Do we need to ‘Save the Parish’?


Frog Orr-Ewing writes: On Tuesday 3rd August, a gathering was hosted by Marcus Walker in St Bartholomew the Great, London’s oldest parish church, to launch a campaign to “Save the Parish”. This small conference was intended to begin a campaign for General Synod, expressly to stop resources being siphoned away from parishes, and to ‘resist any further centralisation of power and authority away from parishes and towards dioceses and the central church.’ Save the Parish should be understood in a wider context of commitment to local church ministry across the theological spectrum and a widespread concern that church bureaucracy is increasingly out of touch with front line people-centred parish ministry.

The media rallied behind the campaign including an article by Marcus Walker in the Spectator, and a letter planning to marshal lay-led reform of the Church of England. Tensions were further exacerbated by the Gregory Centre proposal coming to General Synod to launch thousands of lay-led churches over the next ten years. This sparked ‘limiting-factorgate’ ; a social media exhale of exasperation on the part of clergy to the insinuation that expensive theological training, church buildings and ordained leadership were factors limiting growth in the Church of England. Incidentally, putting out a press-release for this new initiative on the weekend of ordinations at the end of a pandemic was probably misjudged, and undeniably contributed to a growing feeling of disenfranchisement and a subsequent backing-away by bishops from this initiative. 

I am calling the Save the Parish campaign a ‘heart cry’, a response which is giving voice to a growing and deeply emotional, intuitive and practical sense that something valuable and precious is being lost. I also want to suggest that Save the Parish is in some way a declaration of love for the church, and an articulation for some, of what it means to be Anglican.

The Ideal of the Parish

The ‘ideal’ of the parish has for centuries been a core concept of the Church of England. It is so deeply woven into Anglicanism that historically growth has come best when the idea of parish is renewed, reformed and re-invented. Many of the churches in urban areas were a result of a beautiful blend of localism, empowerment, and mission with Anglican ecclesiology, liturgy and doctrine. But parish is best understood as an ideal, a dream, an archetype, because each one is so different, and in each area and age it is constantly changing, with as many exceptions as rules. 

But because parish as a concept of mission and church is contextualised, it will never truly ‘fit’ grand structures and strategies; every area, every congregation, has a unique story and it is the weird particularity which is precious and meaningful. Hopewell, the great congregational studies expert, said:

I have begun to see how astonishingly thick and meaning-laden is the actual life of a single local church. Many churches fail to tell their story. They are paralyzed in prosaic self-description that follows depressingly predictable lines. They evaluate themselves by counting money, membership and programs [Hopewell: 1987, pp. 3, 140.]

Parish has its roots in the ancient Minsters who were said to have ‘parochiae’ which are best understood as ‘spheres of influence of ministry’ rather than specifically geographic designations. The process of firming up these parochiae to specific locales took nearly three hundred years and appears to have solidified by the mid 1300s. During the Reformation, the parish was reinvented; the parish churches and congregations remained, but the liturgy and the institution became Reformed.

Failure and Change

Skip forward then into the crisis of the Eighteenth Century, with a population of this country largely disengaged with the Christian faith and local church, and this failure to engage people fundamentally challenged the parish ideal. The crisis of collapse in attendance in the Church of England stimulated two responses. The first was outdoor preaching with John Wesley declaring that ‘the world is my parish’ giving rise to Methodism, and the second was a church multiplication movement which remained within the parish system known as the Huntingdon Connection churches, a network of Anglican churches supported and funded under the patronage of Selina Hastings, the Countess of Huntingdon.

A further major reinvention of the parish was a response to massive shifts in population in urban areas in the Nineteenth Century. The ideal of the parish had long-since become broken, for the reality was a largely failing mission, and out of touch Anglican churches. Small village churches now found themselves responsible for a portion of a metropolis or for an entire town. However, it took nearly a century for the necessary reforms within the Church of England and Parliament to finally meet the practical needs of population growth in neighbourhoods. 21 distinct Acts of Parliament were required through the first half of the nineteenth century until they finally arrived at the New Parishes Act of 1856, and further amendments in 1869.

The result was, what I call in my doctoral research, the ‘new parochialism’ which led to the most phenomenal fifty-year Anglican church-building frenzy that England has ever seen. This season was marked by strong lay involvement and localism, a very simple procedure for starting new churches, requiring a defined specific area of mission through service, and a specified sum of money to be raised, and one proposed ordained person for each church. The solution was to utterly reimagine the parish as a sphere of mission with a building, and at least 3,000 people in an area to minister to. Neighbourhoods like Camberwell had 11 Anglican churches and parishes carved out of the old village parish, to include the new airy suburbs of Nunhead and Peckham, alongside the numerous nonconformist congregations. 

