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The Church is on the brink of revolt Even a former Archbishop of Canterbury feels betrayed

Justin Welby has betrayed its flock (Chris Ison - WPA Pool/Getty Images)

Justin Welby has betrayed its flock (Chris Ison - WPA Pool/Getty Images)


August 11, 2021   4 mins

A quiet but unmistakable rebellion is taking place within the Church of England, a groundswell of anger bubbling up from that most British of institutions: the Parish Church. And support for it shows no sign of waning.

“The current trajectory of our church is a huge mistake and the leadership is out of touch with ordinary churchgoers,” George Carey, the former Archbishop of Canterbury, wrote yesterday. “It is time to rally the troops.”

He was writing in support of the newly formed Save the Parish movement — a group I have been plotting with from its creation. And yes, that is a staggering thing for a former Archbishop to say about the current leadership.

However, it is not former Archbishops that are at the core of this new movement, but ordinary parishioners and parish priests who believe that the church itself has turned against them. They have witnessed how the centre of gravity in church affairs — as well as the funding — has shifted from the local parish towards an increasingly bureaucratic and centralised church structure.

It is ordinary churchgoers and faithful church wardens who have looked after their churches for years, as well as clergy padding about in their parish, visiting the sick, burying the dead and administering the sacraments, who are most angry about this betrayal. It feels like we are in the middle of an aggressive corporate takeover.

If you flick through the jobs section of the Church Times, you can see this effect almost straight away. It used to be full of jobs for the Rector of This and the Vicar of That. But such vacancies have increasingly been replaced by people with unrecognisable and convoluted job descriptions. Now they advertise areas of responsibility that have little to do with parish ministry, answerable directly to a line manager somewhere in Church House.

Jobs that began as a way of supporting the mission of the parish are now being regarded as its cheaper replacement. The parish clergy are “limiting factors” and the people in the pews merely “passengers”, as one senior Anglican clergyman put it last month.

No need for priests, or expensive theological education and the like. 10,000 new churches are imagined, led by lay people, not clergy. Many will not have a building, just a website. Many will meet on Zoom. It’s not really what most of us would call a church. But if “the church is the people not the building”, as goes the oft-heard mantra, then why not? There is certainly no need to worry about a leaky roof when you’re only online.

Of course, there have been times when I have fantasised about my job not involving the maintenance of a crumbing church tower. Even ten years ago, at St Paul’s, when the Occupy movement gathered around the Cathedral, I felt the building had become more important to some than the message it was built to proclaim.

St Paul was a tentmaker, after all. And few parish clergy who have done the job as long as I have can be unfamiliar with the frustration that comes with looking after a large building. But the idea that we would be more entrepreneurial and light of foot if we were to hand the keys over to the National Trust is an absolute fantasy.

“Pioneers” is what the Church’s Head of Evangelism, Canon Dave Male, wants more of. Pioneers must be “freed up”, he says. But the problem here is that the weight of parish commitments, even the building, is what keeps us from floating off into some abstract theological space. The parish is grounded, rooted in place and time.

Yes, the pandemic has left the church feeling the pinch financially — and there is much need for belt-tightening. But we have far too many Bishops for the number of churchgoers that we now have. Probably far too many Dioceses as well, each with its own set of managers and advisors. Save the Parish believes that in times when finances are hard, it is the front-line parishes that should be supported as a priority rather than directing funds away towards another new top-down initiative.

It used to be the case that the parish owned its own vicarages and paid its own clergy. It was almost the very definition of an anti-fragile, localised organisational structure. But those who proclaim subsidiarity as a principle — and it was originally a theological idea — are often the first to betray it.

In 1976, the central Church decided that the parish was an inefficient way of running things and brought the ownership of parish assets under the control of the Diocese, introducing a whole new layer of management to look after the parish’s assets. From here on in, the Diocese began to have its own ideas about how best to spend a parish’s assets. Vicarages were sold off. The clergy were paid from a central pot. And power shifted from the parishes to the Diocesan structures.

Last week, we gathered as Save the Parish for the first time in the ancient St Bartholomew’s church in Smithfield. Alison Millbank, Canon Theologian from Southwell Cathedral, put the matter plainly: “the Church of England has totally capitulated to market values and managerialism
 There has been a tendency to view the parish like some inherited embarrassing knick-knack from a great-aunt that you wish were in the attic.”

The fightback, it’s safe to say, has started. At the end of the event, Fr Marcus Walker, the Rector of St Bartholomew’s, described Save the Parish as “the last chance to save the system that has defined Christianity in this country for 1000 years”. He may not have been exaggerating.

These days, our senior clergy do MBAs and spend their lives in committees, devising desk-generated grand plans for the revitalisation of the Church. On the receiving end of these continual initiatives are the poor bloody infantry, the clergy and people of the parishes, slagged off as an impediment to growth and rubbished as some antique hangover from a bygone age.

The senior clergy say they value the parish. And some do. But many on the ground are just not feeling the love.


