How to save the Church of England

CofE_Infographic_730width_v4There has been quite a lot of interest in my previous post on How to Save a Diocese (great to see that mission can excite as much interest as sexuality!) and some really interesting things coming out in the comments. I offer here some further thoughts on the issue.

First, it is apparent that there are quite a few partnerships developing, both within the London area from one context to another, but also between London and other parts of the country. This is really good to hear—and not surprising that these are not headlined. I suspect these things work best when they are negotiated one-to-one and away from the glare of publicity.

Second, it looks as though the ‘Sheffield’ formula controlling clergy numbers is passing away. John Leach, who works in the Discipleship Development Team in Lincoln Diocese, comments:

Lincoln Diocese is indeed going for it – appointing 50 new and 50 replacement F/T clergy over the next five years. Creative use of historic resources means we have money to spend both on front-line parish clergy and central officers to resource change and growth.

and in response someone else has commented:

The Sheffield formula is no longer mandatory

The Sheffield formula was designed to manage growth or (more latterly) decline in clergy numbers. Each year, dioceses agreed to a figure for stipendiary clergy, in order to prevent wealthier or more popular regions from attracting all the clergy movements, leaving other dioceses to bear a disproportionate brunt of the drop in numbers. But like all such systems, though well-intentioned, it seems to me that is has had some unfortunate consequences, not least making the idea of decline in clergy almost unquestioned. If any diocese wants to turn decline into growth, then it would have to break out of this system and appoint more clergy.

From John’s comment, it looks like Lincoln might be wanting to do just that. But that raises the counter question: given the national decline in numbers, will there now be a competition for clergy, and will some dioceses become under-resourced in the way the Sheffield process sought to avoid?

Third, given that the longer-term problem is the drop in clergy numbers, what is happening about encouraging vocations? There are some exciting things happening:

As a London incumbent in the Kensington Area I can say that the Diocese actively encourages young leaders and vocations. In 2012 1000 young ambassadors were enlisted This mission challege was then followed by at least one enquiry weekend for those considering ordination. There have been events specifically younger women too. The diocesan strategy for 2020 is to increase by 50% the number of ordinands.

This is amazing and encouraging—but I wonder how many other dioceses are setting this kind of target? It is very clear that policy varies enormously from diocese to diocese.

And what is happening in terms of a national policy for vocations?

Fourth, the variation in approaches to vocations is just one part of the variation in approaches to ministry and mission across the country. As one commenter noted:

Maybe one of the reasons different cofe diocese are experiencing different growth (negative or positive) is also something to do with the strategy they have adopted?

His web page lists all the statements published by all the dioceses—and it makes for sober reading. Some are exciting, others less so—but is there a danger here of reinventing the wheel? There is always a sense that strategies and goals need to be owned locally, but at what point should we simply be saying ‘We are a national church’ and work with national approaches to mission?

Fifth, it is often the case that finance is a driving force in the challenge to think about change. Any diocese with a substantial rural component will be finding the financial challenges of maintaining ministry reaching breaking point. I feel ambivalent about this. On the one hand, it would be great if we were more motivated by thinking about whether people are lost. On the other, financial questions force us to face reality, and it is no bad thing that this is happening.

Sixthly and finally, with all the uncertainty, change and opportunity in the current situation, it appears that the C of E that will emerge is going to look very different from the one that entered this period of transition. If there are signs of new life, and if the changes that are needed include ‘unashamedly seeking to bring others to faith in Christ’ (in Julian Henderson’s words), would it be too much to hope that, looking back in this period from the future, it will be as significant as the Wesleyan revival in the 18th century?

We need nothing less.

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18 thoughts on “How to save the Church of England”

  1. “the C of E that will emerge is going to look very different from the one that entered this period of transition”


    In the Chelmsford Diocese this year, there were 32 people ordained (including me). Next year I believe the number is even greater. However, the vast majority of those were self-supporting / locally deployed, with the stipendiary clergy making up around 1/3 of that number.

    In Chelmsford they are focussing on something called ‘reimagining ministry’ which is basically trying to think about getting more lay people / part time ministers etc. Diversifying from the traditional ‘one priest per parish’ model, so to speak.

    To be honest, I think it’s planning for the short term: as you pointed out in the previous post, full-time stipendiary clergy are key when it comes to growth. And I think if all we’re doing is filling empty positions with people doing two days a week (say) – just to keep going – it’s not a recipe for long term growth.

    I wonder if there are other dioceses doing something similar.