Having said all of this, it will not come as a great surprise to hear that I support church planting as an intrinsic part of Anglican ecclesiology and practice and I fear that some in Save the Parish may be mistaken by turning their ire on evangelicals and specifically on Anglican church planting—neither of which are enemies of the parish.

A New Crisis 

Already under increasing strain, the parish system now finds itself in crisis again, the differentiation and localism is being undermined in the rural areas by unwieldy and potentially unleadable collections of parishes, and all over the nation by a demonstrable distance between members of the public and a lively Christian faith centred around a local church. Falling attendance amongst children, aging congregations and a global pandemic all have had an enormous toll.

The crisis is real and I do not think anyone is ignoring it, and yet we have reached an impasse between two ideals, two archetypes. In the red corner, the model of parish, with clear priest and people, purpose and place—comfortable with the happy weird mishmash of particularities, aims and intentions, and with local theological commitments but little defining strategy. And in the blue corner dioceses, bishops and the national institution, with centralised initiatives, staff and management designed to navigate the institution through these choppy waters. So now we have a new story: Parochialism versus Managerialism, and we urgently need a burst of new creativity to write the next chapter.

Save the Parish is a heart-cry, a late plea for life before deconstruction. The very jumble of theologies, financial approaches, emotion and opinions which we see is, in itself, a rejection of the values of the managerialism that has, depending on your opinion either infected or affected the Church of England in recent years. Ironically, many of the newer city centre ‘resource churches’ share with Save the Parish a radical commitment to local front line ministry with vicars and committed teams moving into previously derelict buildings with a vision to revitalise and grow Anglican worshipping congregations in specific neighbourhoods. Many of the frustrations articulated by Save the Parish are shared by clergy who are leading resource churches and church plants, so there may be a greater basis for unity in a shared rejection of diocesan forms of managerialism.

Three Managerial Changes

Three major changes have occurred which have fundamentally hamstrung the parishes, but unlike other changes in the last century, which were initiated bottom up, these have mostly been top-down, and at the behest of a new commitment to managerialism, mirrored in other public sectors, but which is now being critiqued fundamentally in those settings, such as academia.

The first managerial shift, which Save the Parish mentions, are the parish measures of the 1970s, under which all churches gave up their land, reserves and glebes and incomes in return for one balanced and universal payment package for the clergy. Stephen Trott called the Endowments and Glebe Measure of 1976 a failed experiment, and I think he is right. The intention was to replace the patchy historic stipends whose uneven spread and value did not sit well with the quest for modernisation. Parishes in living memory were promised they would never have to pay for their clergy again, and centralised management would end their woes when they handed over their assets.

But the financial model and the financial contract failed, as they did with many other public sector industries, and instead of giving the assets (held in trust) back to local churches, the diocesan boards held on to the glebe lands and started needing to raise more money from the parishes to meet their obligations and this gave birth to the quota system. Fully independent charities freely give a “voluntary” gift to centralised funds, in return for which the priests get to keep a pension and a stipend. The pressure brought to bear on the PCC by Diocesan Boards is the threat of losing their vicar: parishes pay up, and vicars are commended for maintaining an attitude of institutional compliance.

There is no lack of commitment to giving in order to support poorer parishes, but now even if you do pay, you might lose your vicar anyway, especially in a rural area. Each diocese tries to counteract this by coming up with their own arbitrary algorithm to persuade parishes to decide their own taxes. However, now, as decline occurs, local communities have no levers to pull, no ‘agency’ and decisions are being made over their churches whether they like it or not. And they are saying that they don’t like it. I have lost count of the times that deaneries are given the ‘choice’ of which posts to lose. It is like asking someone which leg they would like to have cut off. It is a hot mess—and has been a cause of much tension since the late 1990s which is when the financial model failed. In recent years, as Dioceses have taken time to ‘cut posts’ and ‘amalgamate the parishes’ they have done so with no apology, and no handing back of control.

I have on several occasions had chances to help advise lay leaders in villages on how they could respond to a local church financial crisis—a lack of vicar, a church roof collapse. In three villages there was the money available to pay the full stipend and pension, and to repair the church, but a decision had been made by a DBF to remove the vicar, and use the vicarage for a new centralised post. This has happened in my direct knowledge, in three unrelated incidents, in Wiltshire, Surrey and Oxfordshire—so to be clear in three different dioceses. Lay leaders, church wardens in these cases, were happy to face the facts, but were not allowed to solve the problem as they saw fit. In all three situations, it was made clear to them by either an archdeacon or a bishop that it was not their place to decide on how to use the assets of their village or save their parish. In all instances, the posts are gone forever even though the communities had both the desire and capacity to solve the problem locally. 