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

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Cheryl Jones
Cheryl Jones
2 years ago

From what I have observed, as an atheist, these last few years, is that church attendance is falling and so funding is waning. In such a situation the powers that be at the top of the tree will always look to self-preservation first. They like their jobs and their perks.
So 1. They’re thinking about attracting new parishioners, mostly the new crop of incomers from highly religious places like Africa.
2. They’re thinking about cutting costs. And so here we are – the local parish church, the visible sign of our heritage, our community, the historical buildings that so define English villages – and which are ostensibly in less ‘diverse’ areas than the cities – are first in the firing line and so are the people in them.

The church is going woke multicultural.
Speeches by the Archbishop of Canterbury recently would seem to confirm my suspicions.

If the church is solely about spreading the Gospel then I guess it goes where it thinks the believers are, even if that’s on Zoom. If that’s it’s trajectory then what we know as the Church of England is dead. But the parish churches are more than that. They are a part of English cultural heritage and keeper of a great many historical buildings that connect us firmly with our past. At their best they are also a centre of communities providing valuable service and support to the needy. Even atheists like me enjoy them and value them. In today’s era of woke history purging, the church surely knows it will be on the hit list soon as a white patriarchal institution – maybe it’s trying to navigate its way around that by proclaiming itself to be on the diversity train and abandoning any symbols of its ‘white supremacy’ by letting its local churches crumble to dust or turned into cafes or mosques. Wouldn’t surprise me frankly. The question is whether we should allow it. The church is not just about religion anymore, it belongs to any of us who value our history and identity as ‘English’ or who appreciate the beauty of old buildings and think they should be preserved so as not to flatten our landscapes to a sea of ugly modern boxes.

Last Jacobin
Last Jacobin
2 years ago
Reply to  Cheryl Jones

‘It belongs to any of us who value our history and identity as ‘English’. That excludes English Christians who are not C of E from being truly ‘English’. I love an old C of E church myself – as another atheist – and I’m also aware they mostly started out as Catholic Churches until their appropriation so the history is complicated. The C of E is no more a custodian of Englishness than Methodist Chapels, the recently built Catholic Churches or Working Men’s Clubs and Trades Unions. If you want to preserve the churches that is fine and a good cause I’d be happy to support but don’t give them, or the established and very wealthy C of E, exalted ‘English’ status.

Graham Dunn
Graham Dunn
2 years ago
Reply to  Last Jacobin

Part of the challenge e that the CofE faces is that many people consider the Parish church to be their church but do nothing to pay for its upkeep. The primary role of the local church is not maintaining historical buildings rather it is sharing a living faith.

Cheryl Jones
Cheryl Jones
2 years ago
Reply to  Graham Dunn

And that is the conundrum isn’t it.

Cheryl Jones
Cheryl Jones
2 years ago
Reply to  Last Jacobin

You miss my point. This is about historical buildings that are part of the fabric of our culture and heritage. The C of E happens to be the custodians most of the time but from my pov that’s almost an irrelevance. If the CofE abandons them, what happens to them? If you are a Catholic a Methodist or whatever, even an atheist, this should concern us all should it not?

Lesley van Reenen
Lesley van Reenen
2 years ago

I am not a churchgoer, but I believe faith (and church for some) is a central cog in communities and societies. Everything I have read about the COE recently indicates that it seems to be imploding under very poor leadership.

Jon Redman
Jon Redman
2 years ago

It doesn’t believe very much of the Bible, that’s for sure. God made a covenant with Noah after the Flood that He’d never inundate the world again. The CoE believes in climate change, and that it will inundate the world. It follows that God was either not telling the truth, or doesn’t exist, or can’t prevent this and therefore is not God but is some other bozo pretending to be God.
I suppose there could be an argument that God didn’t say there would never be a partial inundation, but this makes God out to be merely some sort of sleazy hairsplitting American lawyer.

Lesley van Reenen
Lesley van Reenen
2 years ago
Reply to  Jon Redman

I can’t talk bible or church because I don’t follow the Christian faith I was born into
 I do have faith in God though. That said, I can acknowledge that traditional churches bring solidarity and community to societies.

aaron david
aaron david
2 years ago

I grew up in a town in California that is famous for its church. While I am not a Catholic, many of my childhood friends were and that is the Parrish that they attended. Indeed, that was the location of my Boy Scout troop meetings. I know the location well, as it was a fixture in my youth.
When you say “But the problem here is that the weight of parish commitments, even the building, is what keeps us from floating off into some abstract theological space. The parish is grounded, rooted in place and time” makes the idea of a church, whatever its name, much more solid, and its place and need in a community, much more important. Good luck with your Mission.

Lesley van Reenen
Lesley van Reenen
2 years ago
Reply to  aaron david

San Luis Obispo? I have a friend who lives up in the mountains near there. She is a shaman.

Deborah B
Deborah B
2 years ago

Brought up in the Church of England and involved for many years in the choir, I was fortunate enough to have known and been inspired by wonderful clergy. But … my church is considered to be a fast track for rising stars. As a result there has been frequent movement and promotion, causing a sense of disconnection. In the last twenty years it is the academic clergy who dominate. Ambitious, out of touch, uninspiring and difficult to warm to.
So I would argue that the Church has been diminished by the infiltration of ambitious academics, and it’s time to get everyone back into parishes, doing stuff on the ground, humbly, close to parishioners and prise them away from their academic pursuits ( and personal self aggrandisement).

