not greatly significant. Perhaps you’re referring to the Parish Share which is the amount of money each parish pays to the Diocese each year. But as you know that comes back to the parish as the stipend,housing and pension of their incumbent. In my Diocese 76% of Share pays for the clergy. Also many dioceses have introduced a free giving scheme whereby each parish gives what it chooses rather than the imposed quota system. This is giving a lot of power to the parishes. Unfortunately income has decreased considerably and the resulting cuts of clergy have followed.
You talk of parishes being stripped of talent. Talent for leadership I presume? But for the last 40 years the Church has encouraged ministry and leadership by the laity and self-supporting ordained ministry has taken off. There has also been a very welcome increase in the number of young people offering for the full-time ordained ministry. I see increase in talent for which I praise God.
You also talk of parishes being stripped of energy. Maybe you’re looking in the wrong places. I’d encourage you to look at the growing number of parishes influenced by New Wine, the parishes engaging in Fresh Expressions, food banks and debt counselling. Also those parishes involved in re-ordering their church building rendering it fit for purpose for worship and mission in the 21st century.( oops,sorry, that sounded a bit woke and charismatic. Hate woke – Love charismatic).
2. You mention the clergy cut backs. Chelmsford are not alone. But this isn’t the fault of any stripping. It’s our fault- the Church membership. In 1985 the Bishops asked the membership to give 5%of income to the Church. 40 years later no Diocese has reached that level. There is a league table showing the average weekly giving of the membership. My own Diocese of Hereford is a disgraceful bottom of the league with 2.4%. Southwark is at 16 with 3.1%. The two equal top Dioceses are amongst the most socio-economically challenged: at 4.2% are Bradford and Sheffield.
The problem is that finance and giving are approached monetarily and not spiritually. For the Christian giving is a spiritually motivated act of generosity to God for the great generosity and grace He shows us day by day. Also I’ve found many clergy are not prepared to teach the biblical principles of giving, including tithing, and to lead by example in truly generous giving themselves and praying faithfully for the financial needs of the church. We are in this meltdown largely as a result of this dereliction of duty.
3. You very unfairly and inaccurately characterise Fresh Expressions of Church. FX came about as a response to the huge spiritual and cultural gap between church on Sunday morning and the vast majority of people. The Church could not sit back and do nothing. Some were already experimenting outside the box and setting up network groups which would eventually become church in their own right. AND THEY WOULD BE PART OF THE LOCAL PARISH UNDER THE ULTIMATE AUTHORITY OF THE INCUMBENT AND BISHOP. In my last parish my wife and I ran a Youthchurch for teenagers for 12 years and we had the joy of seeing many come to faith and one is now ordained. It continues 6 years after my retirement and bears all the marks of a church including apostolic authority,the preaching of the Word and celebration of the sacraments. Our Sunday morning congregations grew as well during this time. It’s mixed economy church. It’s both/and, not either/or,

Andrew Baldwin
Andrew Baldwin
3 years ago

Aris spoke of Turkey’s efforts to get into Europe, but of course, Russia has also made efforts to get into Europe, and Putin’s current Eurasian rhetoric is partly due to these efforts being rebuffed. At least Turkey has its own Harmonised Index of Consumer Prices (HICP) to show for its efforts to join Europe. Augmented by an owner-occupied housing component based on the net acquisitions approach it would be the best possible target inflation indicator for the Turkish central bank. Russia, to its shame, still has no national HICP, even though it borders on the EU. The United States lies on the other side of the Atlantic, yet has its own experimental HICP, two of them in fact, one reflecting the target population of the US CPI-U and the other the broader population mandated by Eurostat regulations.

Hywel Morgan
Hywel Morgan
3 years ago

I came back to this piece by accident … to find that many comments have disappeared. Some were quite interesting, and a range of opinion, of course, always is.

What is UNHERD policy on memory-holing? Indeed, is there one? Has my memory been usurped by my imagination? Answers on a postcard, please.

Peter KE
Peter KE
3 years ago

China is nothing more than subversive thief kingdom that has built its power by theft of intellectual property and business proprietary knowledge because of the stupidity of left wing liberal leaders. No more credit should be given than that of a corrupt state. The liberal woke will fail and the norm of the anglo sphere will return and prevail.

Peter KE
Peter KE
3 years ago

The US action in dropping a nuclear bomb on Hiroshima was totally justifiable and trying to rewrite history is nonsense.

authorjf
authorjf
3 years ago

Well as the Guardian has quite rightly said about this, they should also have mandatory herey quotas for Sabellians, Donatists, Apollonians and Patripassian as well. A variety of theological opinions would certain shake things up and make it a little bit more interesting.

Trevor Q
Trevor Q
3 years ago

The Church of England has been an important cultural force binding communities together and largely keeping religion out of politics. Where it went wrong was to start banging on about Jesus and this has alienated more people than it has attracted in my opinion. It has left a void however because people need something to believe in and the one thing Christianity has which is so important is redemption or forgiveness. A world without these is diminished and dangerous.

Fraser Bailey
Fraser Bailey
3 years ago
Reply to  Trevor Q

Surely the whole point about of the CoE is to ‘start banging on about Jesus’! Personally I think all religion is bonkers at best and evil at worst, but it seems to me that the CoE started to go wrong in the 1980s when it was always moaning about Thatcher. They need to keep out of politics and social issues etc.

As for all the managerialism etc, I guess it had to reach the Church at some point. Needless to say, it will do a lot of harm and no good.