The Loss of Freehold and making of Trustees

The second major managerial change was the loss of the living, or the freehold in 2005 and its replacement with Common Tenure by 2011. The argument given at the time was that this change was needed—but when this was debated at diocesan synods it was made clear that this was designed to equalise the rights of all assistant clergy. But once again, this change was not made at the request of parishes, and it removed the security of tenure for clergy and the rights of parishes. Moreover, the freehold balanced out the power of the bishops, who couldn’t easily remove or discipline clergy except with serious grounds and with expensive ecclesiastical law cases. Common Tenure then went hand in hand with new guidelines and discipline measures for the clergy. The CDM has been an unmitigated disaster, demoralising all who go through it, regardless of whether they are cleared or not (and the vast majority are cleared) yet 40% have contemplated suicide. This managerial experiment of repackaging the living is clearly traumatising and the costs are enormously high.

The third major managerial change occurred in 2011, requiring all PCCs to register with the Charity Commission, making all members of the PCC personally into trustees, adding new burdens of governance onto volunteers, and making churches more risk averse, but without changing any of the voting and selection patterns, and thereby layering this new obligation on top of pre-existing legislation from 1956 and 1969. (They have been charities for a long time, but were a ‘body corporate’, that is, considered as if they were a person with agency collectively not individually. The guidance was updated in 2017). The impact of this change on local churches cannot be underestimated, both for administration and capacity. 

With regards to administration of the parish: along with the changes to common tenure, PCCs as charities under the Charity Commission now have confused relationships of loyalty including that of clergy to parish, and of the PCCs to the Diocesan Boards of Finance. Though clergy remain bound with promises to bishops, they are simultaneously more clearly obligated by charity law to seek the best interests of the local parishes of which they are trustees. As a trustee of the parish, a vicar now faces a potential conflict of interest between the local interests of the parish and charity best practise, and the political power of the diocese, which has no legal standing within the individual parish charity, but does have authorising power personally over the vicar’s ministry.

The second impact of the change in charity status is one of capacity: the demands of trusteeship may lie beyond the scope of several local churches if we assume that all PCC members must be individual trustees. Several of us have experience as vicars in the inner-city, or other more challenging parts of the country, juggling the acute needs of our community and working to raise up leaders in the local church. Must all these local leaders also become individual charity trustees in order to have spiritual leadership and for the parish to be viable? 

Must a diverse and young community in a more deprived area or a remote rural community also try to find a dozen with experience of charity law, accounting and finance, who also have time on their hands to handle HR problems, buildings and parish share; grieving with the dying, burying the dead, marrying the hopeful, and grow the ministry whilst also recovering from the pandemic as well as doing incredible children’s work, and maintaining GDPR protocols and growing through conversion as part of a mission plan? Oh yes—and if the vicars drop a ball in any of this can they expect pastoral support and intercession from the Bishop, or will it be a terse email and a summons, or even a CDM?

‘Enough is enough!’

Hear the cry from the pews and the pulpits…enough is enough! I have lost track of church leaders reaching out over the last few weeks to confess that they have never been more demoralised and exhausted; while they still believe in their call, and the call to pastor and care for others, and honour God to the best of their ability, they are hanging by very thin threads. Whether you are running a fresh expression or a traditional parish, the distress is real.

The intrusion of central bodies into the day-to-day independence of local churches has increased beyond measure over the last decade, and post-pandemic, I believe as clergy rightly contemplate moving forward with their churches and congregations, and realise the hugely hard task ahead of them, they want pastoral care and active support, or if they cannot have this, to be left alone to solve their own challenges on the ground. Church leaders have lacked pastors because their pastors, according to the ordinal, the Bishops, have often become managers, and are now caught up in the remote business of trying to manage institutional resources in a climate of decline. 

Traumatised people, who have often suffered from a loss of agency, will look for routes forward which are safe, and which allow them to ‘be themselves’ and live out of their core values—a love of God, and a love of neighbour in an actual place with actual people. Whether this is a form of new monasticism or a parish, a country town or city centre resource church—where all of these responses to the crisis all coalesce is in a resounding rejection of managerialism. In this there is an unlikely unity, even if in all other things there is diversity. Could I be so bold as to suggest that ‘if you have ears to hear what the Spirit is saying to the churches’ several idiosyncratic prophetic voices are articulating a heart cry.

‘We are here, we are here…’

It is like the moment, if you have ever been treated to watching or listening to Dr Seuss’s Horton hears a Who when the kindly elephant suddenly realises he can hear a shout from the top of the speck: “we are here, we are here”. Horton the Elephant becomes the one who realises that an entire tiny civilisation may be destroyed. The residents of Whoville shout because they fear that they may overlooked, and they are waiting for an apology and for someone to say ‘I am listening, I hear you.’ 

image1.gif

At the beginning of my ministry, as a young vicar in the inner-city, my bishop was acutely aware of me, my parish, my family and the needs of our church and neighbourhood. He rang me regularly to ask how I was, he found practical ways of supporting and encouraging us, visited the church, and if you don’t mind me saying so, it felt like he gave a damn.