Mark Walton
Mark Walton
2 years ago
Reply to  Deborah B

The traditional historical method to clergy was always the educated privileged. Often they had great riches, even despised by the masses.
What has changed? I sometimes prefer the ordination of the Catholics, then I wake up; what divine right have Ireland to ministry!
I do think a lot of the CofE laity are closer to God than the ministry, perhaps non ordained stipends is the real calling. I have found many Oxford/Cambridge type educated priest so poor at man management. Like MPs the best will come from the laity.

Marco S
Marco S
2 years ago
Reply to  Deborah B

There are an increasing number on television taking part in chat and quiz shows. Rarely speaking about faith or ministry. perhaps this is ministry? Will be on love island next.

Chelcie Morris
Chelcie Morris
2 years ago

The current Archbishop of Canterbury is more concerned with keeping his job than he is keeping CoE healthy and it shows with his recent comments about CoE and how it needs to be “decolonialised” (despite CoE being established before colonialism even started) and how he’s bending the beliefs of the Church to fit the modern mindset instead of being grounded in it. The reason why people flock to Islam, Hinduism or Buddhism are because they are cemented in their beliefs, they don’t bend to fit the narrative, and that brings with it stability which is what people go to religion for in the first place. How can people rely on CoE when the grounds they stand on are constantly moving?

Last edited 2 years ago by Chelcie Morris
JR Stoker
JR Stoker
2 years ago
Reply to  Chelcie Morris

This is a very important point. The C of E, unlike most major religions, does not proclaim the eternal truths, but adjusts them to reflect modern fashions and , it oft seems, focus groups (drawn from non-believers probably). Roman Catholicism is slipping that way too, though hopefully the next pope will be another John Paul or Benedict.

Angicanism needs a humble modest leader focused on the spiritual and whose inspiration wells up from the people in the pews.

Jon Redman
Jon Redman
2 years ago
Reply to  JR Stoker

The C of E, unlike most major religions, does not proclaim the eternal truths, but adjusts them to reflect modern fashions

There couldn’t really be any better confirmation that God doesn’t exist and was thought up by people. Either the doctrine changes with the wind a la CoE, or it never changes at all and thus demands things like anti-semitism and jihad, centuries after everyone else grew up. Either way, it’s demonstrably unfit for purpose and therefore can’t be divine in origin.
It always surprises me how carelessly religious texts are read. In the Old Testament, Er was killed by God but had no heir. This meant Er’s property would have been inherited by his widow. God being not only a bit of a sexist but also a bit of a ducker and a diver, He craftily instructed Er’s brother Onan to chuck one up his widow, get her in the family way, and pass the resulting sprog off as Er’s own son. This way, God would be able to diddle the bereaved widow He had made out of her inheritance by fiddling the Jewish inheritance laws, which directed a man’s inheritance ti his son. Despite being the Supreme Being He was apparently powerless to change or get around this law any other way. When brother Onan didn’t play along, God killed him, too.
God emerges very poorly from that, I’d say, but the whole episode is understood merely as God having an issue with self-abuse, which is a shallow misreading.
Jesus wasn’t a lot better. He once commented that washing your hands before a meal was man’s law, not God’s, i.e. you needn’t bother. The trouble with this is that if you eat with your hands, not washing them is a very good way to get ill and die. If Jesus was omniscient, you’d think he’d know this, and if he wanted to heal the sick you’d think he would realise his time was more productively spent on prevention than on performatively healing one leper at a time, like Batman beating up individual criminals. The inference is that Jesus didn’t know any more about food hygiene than any other first-century shaman.

David Yetter
David Yetter
2 years ago
Reply to  JR Stoker

Indeed. That’s a major reason there are a lot of ex-Anglicans in the Holy Orthodox Church. And I agree the Latins are slipping that way, too — when I found I could no longer be an Anglican, I attended one Novo Ordo Mass and concluded that that train was running on the same track, just on a slower time-table, and was promptly received in the the Orthodox Church (emergency provisions, the usual year-long catechism was waived for those of us following Fr. Chad Hatfield into the Church). As an aside, it is quite popular here in the American Great Plains for converts to Orthodoxy from Western confessions to take as patron saints (and baptismal names for themselves or their children) pre-Schism British saints — I chose St. David of Wales; we have an Aiden at the parish I now attend; and there was an Eanswythe at the first Orthodox parish Fr. Chad started before leaving to run seminaries.

Richard Lyon
Richard Lyon
2 years ago

I wrote to the Archbishop to express my dismay at the Chruch’s recent attempt to sack a vicar for the crime of handing out hymn books, singing, and comforting the bereaved in the hour of need (all in violation of the Church’s decision to agree with the Government that Church attendance was a ‘non-essential activity’).
Some chinless wonder, titling himself “Correspondence Manager to the Archbishop of Canterbury”, wrote back to tell me that the Archbishop had in this matter delegated both his authority and, astonishingly, his accountability to the local Bishop.
I replied to share my expectation that, having abandoned his leadership role, the Archbishop should vacate his Palace and other residences to allow them to be converted to affordable housing for the poor.
The “Correspondence Manager to the Archbishop of Canterbury” felt disinclined to reply further.