  2. The emphasis here in Cumbria which has just been approved by diocesan synod is to seek to shape ministry around Mission Communities, which will be set up across the diocese. These will vary according to the local context but will generally be headed up by a stipendiary minister, and will compose of a mix of lay and ordained leaders, in an ecumenical partnership across churches and denominations. In Barrow we are planning for our Mission Community to encompass all the churches in our deanery. Mission Communities will have ‘Mission in their DNA’, recognising that the church is not a club, but called by God to make his Kingdom a reality in the world around us. They are exciting and also challenging as we will need to move beyond purely parochial thinking and be both generous and supportive to each other. Our Diocese has committed to enabling everyone in Cumbria to know more of God and of his purpose for our lives, over the next 5 years. It will mean many more self supporting ministers and many more lay leaders and that will be challenging, but it’s no small vision!

  3. You want a Wesleyan revival?

    Here’s an account of how it started:

    ‘On New Year’s Day, 1739, John and Charles Wesley, George Whitefield and four members of the Holy Club had a love fest [Holy Communion] in London.’

    ‘About three o’clock in the morning while we were praying, the power of God fell upon us tremendously, so much so that many others shouted for joy and fell to the ground (due God’s power). As soon as we recovered a little of that awe and wonder in the presence of His Majesty began to sing with one voice: “We praise Thee, O God, you are recognized as Lord ‘.”

    This event was called Methodist Pentecost.’

    While God’s Holy Spirit may abide with us, I have seen revival. It is not a matter of money or clergy numbers, it is based on the overwhelming assurance of the human spirit by the spirit of God. It is characterized by a fearless and loving refusal to compromise the witness of God through His prophets and apostles, as revealed through scripture.

    Revival does not negotiate with religious leadership compromised by worldly security, aspirations and comfort any more that Peter and John did (Acts 4). Worldly compromise will never arouse the conviction of need for a Saviour.

    Show me ministers who, like Lot, are in seeing and hearing, vexed from day to day with lawless deeds. (2 Pet. 2:8) Name those who, like St. Paul in Athens (Acts 17:16) are so incensed by modern-day idolatry every day as to challenge it on every level.

    Show me the sort of spiritual commitment as revealed in these statements attributed to John Wesley:

    ‘I put myself on fire and people come to see me burn’ (answering the question of how he drew crowds)

    “I think the whole world as my parish; anywhere that I am, I think that is true, correct and my sacred duty to declare to all who are willing to hear the good news of salvation.”

    “Give me one hundred men who fear nothing but sin and desire nothing but God, and I will shake the world.”

    A revised clergy deployment strategy won’t convince those hardened by relentless impenitence. You show a minister to whom this kind of commitment could be attributed in the Anglican church. Show me the miles he or she has covered in seeking to re-claim those wandering in aimless rebellion against God. Show me clergy or laity who are tenacious, steady, loving, yet unequivocal about the rejection of anything that contradicts the prophetic and apostolic witness of scripture as Wesley and Whitfield and I’ll show you a revival.

  4. A national church can only survive if there’s a cohesive concept of national identity holding it together.

    Unfortunately for the Church of England, that concept is in a state of unstable flux at the moment. On the one hand you have a shrinking number of conservative traditionalists who believe in justifiable discrimination. On the other you have a growing number of liberal progressives who believe in equality.

    Those who believe in equality will not stand idly by and watch the Church continue to practice discrimination against both its clergy and laity. Refusing clergymen preferment on the basis of marriages recognised by the State will be the rock that breaks the Church in two.

    What’s happening in the US Episcopal Church now will soon start to happen in England. In fact it’s already in progress. Once the liberal majority gets its way over the issue of married gay clergy, conservatives will break away and form their own church, just like ACNA. It’s just a matter of time, and not that much time either.

    The Church of England cannot be saved in its current form, but as two separate churches, each part of it probably has some life left in it yet. The liberals will carry on along the trail blazed by TEC and slowly fade away into woolly nothingness. And the conservatives will huff and puff and condemn everyone and everything around them until natural attrition (and defections to Rome) reduce them to a hard core of extremist believers a bit like the Lefebvristes here in France.

    Out of the ten or so children that most Lefebvriste families produce, most abandon the faith, but one or two at least will carry it on. So I believe that whatever conservative rump survives the impending schism in the Church of England, it’s likely to be with you for a long time. That’s the future of Christianity: hard core extremist churchiscules existing on the fringes of society and praying hard for a plague or an apocalypse of some kind to destroy civilisation and create a climate of instability and chaos in which their ideas can flourish, just as they did during and after the Dark Ages.