I know there are many Bishops who know their parishes and clergy and who practically contribute to mission on the front line, and have found a way to be human with those entrusted to their care. To all of you—thank you, and please don’t be discouraged. Maybe at least part of the pathway to flourishing is to recapture a love for the clergy and parishes in the frontline of the Church of England. There is almost certainly legislation that needs to be changed that will dial back the failures of the past and help us regain our morale and energy for service and growth, but most of all, it is time to listen.

So yes, let’s listen to Save the Parish and to those who want to plant more churches.


Rev Canon Dr Frog Orr-Ewing is Fellow-in-Mission at University of Winchester, Honorary Canon Theologian of Winchester Cathedral, and Founder of Latimer Minster. He is married to Amy, a well-known speaker and writer on apologetics.


DON'T MISS OUT!
Signup to get email updates of new posts
We promise not to spam you. Unsubscribe at any time.
Invalid email address

If you enjoyed this, do share it on social media (Facebook or Twitter) using the buttons on the left. Follow me on Twitter @psephizo. Like my page on Facebook.


Much of my work is done on a freelance basis. If you have valued this post, you can make a single or repeat donation through PayPal:

For other ways to support this ministry, visit my Support page.


Comments policy: Good comments that engage with the content of the post, and share in respectful debate, can add real value. Seek first to understand, then to be understood. Make the most charitable construal of the views of others and seek to learn from their perspectives. Don't view debate as a conflict to win; address the argument rather than tackling the person.

140 thoughts on “Do we need to ‘Save the Parish’?”

  1. “At the beginning of my ministry, as a young vicar in the inner-city, my bishop was acutely aware of me, my parish, my family and the needs of our church and neighbourhood. He rang me regularly to ask how I was, he found practical ways of supporting and encouraging us, visited the church, and if you don’t mind me saying so, it felt like he gave a damn.”

    It would feel/be overwhelming to tackle the whole subject at once. Let’s start here .. with the Bishops returning to their original task of pastoring the pastors, and delegating the management. Let them renew contact with the front line workers, grow to understand their needs and their circumstances, understand the local culture and the individuality of the church and the individuals, clergy and lay, that make it all happen. It might just shift the perspective sufficiently to bring about longer-term deeper change.

    Reply
    • That might be one persons experience but the mileage varies. It’s also true within other denominations too and at the extreme, can be seen as a form of grooming the “right” people in the group

      Reply
  2. Frog thanks for this excellent article on the history/context etc of the parish system. There is so much in this I didn’t know. I was aware of issues like loss of agency, traumatic experience, dealing with conflicts of interest, and fear and how it impacts. Thank you for the detail and breadth you have added to this. You say this at one point: ‘In all three situations, it was made clear to them by either an archdeacon or a bishop that it was not their place to decide on how to use the assets of their village or save their parish. In all instances, the posts are gone forever even though the communities had both the desire and capacity to solve the problem locally.’ There is an issue with the ability of bishops etc to make such decisions which seem to be unfair and lack consistency, openness, transparency and accountability. I have recently read the book ‘Giving up the purple’ by Julyan Lidstone which I recommend. It looks at the roots and implications of the church’s hierarchical leadership style. The purple is not explicitly about clergy clothing but about purple togas / Rome/ Constantine and the tension between hierarchical culture and biblical values. Church planting does get discussed.

    Reply
  3. As Methodist Presbyter ordained in Korea, spiritually encouraged at Queen’s Ecumencial Foundation in the 1970’s, and now worshipping in Stockport Parish, and preaching and celebrating in the United Stockport Circuit of the Manchester Methodist District I hesitate, in a small way, to deflect my established confreres. I keep holding on to locality in the Church Catholic and Universal, especially through the musings of a former Bishop of Dudley. He observed that the linguistic root to “parish” implies the place where the stranger is welcomed.
    May we, in every denomination, be enabled to to welcome the stranger .

    Reply
  4. Psephizo is almost always good, but this is great: the best blog post I have read in a very very long time. I can’t tell you how much this resonates with me. THANK-YOU!

    Clergy are “demoralised and exhausted; while they still believe in their call, and the call to pastor and care for others, and honour God to the best of their ability, they are hanging by very thin threads. Whether you are running a fresh expression or a traditional parish, the distress is real.”

    Yep. I’ve been ordained 24 years. In five years’ time I’ll be 55; that’s the earliest I can “retire” and I recently requested a statement from the Pension Board if I do so (fyi I’ll get about a £50k lump sum and £7k pa as things stand and at the moment I’m sorely tempted to take it. I could re-train as something else or work part time, but I’m fortunate in having options as my kids have left home, I own a house and have other income. Other clergy are trapped, particularly those who were tricked into selling their property when they got ordained only to find that the retirement housing scheme isn’t as generous as it was back then.)

    Four points if I may:

    1.