Last edited 2 years ago by Richard Lyon
Jon Redman
Jon Redman
2 years ago

we have far too many Bishops for the number of churchgoers that we now have

It’s not a similarity you see drawn very often, but in this and certain other respects, the Church of England seems increasingly to resemble the Royal Navy.
It’s not just that both have more admirals than actual warships, so to speak. It’s that in both cases, the brass have also decided on a ruinously expensive showpiece project (two new aircraft carriers) that will suck in most of the organisation’s energy and resources to the point where it’s no longer up to doing what it was supposed to be for and that doesn’t engage with the actual threat, which in both cases is asymmetrical Islamist attack.
So the RN was a border and anti-submarine force, but those of its 30-odd ships that are actually seaworthy will almost all be required to protect the carriers, leaving none to do anything else. Likewise the church’s wheeze is a topdown initiative that gives the brass more to do and a big idea to play with, while treating the organisation’s backbone as a nuisance to be ignored, repurposed and milked of money.
Neither grandiose scheme will work properly because it takes unerring aim at the wrong target while irritating traditional supporters.

Alan Osband
Alan Osband
2 years ago
Reply to  Jon Redman

Did they sell the vicarages and hang on to the Bishop’s palaces ?

Jon Redman
Jon Redman
2 years ago
Reply to  Alan Osband

In effect yes, Alan – everything is being cancelled or laid up in port because all the money has gone on the aircraft carriers. It amounts to closing the vicarages but keeping the palaces.

Andrew Daws
Andrew Daws
2 years ago
Reply to  Alan Osband

don’t forget that the bishops normally have a small apartment in the palace: they are mainly administrative offices nowadays

parishbooks49
parishbooks49
2 years ago
Reply to  Jon Redman

a wonderful analogy and I am sure that Gilbert & Sullivan could have had a field day reflecting the current CofE

Jon Redman
Jon Redman
2 years ago
Reply to  parishbooks49

And someone has complained about it, so it has now disappeared.

Galeti Tavas
Galeti Tavas
2 years ago
Reply to  Jon Redman

The Royal Navy needed the aircraft carriers – that they were not Nuke was a terrible choice, but they were needed if UK wants the huge soft power it gets by sitting at the world’s top tables.

UK gains huge indirect financial benefits by its political international stature, and with no aircraft carriers it would be very greatly down rated in international stature! Those ships more than pay for themselves, by several times.

Jim Cox
Jim Cox
2 years ago
Reply to  Galeti Tavas

Very cogent point.

Ian Barton
Ian Barton
2 years ago

Presumably the next managerial decision will be to rebrand the CofE to the “Church of Zoom”
It’s desperately sad – and despite being an atheist – I wish the campaign all the best.

Last edited 2 years ago by Ian Barton
Sarah H
Sarah H
2 years ago
Reply to  Ian Barton

From parishoners to “passengers” to customers. Sad to see.

parishbooks49
parishbooks49
2 years ago

In taking the parish endowments in 1976 the central church acted like a dodgy insurance company making you invest your savings and capital and then failing to provide the annuity offered. Without any sense of shame the central Church now says you must pay your way as if the endowments had never been confiscated.
There are many rural parishes which could maintain a paid ministry, part time in some cases, if it wasn’t for the central bureaucracy overheads. One tiny parish I know has to pay ÂŁ3250 pa to the diocese and yet has only one service a month and that provided by retired clergy, its neighbour pays ÂŁ12,000 and yet again covered by retired clergy. No wonder there is a rumbling in the shires!

Last edited 2 years ago by parishbooks49
Jon Redman
Jon Redman
2 years ago

The CofE is of course missing the elephant in the room. The main challenge is not that they’re not attracting enough Christians. It’s that there is a competing alien religion which does not tolerate the CofE or any other faith for that matter. We are approaching the point where there will be demands for the CofE to be disestablished in favour of Islam, on the basis that Islam has more adherents in the UK.

Aidan Twomey
Aidan Twomey
2 years ago

I am generally sympathetic to this article, but for what purpose should we save the parish? To proclaim the gospel. Christ said it should be proclaimed to the ends of the Earth, many parishes are so comfortable and set in their ways they don’t even proclaim it to the end of their town. The parish is I think the best place to rev up the missionary zeal and I wish this campaign well (I bet Giles is a fantastic missionary), but if Save The Parish means saving the routine of the few people who attend it then it is a waste of time.

Francis MacGabhann
Francis MacGabhann
2 years ago

Same story this side of the Tiber. Same managers with the same vacuum of supernatural faith. Over here we call them “Jesuits”.

Last edited 2 years ago by Francis MacGabhann
James Finnemore
James Finnemore
2 years ago

This started some decades ago with the Church providing jobs for clergy who found parish life boring. So they were given expenses etc without any responsibility for raising money
 nice one!

Alan Thorpe
Alan Thorpe
2 years ago

if Carey feels betrayed, I hate to think what God feels. I imagine he has left the crumbling buildings.