    Christianity always does best when death and destruction are just around the corner. So if you want to save the Church, start praying for an Islamic jihad, a mutated airborne form of ebola, or accelerated climate change. Anything that panics people into thinking their only way out is God is good for the Christian faith. Peace, prosperity, equality and respect are fatal to it. If everything is hunky dory here on earth, why look for solutions elsewhere?

    • Dear Etienne,

      You wrote:
      “A national church can only survive if there’s a cohesive concept of national identity holding it together.”

      The CofE is not actually a national church. It believes in the 39 articles irrespective of the government and therefore believes in the Bible.

      Your nationalism translated onto the church is quite mistaken and your views on discrimination are quite mistaken as well.

      • Well, if the Church of England is not a national church, why is its head also the head of state and why does it have unelected parliamentary representation?

        Disestablish the church, dump the Queen as your head, lose the bishops in the House of Lords and forego the other privileges you enjoy. Then and only then will your claim not to be a national church be convincing.

        • On the contrary Etienne. The CofE existed before Engkand did! When England was separate countries the CofE came into existence. The Kings undertook power play by donating lands and buildings to the Church to dare other Kings into denying thr Church. Many didn’t.
          Ven Bede records records how amongst the first thing St Augustine did was to meet the Bishops. St Augustine can only do this because the Church already existed in England.
          In St Augustine’s time the Church in England swears allegiance to Rome. In Henry VIII’s time it breaks that allegiance. In Elizabethan times we get the 39 articles. In King James time we get the Authorised Version of the Bible. You can blame the kings and queens for bringing the CofE under thr crown. The Church makes its own laws which Parliament more recently passes on the nod. For Parliament to dictate to the Church would be a first.

        • The Queen is not the head of the Church of England, she’s the Supreme Governor. Jesus is the head of the church.

          And if conservatives always fade away, how do you explain the figures for the US, never mind China?

          Note that I’m not saying there’s an iron law that conservative churches always grow (God can do what he wants), but denying that they are certain to shrink.

  5. An alternative vision of the future can be gleaned from recent developments in the political and education spheres.

    Under the guise of thwarting religious extremism (evidenced by the Trojan Horse plot in Birmingham), the amended Independent Schools Standards now demand that non-State schools ‘actively promote’ fundamental British values, including tolerance, rule of law and individual liberties.

    The Consultation document explains that active promotion involves more than an occasional visit to a Mosque or the odd classroom LGBT advocacy poster.

    In contrast to the new regulations rwquirement to promote *respect* for people (particularly in relation to their protected characteristics), inspectors are acting ultra vires in demanding the active promotion of the characteristics themselves, even when they contradict the distinctive religious ethos that each faith schools is legally allowed to retain.

    In a recent snap OFSTED visit, a Church school was warned of a full inspection and was downgraded from good to adequate for a perceived lack of religious diversity. They claimed they this would have been evidenced by a regular slot for an imam to lead an assembly.

    At an Orthodox Jewish school, OFSTED inspectors probed the young girls about their views about lesbianism and same-sex marriage.

    None of these schools have shown any potential to become hot-beds of terrorist radicalisation.

    Thus far, these schools were only required to ensure that when beliefs were discussed, they were balanced with an airing of those in the wider society.

    At the same time, there is the political backlash mobilised through the rise of UKIP among voters disgruntled by what are perceived as foreign impositions on the British way of life.

    It’s one thing to dismiss a Local Authority registrar for not officiating civil partnerships, it’s quite another to fire a teacher or threaten the closure of an faith school for not incorporating Terrence Higgins Trust propaganda like ‘King and King’ into sex and religious education classes.

    So while the secularist utopia is for all schools and all teachers to become the organs of State-mandated liberal indoctrination. This will be resisted by the political mood of the wider society.

    UKIP’s recent political advances have already provoked the major parties to back off the liberal agenda. The very public martyrs of the politicised education agenda will make them ditch the unpopular curtailment of freedom of speech.

    The National Church will not undergo schism. Evangelicals provide the bulk of church revenue. The legal manoeuvres of TEC against conservative parishes won’t work over here.

    While a compromise is eventually on the cards, it will be deferred for many years. The routine denial of preferment will prevent same-sex married priests from gaining influence in HoB. For the House of Laity, few liberals have the patience with the mechanism by which they could be elected through Deanery Synod to General Synod.

    Now SSM is available, the wider society has little interest in the fake martyrdom (denial of preferment) of those who reject one vow for another and the the due process of Synod, nor in the theological intricacies of a gender-free church marriage liturgy.

  6. David referred to the Jewish schools,

    The law allows both traditional marriage and same sex marriage. For OFSTED to only promote same sex marriage is contrary to the law and the government needs to be told.

