by James Mumford
Thursday, 12
August 2021
Response
16:21

What the ‘Save the Parish’ campaign doesn’t understand

Justin Welby's plans are better than critics claim
by James Mumford
Justin Welby, the Archbishop of Canterbury. Credit: Getty

Some fighting spirit, at last, from Church of England traditionalists. Last week, they launched a campaign, ‘Save the Parish’, vociferously attacking Archbishop of Canterbury Justin Welby’s attempts to save the church.

But although Save the Parish is right in what it seeks to defend — the local church is, I believe, the hope of the world — it is wrong in what it’s intent on attacking. Welby more than anyone wants churches in every corner of the country. Up and down the land he longs for churches opening, reopening and, crucially, filling.

Save the Parish seems to have missed this. Giles Fraser writes that: ‘the centre of gravity in church affairs – as well as the funding – has shifted from the local parish towards an increasingly bureaucratised and centralised church structure.’

Yet in fact, as one Suffragan Bishop informs me, the vast majority of the Church of England’s church planting initiatives in recent years have been into existing parishes. Many church closures have been fought (the once-doomed St. Peter’s Brighton, for example, now boasts a congregation of 800 people). Last month, meanwhile, the Church Commissioners’ Strategic Development Fund (SDF) awarded £24 million to eight dioceses (bringing the total to £166 million since 2014). 

What is July’s cash injection to be spent on? Inter alia refurbishing churches (the Diocese of Manchester will allocate its share to The Ascension, Hulme) and renewing mission in extant congregations in particularly deprived areas (the Diocese of Chelmsford is to invest its new share in All Saints, West Ham). Alongside these moves, larger churches in one city have sponsored smaller ones in another, in a kind of reverse social Darwinism. New wine — that is, clergy, cash and lay people — has been poured into old wineskins.

What is frustrating about the traditionalists is that they don’t seem to be willing to make room for secular 21st century Brits. Father Marcus Walker, Rector of St. Bartholomew’s in London, at the launch of Save the Parish dismissed ‘a style of church set up in a cinema or bar or converted Chinese takeaway,’ but this has the whiff of snobbery about it. It seems to suggest that people exist for the sake of the church, not the church for the sake of people. Jonah felt the same way about the Ninevites. He, not they, were engorged by the obliging whale.

Then there’s the criticism that any ecclesial attempts to innovate, to do things differently, to experiment is, as academic Alison Milbank puts it, ‘a capitulation to market values.’ This, again, simply isn’t true. The church is merely tying to reach as many souls as it can.

Jesus of Nazareth clearly saw his mission as a desacralizing one. Instead of hallowing one particular place in which to worship, Christ tells the Samaritan woman in John 4, ‘a time is coming and has now come when the true worshippers will worship the Father in the Spirit and in truth, for they are the kind of worshipers the Father seeks.’ It wasn’t about stones any more, he taught, it was about people.

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Rasmus Fogh
Rasmus Fogh
1 year ago

Rather a politicians’ answer, this. First you are saying ‘Ah, but some of the money is going to actual churches’. ‘Ah but a lot of money is being spent in the periphery’ (even if the decisions are taken at the centre). Then you end by saying (on the authority of Jesus, no less) that the church should be desacralising and getting rid of stone buildings that do not gather the true worshippers whom the Father seeks. All through there is the innuendo that you and your friends care about winning new souls, whereas the ‘traditionalists’ care only about their own comfort.

No matter how secular the Brits are getting, the Church (unlike IBM or the Tory party) does not have the option of dumping its old product line and start selling something different instead. If you actually want to convince existing church members, it would be helpful if you could talk about how much of the existing Church you are in favour of dumping, and why you think the new approach will work so much better. What message are you going to push in the converted takeaways that will gather in many more people than the existing churches do? How much Christianity and how much marketing will it contain? How many apostles and firebrands do you have on hand to make a success of the new activities – and to take the place of discouraged traditionalists who might not make the leap? Are you doing this because you see a lot of exciting new opportunities, or because management theory says you need to reorganise, you feel that something must be done, and this is something? Or mainly as a downsizing exercise, to get rid of high-maintenance plant and unprofitable product lines?