Jim Cox
Jim Cox
2 years ago
Reply to  Alan Thorpe

Where two or more are gathered in His name, God is there with them.

Andrew Wise
Andrew Wise
2 years ago

Great article, the crisis in previous decades has been a church (CofE specifically) that doesn’t know what it believes in at a theological level.
Once you’ve lost your core beliefs then its relatively easy to be captured by modern management theories and you end up going from parishoners to “passengers” to customers.
In a bid to be modern and relevant the church risks becoming both woke and irrelevant. Neither appealing to its traditional base or a new generation.

MJ Reid
MJ Reid
2 years ago

I am now an atheist. It was not always this, way. When I was a teenager, I was an enthusiastic member of Scripture Union. But when I started asking difficult questions and was told to pray for the answers I gave up on religion.

I do remember the collectivity and community that came from meeting together whether in church, on a beach or in a park. I know this is not something you get on Zoom.

I also remember the church being central to our local communities, 4 in total. These were small churches but filled on a Sunday. They were also the place where a person could get support if they were in trouble and if the parish had a good minister and an even better minister’s wife, nobody was ever going to lie on a floor for days without being found, no older person would be left isolated and on their own for weeks, no single mother would be left to struggle and no person with mental health issues would be left in pain. And it did not matter whether or not you believed. People make communities and this was at the heart of parish ministry.

How many people who attend church are online? How many are comfortable using Zoom? How many have issues where they cannot hear online/on Zoom and nothing is done to include them? In the older adult population, 60% of 60 year olds and 70%of 70 year olds have a hearing loss that needs “technical” support – hearing aids. In many congregations across the country, the majority will be older. Is the church willing to make Zoom services fully accessible to these people every time?

And what of people ministry, how do you take communion online? How do you minister to the dying online? How do you comfort the bereaved online? How do you christen a child online? Marry people online?

I think the Church if England need to remember that without members, they do not gave a church and without including all parishioners and their needs, again no church to support dioceses, bishops and archbishops.

Dave Corby
Dave Corby
2 years ago

It is amusing to read so many people declaring themselves as atheist and yet defending the good that the Parish Church does without acknowledging the source and inspiration for the good work.
These are not good people doing the work – they are people who are being obedient to the commands of their God who is the source of everything that is good.
To God be the glory.

GA Woolley
GA Woolley
2 years ago

If Jesus was alive he’d be turning in his grave.

Jason McSpadden
Jason McSpadden
2 years ago
Reply to  GA Woolley

However, the grave is empty and Jesus is forever alive! Hallelujah!

Jim Cox
Jim Cox
2 years ago
Reply to  GA Woolley

He is alive, seated at the right hand of God the Father.

Mike Smith
Mike Smith
2 years ago

The brink of collaspe more like.
If death at the hands of a rampaging virus hasn’t caused people to flock to their local churches, then something must be wrong. But of course the CofE has been absent for most of the pandemic so far with churches closed to parishioners and with cowardly vicars hiding under their beds.
I can now see I was right to be an atheist!

Last edited 2 years ago by Mike Smith
Graham Dunn
Graham Dunn
2 years ago

At heart the CofE is hampered by being the ‘state’ (established) church and each level of the hierarchy struggles to understand its purpose. It is disjointed. The parish church is the bedrock of the organisation. It is the powerhouse of prayer, pastoral care and community engagement, and of course is the access point to corporate worship. The decline of the local church will result in the fall of the whole organisation that is precariously balanced on top of it.

Dave Corby
Dave Corby
2 years ago

As someone who became a Christian through the CoE (well the final step anyway) I recognise the special position it has in the global Church.
If you are at all inquisitive then you may feel safer approaching Christianity at the ‘established’ Church. Certainly you will be welcome and your comfort zone will probably not be challenged unless you volunteer to get more engaged.
This is, for me, the one thing that needs to be preserved. The English still have some respect for the fruits of the parish Church from when it was the center of the community. To lose this would be to close a door of opportunity.
We have access to The Truth. Doors of opportunity allow people to get their first glimpse – which is all we are required to provide after which the offer is either accepted or rejected.
Christianity is not like other religions. We let you know that it is in your power to choose where you will be for eternity. Christ just asks us to put that choice before you, then its out of our hands. You choose – blessings or curses, life or death.

Richard Collier
Richard Collier
2 years ago

Of course we must “save the parish”. But can we first think about what that means? Are we to argue for the defence of the status quo as though nothing has changed, and, if not, what alternative vision do we offer ?
here are some suggestions:
Disestablish the Church of England.
Reduce the number of Bishops by 50% (at least).
Separate the role of Archbishop of Canterbury from the leadership of the world-wide Anglican Community and let him (or her) be the Pastor for England.
Lay hands on the recognised leaders within the parishes to enable them to exercise a priestly ministry and
Maker sure there are sufficient Priests of experience and learning to lead and teach them that reading Jane Austen, Trollope and Bonhoeffer is more important than going to committee meetings.

h w
h w
2 years ago

The United Church of Canada went this way some years ago. The ‘bums in the pews’ as people are called are not needed to bring in income to pay salaries of clergy or bureaucrats. Properties – including huge church camp properties – are sold or redeveloped as rental units (not low income usually) and $$$ flows in without the need for anyone to go to church at all. Preaching can be anything because there’s no need to inspire people to attend, commit and donate. The idea that a revisionist view of sex (‘love is love’, etc) will bring in loads of new people has not panned out – surprise!. Tiny congregations – eg 20 people – may have a well-paid full time minister who never visits anyone and may not even believe in God let alone the resurrection of Jesus.