    Not one of the trojan horse schools was religious, not one. The rules were implemented to prevent anti-islamisation yet the first OFSTED victim was a Church of England school for failing to invite the local Imam to take an assembly. That’s how far from reality the government has drifted.

  7. Fake martyrdom, eh? So gay priests forbidden from marrying are fake martyrs because they knew the Church banned same sex marriage when they signed up.

    I guess that means Cranmer was a fake martyr too. He must have acknowledged papal supremacy when he became a priest. And yet he gave his life for denying it.

    So, according to David Shepherd, the Church of England’s foundations rest on the bones of whole bunch of fake martyrs: Cranmer and all the others who died abjuring their vows to the Pope. And yet their fate still managed to capture the public imagination and they’re still commonly thought of as perfectly genuine, real martyrs.

    Let’s see how the public reacts, shall we? Will they support a mean-spirited and legalistic argument of “you signed your life away when you became a priest so shut up and put up”? Or will fair-mindedness and justice win the day. It will be interesting to see what happens.

    • Once again Etienne you don’t seem to know much about Church history. The Pope dud decree that Priests should not get married but not until the C13th. Some parts of the Church said no to the Pope…. and for a long time.
      The last place in the world to submit to the Pope (and it was more than century of saying no to the Pope) was Wales!

  8. It’s a tad hyperbolic to compare a canonically imposed restriction that results, not in death, but denial of preferment until synodical agreement, with genuine physical martyrdom.

    Especially, when contrary to Cranmer’s sacrifice, gay priests demand a special pleading exception from scriptural authority.

    Anyway, I’m not sure how an atheist could see any virtuous purpose in sacrifice for any religious cause, especially priests who try to ground their special pleadings for genderless marriage in a belief in the God revealed in scripture.

  9. Looking at statistics and discussing reorganisation strategies and formulas to manage growth are all necessary parts of church leadership but, as usual, it is what actually happens on the ground (in the parishes) which will determine whether the CofE is saved or not.

    In 2009 our vicar announced his retirement and left 3 months later. Following a 15 month interregnum a new vicar was appointed from within the diocese, having been ‘selected’ by our PCC from a choice of 1. The parish had been refused permission by the diocese to advertise nationally, having been told that it was extremely difficult to attract people to the South West of England! I made this nationally known in a letter to the Church Times and immediately received 6 interested letters (without any advert at all). Because of the recent power grab by bishops over the freedom of parish clergy it is very hard for them to speak out and challenge this kind of thing (I am a lay member of our parish cluster).

    Needless to say our diocese is moribund. And dwindling finances have ensured that there is a vicious circle of aging clergy being stretched so thinly over ‘clusters’ of parishes that no time is available for thought about mission and then actually getting on with it. Of course a history of high church reliance on ‘attendance at the Eucharist’ as the essence of being a Christian means that this area has no real understanding and vision for mission. And yet Cornwall is teeming with young families, some of whom would surely receive the true Gospel with joy if they ever heard it.

    The parish system within the CofE with its full time salaried clergy still retains great advantages. Could it be that it is only the lay people who remain free, if they were minded, to speak up and rescue it from the dead hand of the bishops?

    • “a history of high church reliance on ‘attendance at the Eucharist’ as the essence of being a Christian”

      Oh dear, I didn’t realise that to obey the gospel imperative of Jesus was to be derided as merely ‘high church’.

  10. It’s an interesting challenge. We have just had a new Bishop who is getting the diocese together to lay out his stall, which is very clearly for mission. Being a vocational deacon myself, and a mission partner to boot, I feel that part of the way forward is to release the diaconate to be the outward-looking, community-minded and missional ministry that it is meant to be. Every mission community should have one! – whose brief is to focus and develop strategies for the church to become transformative in each community and to find ways of connecting people outside the church with Christ. This means collaborative team-working – with evangelists, lay leaders and Readers if the parish is lucky enough to have them – something deacons are called to. I’m not at all convinced by the argument that parishes need full-time clergy in order to grow, although obviously a creative and mission-minded incumbent is going to make a huge difference. But they always move on, leaving the part-timers and lay ministers to stay and keep everything developing with the congregations, and there are so many incumbents who don’t give a hoot about mission provided they can have a certain type of worship. As a result I’ve noticed that some churches thrive better in interregna than during an incumbency. I wish there could be a proper shake-up of the Anglican ministerial system, with less emphasis on the multi-competent priest and much more on developing teams working according to their different gifts. It should be a norm, not an exception.

    And another thing – incumbents really MUST receive training on how to work collaboratively and create teams! Some have teams they haven’t a clue how to use …


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