Getting anywhere with this will require some inspiring leadership, one way or the other. Why not start by inspiring existing church members to see what the church is going to achieve and maybe help you do it?

Last edited 1 year ago by Rasmus Fogh
Julian Farrows
Julian Farrows
1 year ago
Reply to  Rasmus Fogh

I enjoyed reading your answer, Rasmus. I fear me that Christianity is a desert weed that doesn’t do well in lush climates. Like the monasteries of old we won’t know what we’ve lost until it is all gone.
For me, it’s very simple. If we want churches to be full again we need to bring study of the Bible back to schools. I was fortunate to have grown up with the backdrop of Christianity in my life, but now that it is under attack by wokeism, the new secular religion, I’m valuing my Christian upbringing now more than ever.

Josh Cook
Josh Cook
1 year ago

“What is frustrating about the traditionalists is that they don’t seem to be willing to make room for secular 21st century Brits. Father Marcus Walker, Rector of St. Bartholomew’s in London, at the launch of Save the Parish dismissed ‘a style of church set up in a cinema or bar or converted Chinese takeaway,’ but this has the whiff of snobbery about it.”

I think it is you sir who doesn’t understand.

It seems to me Giles et all are right to be worried about the future of the church and spiritual life in this country if this is what they are up against.

The march of managerialism, the centering of churchgoers as consumers who need to have the product delivered on Amazon prime- it’s enough to make even this atheist shudder.

Last edited 1 year ago by Josh Cook
Aidan Twomey
Aidan Twomey
1 year ago

“Jesus of Nazareth clearly saw his mission as a desacralizing one.”

This strikes me as so obviously wrong that I feel I haven’t understood all the words.

Francis MacGabhann
Francis MacGabhann
1 year ago
Reply to  Aidan Twomey

That’s exactly the thought that occurred to me. John, chapter 12 is pretty much explicit in this.

Mark Gourley
Mark Gourley
1 year ago

Yes – Saint Peter’s Brighton is a great Evangelical success story. But those of us who worship elsewhere in Brighton – in the Catholic tradition of the the Church of England – are left feeling ever more side-lined and marginalised. The tale of Our Lord and the Samaritan woman is full of teaching but – like so much of the Gospels – open to multiple interpretations.

Andrea X
Andrea X
1 year ago
Reply to  Mark Gourley

If I may ask, if you are Anglo Catholic, why don’t you just convert to Catholicism?
I was in Durham cathedral just the other day and there happen to be a Eucharistic service while I was there which I attended. If you were not finely attuned you would have struggled to find a difference with a short Catholic mass (leaving the meaning of the Eucharist aside, but that is, by definition, invisible).

Mark Gourley
Mark Gourley
1 year ago
Reply to  Andrea X

Thank you but I think you have in a way just answered your own question. The fullness of Eucharistic worship is widely available in the C of E, wherever the Catholic (not necessarily Roman) faith is taught and practised. (Many other considerations but too complex for this forum, alas.)

Andrew Fisher
Andrew Fisher
1 year ago

Given the Church of England’s position on any issue is now indistinguishable from that of the Guardian, including complete economic illiteracy, anti Brexit views and woke sermonising, the issue of buildings seems to be a second order one.

Ann Ceely
Ann Ceely
9 months ago
Reply to  Andrew Fisher

I completely agree with you.
You mention that US import of Woke – which many of us find unnatural and far too diversive.