Liz Walsh
Liz Walsh
2 years ago

One thinks of citations: Bob Dylan’s “Money doesn’t talk — it swears!” or Bacon’s Idols of the Theatre, or Archbishop Temple’s “One wonders why anyone bothered to crucify the Christ of modern liberal Protestantism?” It seems that as soon as “two or three are gathered together in my name” one of them is bound to be more a citizen of the world, and potentially a sock puppet or worse, than of the Kingdom of Heaven. The Church, whether in UK, where doubly tragically it is bound to national cultural identity, or here in the US, seems to have stolen away under cover of darkness, like a faithless spouse in the grip of midlife madness. We who are almost helplessly faithful to what we were taught, rather like the Narnian animals, are left to keep our faith but to be Ronin Anglicans. The ronin road is an honorable one, but lonely.

Last edited 2 years ago by Liz Walsh
Graeme Laws
Graeme Laws
2 years ago

I’ve moved house a dozen times in the last 50 years. Just once have I been called on by the local vicar, welcoming me to his parish and inviting me to his church. That was in Sandford, outskirts of Oxford, 20 years ago. The problem in a nutshell? People come where they are invited and stay where they are made welcome.

Colin Elliott
Colin Elliott
2 years ago

Our parish used to maintain records of who was buried where. The diocese decreed that this should be centralised, and demanded the records. Now, no one knows where anyone is buried because it has lost them.

Douglas Proudfoot
Douglas Proudfoot
2 years ago

These events remind me of the events after the merger of Congregational Churches with the Church of Christ to form the United Church of Christ in the US. The UCC took over all the central Congregational assets, like seminaries and endowments. Congregational Church members who declined to join the UCC were left with only their buildings, if they were in the majority of their congregations, and nothing if they lost the vote.
I think the best parishioners can do is incorporate as independent congregations and buy back their buildings, if that’s economically possible. It would depend on getting a mortgage on the building. As a Congregationalist myself, I’m not sure how declaring independence from the Church of England, in order to save the parish, will look theologically or culturally to members. It’s a big step.
The problem is that legally the CoE owns the building and, at least theoretically, is superior to the parish priests in these matters. You’re really going to have a tough time breaking away from those tight bonds. This is exactly why Congregationalism started originally, to get away from church hierarchical control. You may have to organize a breakaway sect to pool resources, particularly legal resources.

Julie Kemp
Julie Kemp
2 years ago

Well said and so apt Giles!!
The lockdowns of Churches et al have dismayed me; i attend only infrequently, but when i do i feel rooted in the emotional and cognitive cohesion of ‘faith’ or ‘knowing’.
I also reverence the ‘old’ (received/debated/synthesised) and how it has become further revised and simultaneously further enriched by scientific enquiry from several disciplines eg. genetics, epigenetics, archaeology, anthropology and deep antiquity. It changes little if at all in the end it seems to me.
While a small c conservative and a monarchist i still like to penetrate the matrix and consider extremes.
Many people have seen after a bit of time – sometimes years or months, that far too many ‘professional’ types have progressively landed into constructed positions which occupied the ‘land mass’ between the upper echelon of many a vocational/professional group and its qualified practitioners ‘in the field’.
This form of a ‘middle class’ or bureaucracy has to be de-constructed itself! It’s not ‘fit for [any] purpose’ apart from, in the main it seems, garnering individual self-interest and power which may extend to the political either by influence or by a government role itself. May this ‘land mass’ go under the sea please!
People in this particular ‘middle class’ set may have had some art and/or science in their ‘education’. However it’s likely to have been rather diluted and ill-referenced to any truly life/society enhancing elite ‘time honoured’ intellectual discipline.
In effect this ‘middle class’ role has for many decades led many people in many other fields to feel the pinch not only in their wages or salary aspect, but in the guts of their specific discipline and its delivery system. Typically their undercutting or ‘social engineering’ goes a good way to diminishing the better or best chance of ‘best practice’ in so many fields. Of course over-funding like over-eating is not healthy either.
The nuance-rich field that is Medicine & Surgery (amongst others including Nursing) is variously negated and often severely damaged by sociopaths and psychopaths who favour any field in which they choose to permeate – often reaching the higher echelons and ranks that may influence, if not confound, government and its ministers; some of these people may even have originated from such a ‘middle class’ entity.
I saw ‘my’ Nursing environs go down the drain whilst it gurgled all sorts of dictata ‘from on high’ that took focus, and enjoyment, away from the art of our practice. This is not to say that Nursing itself had no ‘science’ in its practice. We had to observe and consider many many ‘things’ in the moment and be totally proficient as we apprenticed up the line. This was long appreciated even if expected – as it still may be.
It is my opinion that nursing and medicine/surgery/psychiatry and allied health are balanced in subtle and distinct ways of practice. Such multi-disciplinary efforts can render ‘healing’ more viable, more satisfying and more effective on all fronts, even the economic. Balance is both scientific and an art form when honestly, rigorously and sensitively desired.
I left Nursing periodically for relief and adventure. My training had started when 17. At 30 i went to ‘uni’. What a revelation to enjoy thought, lectures and discussion. To read and engage. To debate. In many ways i had done that since i had trained but to be at university then acknowledged and honoured that activity and promoted its skill.
However periodically i left non-nursing work to return to ‘the sisterhood’. My BA had not got me very far and i fell into two good jobs: one was short-term the other i left after 3years – i grew abashed and uncomfortable by office politics in the arts world.
Re-entry into nursing in the late 1980’s showed me that many changes had happened and i felt their impact was sorely disappointing. I enjoyed it less, so went across to ‘mental health’. This proved a deep challenge and it was a great and deeply valuable experience personally and professionally. It led me to further engage the deeper questions about the ‘Human Condition’ – away from the body focus (albeit greatly central to each of us especially re the Obesity issue.)
Now in my retirement of 10 years and in my 70’s i am so glad of many, if not all my experiences that i can recall – from personal threats, physical violence, illness and accident to the ecstasy of revelation.
Like any ship there has to be a captain or a PM. This role is the usual suspect expected to cohere and steer the populace (its base and backbone), towards safety and ‘deliverance’.
Your wonderful, amazing and glorious Cathedrals in the UK were a joy when i was there for a year in 1975. I worked as a ‘nursing sister’ in Lindo Wing, St Mary’s where i nursed a major musician. When i sailed to Southampton I had just finished working as a ‘nursing sister’ in the Highlands of New Guinea for a year and was rapt in the differences between such utterly different worlds – both i ‘owned’ at different levels in different ways. Going to extremes then to the midline is great travel!
Entanglement has now informed our Consciousness and accelerates my sense of relief in what you have expressed Giles.
Thanks again.