    I honestly can’t imagine how the Bishops could have handled the pandemic any worse than they have: from the initial panic and overreach in March last year (banning incumbents from praying in their churches), to the subsequent gaslighting (“no, no, we never gave an instruction; it was only ever advice and guidance” – a flat out lie) to the lack of personal, proactive pastoral care during 2020. If you tried to construct a sort of deadpan, poker-faced parody of poor leadership for a satirical novel it could hardly have been as awful as the reality. The only reason the “key limiting factor” thing went down so very badly was because clergy were already feeling so low and lost; at any other time it would have been shrugged off, no more than another momentary “meh” as they flicked through the Church Times.

    2.

    A minor correction: the Freehold was replaced by Common Tenure in 2009 not 2011, although the C-of-E website gives that later date as that was the last time the legislation was revised (and there’s another problem: the CT legislation has been and can be re-written, so clergy are signing up to a contract that the other party can change unilaterally.) Quite why they didn’t just bring in CT for clergy ineligible for the Freehold – i.e. priests-in-charge, curates, et al. – and left Freeholders alone is a mystery. I have the Freehold but can’t really see how it makes much difference: I’m still liable to CDM, BMO, so-called “pastoral [sic] reorganisation” and dispossession; in fact, I suspect I may have fewer rights than my colleagues on Common Tenure. Pretty much the only things I don’t have to do are MDRs and some HR stuff (“statement of particulars” etc.) But CT does make clergy de facto (and possibly de jure) employees, whilst still retaining the technical, if now meaningless, title of “office holders”.

    3.

    “At the beginning of my ministry, as a young vicar in the inner-city, my bishop was acutely aware of me, my parish, my family and the needs of our church and neighbourhood. He rang me regularly to ask how I was, he found practical ways of supporting and encouraging us, visited the church, and if you don’t mind me saying so, it felt like he gave a damn. I know there are many Bishops who know their parishes and clergy and who practically contribute to mission on the front line, and have found a way to be human with those entrusted to their care.”

    My Diocesan Bishop (+Michael, Lichfield) “invited himself” (his words) to my church yesterday. He preached and led at our service and came to lunch at the Vicarage. And it was wonderful! Whatever issues I have with the Bishops as a body it’s hard to dislike them as individuals, all the more so in person. Most of them, most of the time, are good and godly people doing their best with their hands tied by red (purple?) tape. Pray for them. And love them. Yes, speak truth to power – but also forgive them when they get things wrong. They are only human. (Although I would find it easier to forgive them if they actually apologised; but that is up to them. My job is to forgive regardless.) I, for one, would not want to be a Bishop for all the tea in Chelmsford.

    4.

    When it comes to money I’m tempted to apply the following logic: a.) I was unlawfully locked out of my church for six weeks last year by the ultra vires ad clerum b.) the Biblical formula in such cases is that reparation should be fourfold (cf. Lev 22; Luke 19). c.) 6 x 4 = 24. d.) 52 weeks in a year minus 24 = 28. e.) Ergo, I owe 28 week’s parish share for 2020.

    Once again, many thanks to Frog and Ian for this excellent contribution.

    Reply
  5. “The second impact of the change in charity status is one of capacity: the demands of trusteeship may lie beyond the scope of several local churches if we assume that all PCC members must be individual trustees.” This is a really important issue. I recall a conversation some years ago with a bishop who observed that the demands of compliance with so many areas of legislation were weighing local churches down, and the demands on people’s time to deal with the seemingly endless administrative demands means that it is getting harder and harder to persuade lay people to take on leadership roles.

    Reply
      • Perhaps because as a volunteer you are unpaid with no real rights despite spending many hours working, whilst clergy and youth workers are paid for the work they do. There is also little to no accountability as you’re not an employee etc. It seems like the upper echelons of the church are expecting a hell of a lot from unpaid workers.

        Reply
        • Quite a substantial % of clergy are unpaid – 27% nationally, which I expect will rise in coming years. (This excludes those ‘retired’ clergy who also offer ministry without payment.) These clergy are subject to CT and often work under the same requirements and demands as paid counterparts. Many effectively work full-time unpaid, living on income from pension or savings or spousal income. So yes, a lot is expected of unpaid workers (and spouses, in the case of spouse-supported ministry) – both lay and ordained.

          Reply
  6. Excellent article, thankyou. It captures the specifics of how we’ve ended up where we are, and why so many are feeling demoralised. Unlike some of the initiators of ‘Save the Parish’, I don’t think church planting is part of some grand conspiracy to undermine the local church. But just as covid has accelerated other changes (e.g. online church), it’s also accelerated the day of reckoning for the parish system. The circumstances the parish system was designed for no longer pertain. Membership is in long term decline, clergy numbers are at an historic low and still falling, with the burdens of buildings and bureaucracy falling on fewer and fewer people. We’ve known for years this was unsustainable (I wrote this in 2012 http://davidkeen.blogspot.com/2012/06/leading-of-5000-redesigning-cofe.html), but not tackled it, it’s the CofE’s equivalent of the social care sector.