Our British reserve and upbringing of politeness …

Peta Seel
Peta Seel
1 year ago

Doesn’t this rather miss the point? Why try to open new churches in sites that were never churches in the first place, when so many churches are left empty and without a priest?
Also, I note that James Mumford slides neatly past where an awful lot of money is going, which is to pay for distinctly secular jobs with very “Guardianista” job titles while parishes are crying out for priests. He also does not mention that Justin Welby does not seem to see the need to train those priests properly. In other words, something else that for centuries has formed part of the very fabric of our society is to be dumbed down to self-styled “Evangelists” preaching in living-rooms and other secular settings. No mention is ever made of the beautiful liturgy or the music that is part and parcel of worship.
If I can be allowed to use a secular analogy, it rather reminds me of the world of difference between test cricket and the latest brainchild of the ECB – the truly ghastly, and totally unnecessary “100”s, for those with the brains of a gnat and the concentration span of a flea.

Galeti Tavas
Galeti Tavas
1 year ago

Matthew 18:20
“For where two or three gather in my name, there am I with them.””

The old Chinese takeaway is fine as a Church.

Welby needs to go – someone much more suited needs to replace him – someone with magnetism. I had some business dealings with a big Central American Pentecostal Church, and the head of their Church in USA came down from Houston to finalize the starting of their new local Church here, and I met him and was Dazzled by this man’s power and aura – when he come in he was the center of attention, a remarkable person indeed, I cannot remember a more striking man.

He was 6′ 4″, a very dark Black with a fine build and features, wore what seemed an expensive, top of the line, bespoke set of clothes, was impeccably groomed and genteel manners which also showed great personal confidence and power.

One like him could do more for the Church than dozens of Welbys – he had the power, he had the Charisma. Welby’s soft and passive seeming air, his overthinking and trying to be all things to all men – he just is NOT up to the job of Church Leader. Church is Personality – it must have a General in charge, one who commands and is fallowed, one who leads and the people will fallow willingly and trustingly, and devotedly. This is not Welby.

David Simpson
David Simpson
1 year ago
Reply to  Galeti Tavas

Not Jesus either, I don’t think

Galeti Tavas
Galeti Tavas
1 year ago
Reply to  David Simpson

You forget
Isaiah 66:15
“15For behold the LORD will come with fire – – to execute his anger and rebuke with flames and fire 16For by fire and by His sword, the LORD will execute judgment on all flesh, and many will be slain”

Christianity is a hard religion, the turn the other cheek is not taken to mean to be pushed around.

The strong leader is useful if he gets good followers. The Welby kind of woke university academic in liberal social arts is not what today needs. The best are now resisting the morally relative, situational ethics, the correct and incorrect – and would like to see good and evil being the basis.

Don’t get hung up on this guy being Black though – But I felt his Charisma and Stature of personality more than any other religious leader, so mentioned him.

and speaking of this – The Wire intro, he’s got the fire and the fury at his command…..
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=FC34qP61sIQ

and https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZPKyqAAd4jc

Christianity is a hard thing to fallow, it is not just being a nice guy.

GA Woolley
GA Woolley
1 year ago

A formerly successful god product franchise now running out of customers, so decides to refresh its product line and open a few more branches. Meanwhile, the world moves on, unnoticed by the franchise owners.

Lee Jones
Lee Jones
1 year ago

Aye, right!

Michael Whittock
Michael Whittock
1 year ago

Thankyou James. At last some realism, vision, common sense, facts, and good theology. A far cry from what we had to endure from Giles Fraser and some responders. I

Campbell P
Campbell P
11 months ago

fine to have some new initiatives and projects – though many do not seem to have delivered. It is the financial and strategic mismanagement of dioceses that so incenses PCCs and congregations; that and the politically directed blue sky thinking about ‘maintaining a C of E presence ‘ DESPITE the evidence.

Ann Ceely
Ann Ceely
9 months ago

I dislike Justin Welby as Leader of the CofE.

He was no doubt a good manager in Canary Wharf – excelling at all the management practices the Finance business requires.

However, his writing and promotion of the EU should not have been done. Political structures should be irrelevant to his position.

Last edited 9 months ago by Ann Ceely