Last edited 2 years ago by Julie Kemp
William Cameron
William Cameron
2 years ago

If the Church supported Christianity more than BLM it would have more parishioners.

Malcolm Knott
Malcolm Knott
2 years ago

I didn’t know St Paul was a tent maker. Are you sure about that?

Aidan Twomey
Aidan Twomey
2 years ago
Reply to  Malcolm Knott

Yes, Acts 18:3. Although I am lead to believe that they weren’t the kind of camping tents you might take to Snowdonia on a hike, more like awnings for mobile businesses, or even military.

LCarey Rowland
LCarey Rowland
2 years ago

You mentioned that Paul was a tentmaker. That sums it up rather well.

Tim Knight
Tim Knight
2 years ago

Bit of a shame that the “Parish has defined Christianity in the country for the last 1000 years.”

It’s great and all but it isn’t central to the Gospel.

Last edited 2 years ago by Tim Knight
Cheryl Jones
Cheryl Jones
2 years ago
Reply to  Tim Knight

But it IS central to our sense of history and heritage. The C of E isn’t just a church. It’s a keeper of Englishnss and tradition in a way other churches are not.

Last Jacobin
Last Jacobin
2 years ago
Reply to  Cheryl Jones

A 2018 survey recorded the number of Methodists, Baptists, Presbyterians, Catholics and other Christian denominations and none outnumbering Church of England Christians significantly.

Tim Knight
Tim Knight
2 years ago
Reply to  Cheryl Jones

Fair enough. But keeping Englishness and tradition isn’t what a church is for however nice and important it is.
If you aim for it you’ll lose it all.
See 1st and 2nd things CS Lewis.

Cheryl Jones
Cheryl Jones
2 years ago
Reply to  Tim Knight

The choice is clear. Get new parishioners and money and abandoning what you once stood for – or find a new way to position the CofE as central to our identity and history and something to be protected and ring-fenced like a protected species.

Tim Knight
Tim Knight
2 years ago
Reply to  Cheryl Jones

That’s like trying to preserve golf courses by looking after the bunkers to attract those who really like sand.

Last edited 2 years ago by Tim Knight
Tim Knight
Tim Knight
2 years ago
Reply to  Cheryl Jones

Fair enough. But however nice and important it is to be a keeper of Englishness and tradition it isn’t the primary focus of a church.
If the parish churches were full of joyful people the traditions would look after themselves. I would wager that is is much harder to fill a church by proclaiming Englishness than it is by proclaiming the Gospel.

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2 years ago

Christian life is complete by following four main orders addressed by the New Testament:
1. Holy communion
2. Praying
3. Reading and knowing the Bible
4. Associating with the brothers

If one of these “faith pillars” is shaken then Christian life is in trouble.
In this case, it is obvious that by undermining the physical presence of the churchgoers, the fourth pillar is in jeopardy

Hugh Eveleigh
Hugh Eveleigh
2 years ago

The parish is indeed the historical centre of the church and to attempt to change this to a more bureaucratic centralised management will only further hinder matters. This is not to suggest that some form of overall structure aimed at assisting all parishes isn’t needed as sometimes parishes become exclusionary themselves but the essence of the Anglican (and indeed RC) church is still the parish and that now needs reinforcing.