    What are the scenarios in which the parish might be ‘saved’? a) the CofE starts growing again b) parishes are amalgamated to ever bigger units c) the CofE moves away from the requirement for clergy and historic buildings to constitute parish. Or to put it another way, at what point is the parish system no longer fit for purpose, given the mission of the CofE and the resources it has available?

    Just one omission: the first thing clergy are expected to do coming out of lockdown is to run Living in Love and Faith with their remaining parishioners. Thanks for that. I used to be a young enthusiastic vicar. I hate what I’m turning into.

    Reply
    • I agree. On your last point I have repeatedly said that we need LLF like we need a hole in the head. But the HoB want to plough on regardless. It’s insane. The courageous thing would be to say ‘We are putting all discussions on hold for five years; the doctrine of the Church remains unchanged’, and then face down the opposition.

      Reply
          • Hi Ian. Well I know you don’t agree with them – but I have in whose those fellow Christians whose most personal life, loves and faith have been publicly debated for decades now by the CofE without yet coming to any way of honouring or welcoming them. The ‘hole in the head’ you think we can just put off for yet more years – are real people who have been waiting years and have faithfully invested a great deal into LLF at some personal cost. So I get what you are saying and why but wish you had said it differently.

          • I think you know perfectly well that I do not view people as a ‘hole in the head’. I have gay friends who are same-sex partnered, gay friends who are celibate in obedience to the teaching of Scripture and the church, and gay friends who are other-sex married.

            What we need like a hole in the head is to be discussing the complex issues around whether same-sex relationships can be viewed as equivalent to marriage. I realise that there is much at stake for my gay friends—in every direction—but as Ian Hobbs notes below ‘it is as plain as a pikestaff that this was a poor decision.’

          • Ian I know you don’t. But put like that it unfortunately made people sound like an institutional issue/decision that needed shelving. Anyway … grace and peace.

          • The question of the holiness or otherwise of patterns of sexual relationship other than marriage *is* an issue. It is one with a great many personal consequences, but it is an issue.

        • David Runcorn … Isn’t the frustration rising because there’s no indication of anybody listening? Quiet appeals have been ignored. Am I wrong? What indicators have I missed?

          The other David wrote “Just one omission: the first thing clergy are expected to do coming out of lockdown is to run Living in Love and Faith with their remaining parishioners. Thanks for that. I used to be a young enthusiastic vicar. I hate what I’m turning into.”

          It is as plain as a pikestaff that this was a poor decision. I’m appalled at significant decisions made at any level in the current situation where there is a pastoral disconnect. Minds are elsewhere, reasonably, and thus should dictate any agenda.

          Reply
          • Ian. I said to Ian I understood his point. But no I do not think the situation is anywhere near so obvious. It is a real dilemma and we are searching for wisdom – like a lot of life.

          • Ian I think the problem for the many of us who have been waiting to have this debate for the last 30 years is that there have always been reasons why it isn’t the right time. For some, including quite a few contributors here, it will never and can never be the right time. So let’s get on with it and then perhaps we can at last stop talking about it and find a peaceful settlement.

          • Ian I think the problem for the many of us who have been waiting to have this debate for the last 30 years is that there have always been reasons why it isn’t the right time.

            Um how can you have been ‘waiting to have this debate’?

            ‘This debate’ has been going on for over two decades!

            What can you possibly have been waiting for?

          • That’s to misunderstand what LLF is about Ian and you must be aware of that. You must be aware of the origin of the document following the refusal of GS to take note of the bishops paper.
            LLF is a resource document to help inform discussion. It is based, and I quote, “around Richard Hooker’s pattern of Scripture, reason and tradition: “ [Both Archbishops were clear in their letter about this three legged stool by the way]. It was never intended to make any case for or against change, but to do the spadework.

            LLF is there to help the debate within the wider church before the debate comes back to GS. It is widely recognised that greater pastoral accommodation is likely in the light of general legislation, the requests for services of prayer and blessing surrounding that, and the fact that some who hold the bishops licence for preaching and teaching have greater flexibility in their personal lives than clergy.

            None of this is news to you. And no, there has not been a proper debate about this matter since ‘Issues’ was written decades ago.

          • It is useful for people to see the terms of reference for the next steps group.