Martin Adams
Martin Adams
3 years ago
Reply to  Fraser Bailey

I would agree with some of what you say, especially about when things went wrong. But I don’t think the problem lies primarily in speaking out on politics or social issues etc. The church ” i.e. the body of believers (however they are organised, or not) ” is supposed to be salt and light to the world; and throughout history it has often spoken on political issues. Sometimes that has been officially, sometimes it has been via prominent individual church members. (Wilberforce and his allies are a good example of the latter.)

The big difference arises when it (in this case “it” being the Church of England) speaks without “banging on about Jesus”, as you rather nicely put it. When Martin Luther King spoke about segregation and prejudice, one always heard, as a subtext that was so omni-present it could not be missed, that what was needed was a change in the human heart and that this can be wrought via the power of God. The same can be said for Justin Welby’s eminent predecessor at Canterbury, the highly influential social reformer William Temple (died 1944).

But especially since the 1970s there has been an increasing tendency to avoid controversy, coupled to a desire to prove that the church is offering the best citizenship of this land that can be offered.

Along the way it has forgotten that its primary citizenship is, as the Apostle Paul puts it, in heaven. So when it speaks out on social and political matters, it parrots the prevailing liberal position, because it follows the world’s current inclination to believe that most moral virtue rests with the liberal left. It’s a confused and confusing distortion of the legacy of Romanticism ” that being loving means being nice all the time.

The Church of England’s dismal performance during the Covid-19 crisis is an extreme example of everything I said in the preceding paragraph.

Stephen Follows
Stephen Follows
3 years ago
Reply to  Trevor Q

Islam seems to do pretty well banging [sic] on about Mohammed all the time.

Jules Anjim
Jules Anjim
3 years ago

Good grief. What overwrought, incoherent guff. When you boil it down, this is really just a polemic against change.

Dr Irene Lancaster
Dr Irene Lancaster
3 years ago

Yet another example of GF’s facile ecclesiastical culture warring – things aren’t nearly as cynical on the ground as he makes out, with a lot of good work being done in my area. Even if GF is 25% correct, where is the love and inclusivity in GF that he expects from others? Is GF actually capable, do you think, of practising what he preaches or, sadly, has the pompous pundit grasping after fame and fortune completely submerged the pastoral personage trying desperately to get out?

Dave Weeden
Dave Weeden
3 years ago

That seems like a lot of words just to say “I don’t like Giles Fraser.” I can’t find a substantive complaint about the text after picking out all the ad homs.
Do you have any?

Jos Haynes
Jos Haynes
3 years ago

Whenever anyone prefaces their name with a Dr title (unless in a medical context), my contempt knows few bounds. PhDs are ten a penny these days and not significant of anything other than the fact that the user has time-served for three years as somebody’s research assistant. It signifies neither intelligence nor achievement but rather an inferiority complex needing to be bolstered by academic recognition which fools no one.

Dave Weeden
Dave Weeden
3 years ago
Reply to  Jos Haynes

Prepare to be down-voted by the doctor, Jos. 😀

Andrew McGee
Andrew McGee
3 years ago

This is re-arranging the deckchairs on theTitanic. Your business is declining because its product is obsolete. Increasingly, you are as a company becoming surplus (surplice?) to requirements. You can argue all you want about managerialism and subsidiarity and the importance of the parish. But nothing can get you past the obsolescence of what you are selling. I look forward to watching the liquidation process.

Tired Man
Tired Man
3 years ago
Reply to  Andrew McGee

But religion is on an upwards swing in the UK with more and more of the population expressing religious beliefs, especially in large cities. Seems someone out there likes the idea of it, just not what the CofE is selling.

Geoff Cox
Geoff Cox
3 years ago
Reply to  Andrew McGee

Andrew – I agree with you. However, I certainly do not look forward to watching the liquidation process. Sadly, the Church must fall is also wrapped up in marriage must fall, gender must fall, the monarchy must fall, the police must fall, history must fall. The cultural marxists are destroying everything so they can raise their new Jerusalem. And their religion will not be as easy going as the C of E.

Stephen Follows
Stephen Follows
3 years ago
Reply to  Geoff Cox

Yes, but the difference is that the CofE seem to want themselves to fall.

Anton Nadal
Anton Nadal
3 years ago
Reply to  Geoff Cox

“And their religion will not be as easy going as the C of E.”

Let’s hope responsibility is more widely spread in this new religion, less take and more give. Same with prosperity and equality. It’s not like the police or the monarchy have a shining record, unless you’re of a certain class. And it’s not history that must fall, it’s the distortion of history that has to fall, less lies, more warts. Marriage, etc, as long as they are expressions of relations based on power, down with them too.

We are at the end of this particular road here, and, looking back, one can see a very ugly landscape.

Kenneth Crook
Kenneth Crook
3 years ago

Sounds like another desperate attempt by the church to maintain some relevance in the face of people increasingly seeing the pointlessness of belief in the sky fairy. Long may it continue.

audioninjazero
audioninjazero
3 years ago
Reply to  Kenneth Crook

I find it interesting how British people are still on the antiquated like, 19th century rationalist descended kind of atheism I guess (I don’t live there so I don’t know if it’s the majority of people). Americans are already on some weirdo like ideological political post truth kind of religion stuff which I guess is what comes after this.

Richard Woodfin
Richard Woodfin
3 years ago
Reply to  Kenneth Crook

It’s not a belief – it’s a relationship 🙂