Claire D
Claire D
2 years ago

I don’t want it to be so, but perhaps we should be able, at least, to separate our faith from our affection for our beautiful church buildings.
I don’t understand Archbishop Welby’s behaviour, the things he says seem so negative and divisive, but the A of C has been a political post as much as, if not more than, a holy one since 1066.
This must be one of the most difficult periods in history to be A of C; the attacks and indifference of the state towards Christians, identity politics, LGBTQ demands, feminism and feminist clergy, the Equality Act + section 149 with it’s implications for any employer, the inability to understand what BLM actually stands for.
Perhaps the end has come for the C of E as we have known it, I doubt whether Archbishop Welby is to blame for that. But maybe something new and good will rise from the ashes.
Pray is all I can do.

Last edited 2 years ago by Claire D
Rob Keeley
Rob Keeley
2 years ago

Name and shame, Giles. This is all happening under the ghastly Welby’s woeful watch.

Last edited 2 years ago by Rob Keeley
Andrew Daws
Andrew Daws
2 years ago

Of course it would be great if each parish/community/faith group were self-supporting, but many aren’t. By centralising funds, the rich can support the poor, that is unless Evangelical power house like St Helen’s Bishopsgate refuse to accept their responsibilities, dressing their meanness up with vacuous excuses as not wanting to accept gays, or to have women in ministry. So free churches that meet in schools and other unused buildings can balance their books. It’s a shame that that inevitably leads to more power to the intolerant, and a decline in liberal values.

Nicholas Taylor
Nicholas Taylor
2 years ago

I have noted the increase in concerts, community-binding activities, and food banks in churches. I don’t think they would be quite the same online. When God finally goes, and his be-robed theological managers too, there will still be the buildings, probably a committed caretaker, the occasional wedding and harvest festival, maybe even a congregation. It will be once again as it always was.

mike otter
mike otter
2 years ago

Church attendance in Europe has fallen every century since it stopped being compulsory, so 1500s in Holland, 1888 in UK, and (humor alert) 1970s in Logrono. So i can’t see how it can be turned round. The African and US churches buck the trend because they are younger and still do the manichean fire and brimstone act. They in turn will shrink. China actively suppresses Churches. So if the CofE wants to survive i suggest they downgrade their Messiah to Prophet and join the only Church that still backs its myths with force: Islam.

John McGibbon
John McGibbon
2 years ago

In an age of ignorance, the church had a place telling people why things might happen and what people had to do to avoid the sh#t hirinyg the fan on a personal and societal basis. For this and it’s associated moral blackmail, the church took money and land from the people and bishops lived life like kings.
Then science came along and explained all sorts of things and now only fools or the naive believe much of the nonsense the church taught. In an age of science and education, the end is nigh for the church and rather than spend what’s left on bishops and their palaces, give the wealth of the church back to those it extracted it from, usually under some kind of moral compulsion.

aaron david
aaron david
2 years ago
Reply to  John McGibbon

I come from a whole family of scientists; my father had a Ph.D. in genetics, my uncle in nuclear physics, great uncles in Astronomy, soil science, and organic chem to name the closest relatives. But not one of those scientific endeavors could speak to morals. Indeed, one of the great uncles was so good at math that he helped work on the bombs that were dropped on Japan.
Science can and does explain many things, but it cannot form a moral opinion, nor share a moral opinion. People do that, and while the church, any church for that matter, has too often fallen on that job, they are often in a much greater place to help us realize these needs.

John McGibbon
John McGibbon
2 years ago
Reply to  aaron david

Morals exist without religion not because of.

Claire D
Claire D
2 years ago
Reply to  John McGibbon

Morals may exist without religion but our capacity for them is given to humans by God.
Oxford University’s anthropology department has recently published a study which shows that 60 cultures worldwide share 7 morals:
Help your family
Help your group
Return favours
Be brave
Defer to superiors
Divide resources fairly
Respect other’s property.

Douglas Proudfoot
Douglas Proudfoot
2 years ago
Reply to  John McGibbon

The scientist’s job is to figure out how G_d set things up. Maxwell’s Equations were always working, but scientists had to figure out how they worked so mankind could take advantage of electro-magnetic effects.
Along that line, I don’t see much conflict anymore between intelligent design and natural selection. Now that we are sequencing DNA we know that the genetic possibilities are not infinite and they are not random. Applying a field of mathematics called combinatorics to DNA sequences, gives us a very, very large but finite number of genetic combinations that are mathematically possible. Of those, there are likely a lot smaller but still very large number of combinations that are biologically viable. At this point, if you want to consider the biologically viable genetic combinations intelligently designed I don’t think the science is changed at all. The natural selection of Darwin chooses which of the biologically viable designs survive and which don’t. There’s no scientific conflict between intelligent design and survival of the fittest, but there is also no evolution driven by random events. The laws of genetics were all baked in the cake before the natural selection began with the original set of biologically viable designs.