            Terms of Reference
            The LLF Next Steps Group will
            1. Agree and commend to Dioceses approaches that enable meaningful engagement with the LLF resources in as wide and representative range of churches as possible;
            2. Encourage effective and wide use of the resources across the Church;
            3. Encourage the House and College to engage with the process and hear the learning emerging from churches’ engagement;
            4. In response to a substantive period of church-wide engagement with the resources:
            a) draw up scenarios for different outcomes and consider the ecclesial implications;
            b) consider and bring forward to the House proposals for consideration of any motions or other business that should go to the General Synod arising from the process of learning proposed by the LLF resources;
            5. Draw on the diversity, experience and expertise of the members of the Pastoral Advisory Group, a Reference Group and LLF Advocates
            a) to ensure that engagement with the resources is framed in as pastorally sensitive and safe way as possible for everyone, especially LGBTI+ people;
            b) to advise on the preparation and delivery of facilitation training and resources to achieve the above;
            c) to extend the reach of the group, when appropriate, to diverse stakeholders.
            6. It is expected this work will be completed by the end of 2022 at the latest.

    • Some have suggested that Myriad may not be unrelated to LLF . . . . I think John McGinley is conservative / traditional / orthodox / homophobic (delete to fit your stance) and new Anglican (or Anglican-ish) churches might be a preemptive and semi-schismatic move.

      Although ironically the last time this happened it was the Methodists, who have just legislated to *allow* same-sex marriage.

      Funny old world.

      Reply
      • Not sure that is really true at all. Those most suspicious of LLF are conservatives who are also suspicious of charismatics and lay-led church planting—at least by my observation.

        Reply
        • I am a bit confused by all this talk of clerical and lay led churches. I thought the CofE model was one of collaboratively led churches (Incumbent and PCC). In my experience churches that are exclusively clerically led are part of the problem as (most of) the congregation expect the clergy to do everything for them.

          For rural ministry the laity may have to take a much more visible role if services are to be held for small congregations each week as clergy cannot physically be everywhere. However, this must still have some clerical involvement unless we are moving to a completely non-Eucharistic church model.

          Reply
          • I am a bit confused by all this talk of clerical and lay led churches.

            I guess it depends on how you define ‘led’. How much ‘leading’ should the teaching elder actually be doing?

    • “Just one omission: the first thing clergy are expected to do coming out of lockdown is to run Living in Love and Faith with their remaining parishioners.”
      Actually, I thought going carbon neutral was the first thing we had to do. Our current leaders seem unable to understand that when lots of things are urgent priorities, nothing is an urgent priority.

      “I used to be a young enthusiastic vicar. I hate what I’m turning into.” I’m just preparing for my MDR and a similar thought occurred to me as I pondered current ministerial life. To be fair, there is still joy to be found, but it goes hand in hand with utter exhaustion with all the stuff you have to wade through.

      Reply
  7. What an excellent piece to read. As I am only a churchwarden I have had less reason to know all that history, but the implications of it ring very true to my experience. The comments also add valuable insights. We are a small rural parish, and have been in interregnum for 8 of the last 12 years, so my experience is as a churchwarden who has tried to lead a parish for a long time, with very mixed support from Diocese and Deanery. The current Dean is trying hard for us, but more generally, my experience of our difficulties has been one in which I have proposed some solutions to our problems and nearly always been told that ‘we can’t do that’. I know nothing is simple, but it often feels as though we could run our church and parish better if we were independent of the Diocese (and my family’s history IS based in the Presbyterian Church !). Alternatively it makes you want to give up and join the Salvation Army, you get the feeling that instead of worrying about the Quinquennial Inspection, you could be making sandwiches for the homeless . . .

    Reply
    • Please don’t say “only a Churchwarden”. It’s a vital role, as you’ve described. I worked with some wonderful Churchwardens over my 38 years stipendiary ministry… (and a very few who wanted the position not the job) .
      Blessings on you.

      Reply
    • I feel for you in your situation and know plenty of others soldiering on and keeping things going in interregums.

      I’d just caution that the grass always seems to be greener elsewhere, and some solutions to this problem fall into that trap. My in laws are part of a independent Congregational Church and part of the leadership team. They are grateful for some independence, but there are also plenty of times when they miss being part of a church which was part of wider network and had central support for specialist services. And the Salvation Army officer who comes once a year when we have a toy service always laughs when he gets told numerous times that people envy him because the SA isn’t bogged down by tradition and don’t have silly procedures and they can just get on with their soup runs etc. – he says that they have as many traditions as everyone else, they just look different, and people grumble that they should run things more like Methodists/CofE/URC etc. !

      Reply
  8. I would say that the pandemic has made the managerial problem worse. Our diocese has discovered that it can send an interactive email every week to all clergy (including myself as an elderly PTO) encouraging them to do all manner of things. It all adds to the sense of pressure.
    As always the article is stimulating. Whether it will achieve more than a letting off steam remains to be seen.

    Reply
    • But given this ability, why are the emails not sources of encouragement and equipping? It really begs the question…

      I have to commend our diocesan, Paul Williams, who has continued to offer twice-weekly reflections on the psalms with his wife Sarah, and still appears to get about 700 views, so must be doing something right.

      Reply
      • “But given this ability, why are the emails not sources of encouragement and equipping? It really begs the question…”

        Because they are worse than useless. (Useless = silence; useful = good communication; worse than useless = bad communication.)

        Reply
  9. Another, not insignificant development which has happened in recent years is the growth in Ordained
    Self-Supporting Associate Ministry, quite a lot of it Locally Deployed. However the discussion around clergy seems to have in mind full time stipendiary incumbents but I wonder whether there is something around and about our ministry that might add a different dimension to the debate. I am trying not to whinge, but we are not just part-time vicar’s little helpers but an expression/model of priesthood and commitment to the parish that I believe has something to offer to the ongoing debate.

    Reply
  10. What an excellent article.
    I’m outside this and have no vested interest in structures or systems, but I have as a former lawyer set up my own business and advised and set up the documentation for a new community charity.
    Frog has written an excellent article, which highlights not one, but numerous conflicts of interests, to make the whole system unworkable for the furtherance of any common ministerial purpose, almost at every level, which to me would dissuade anyone with their eyes open, with the knowledge of the contents of this article, from seeking to follow a Christian calling in the CoE.
    If I may make two or three points:
    1 Charities and trustees. The onerous nature of personal liability of trustees is a weight, to far for many, paid or lay especially where it involves in effect managing a small/large scale business, with responsibility to keep up to date. I was a church council member for a couple of years in the mid ’90s and even then was greatly frustrated at the somnolent pace of things and interminable emphasis on finance and buildings. (It was a freehold parish). At no time did I do due diligence on the role, thinking I was merely, helping out, volunteering.
    2 I can not see Myriad taking off, if it is to be another template, superimposed over the existing system, particularly so if duties of trustees are to be placed on lay *worker*. But maybe I misunderstand.
    3 Top-down. I was employed in a senior management role in the NHS, and while in certain spheres, the concept of bottom -up approach to commissioning and providing services was promoted, in my limited experience, it rarely, even if it was achieved, lasted long; only till the next director or Chief Executive, or Secretary of State, who all wanted to put their own imprint on the system. Even now, I hear from a nephew in senior management that the short-lived GP Clinical Commissioning Groups time is drawing to a close, with yet another top-down, re-organisation. It is little wonder, if Bishops are drawn from the Public Sector or Industry, that top-down will be the form by default or design. Whereas, church membership is in effect a body-voluntary.

    Reply
  11. All PCC’s are charities, but not all PCC’s are required (yet) to register with the Charity Commission. As far as I am aware the simple act of registration does not change the status of PCC members and that they always were charity trustees.

    Regarding the Endowment and Glebe Measure in my area very few parishes had sufficient glebe to pay even for a significant part of a clergy stipend. If the capital could be returned to individual parishes then it would in reality benefit only a few rich parishes and the ‘estate’ parishes that really need the financial support would largely be the losers. The income from diocesan glebe is a restricted fund (the Diocesan Stipends Fund) and can only be used to pay for parochial clergy. I therefore fail to see the argument here.

    Please could someone define “managerialism” for me please.

    Reply
  12. This is a very fine article, carefully resourced and critical thinking courteously engaged – thank you. For the continuing discussion it might be helpful if more space was given to outlining the original intentions behind the initiatives that Ewing rightly focuses on. What were they seeking to address and why? Successive General Synods (yes, it was a widely consultative process) did not work all this out with hindsight.

    Reply
    • That is a good question. I was part of the Synod that passed the CDM measure; there were voices warning against it, but we did not heed them. I have now found myself, multiply, a victim of exactly what those voices warned of.

      The problem here is poor process, based on a defensiveness about power. Anything so radical as this should always have a planned review against the stated aims, so that unforeseen consequences could be addressed. But no-one wants to surrender the kind of absolute power that the decision-making process appears to grant.

      The same was true with RME and theological education. Several of us warned loudly of the consequences of what would happen; but Steven Croft roundly rebuffed us, and played off one group against another with political adroitness. He then moved on—having given himself as diocesan a great deal of power over the processes, to the detriment of the system as a whole.

      Without any review of the decision with the benefit of hindsight, we are lumbered with something that no-one has the will to tackle, so it seems.

      Reply
      • Ian,
        “A planned review against stated aims”. That seems to be rare, if at all, at a large scale level, though I stand to be corrected.
        The evidence in the NHS is that national structural change does not achieve stated aims, yet it goes ahead, mostly as a political decision. Primary Care Trusts in the NHS had inspections and didn’t last long.

        It is practically simpler to have local based planned reviews.
        But at the outset, perhaps there could have been national pilot/ probationary schemes country wide, with a selection of different demographics.

        Independent reviews are perhaps the ideal in theory, may be more informative but not without contention, such as David Chamberlain’s comment explains.