In which direction is Leicester leading the Church of England?

On 9th October, Leicester Diocesan Synod voted to move to what they call a ‘Minster communities framework’ for ministry:

The Diocese of Leicester Synod has voted in favour of a Minster Community framework with an amendment that the stipendiary (paid) leadership team of at least four people (including lay and ordained roles) in each of the 20-25 MCs will be led by an Oversight Minister who is ordained.

One of the team will be a Growing Faith focussed minister (lay or ordained) to increase inclusion of children and young people within the ministry of our churches and fresh expressions. As well as the Oversight Minister, the leadership teams will comprise at least (but not limited, to depending on resources) three other stipendiary posts.

A Minster Community will be a “group of parishes” who work together to collaborate in mission without losing their individual identity, and who work alongside their church schools, fresh expressions of Church, chaplaincies etc.

The framework was overwhelmingly supported (72%) by Synod and it is intended it will gradually be brought into place by 2026, depending on discussions between parishes, schools and fresh expressions working together to decide what their local leadership will be.

It cause quite a stir nationally, and for some good reasons. Angela Tilby immediately criticised the move in the Church Times, principally for its confusion between lay and clergy roles:

[T]he Church of England remains the Church of the English people and understands itself as part of the Church Catholic. Adherence to the threefold order of ordained ministry is part of the deal. Historically, lay influence has been led by the Sovereign and expressed through Parliament and the exercise of patronage. In parishes, the churchwardens embody lay governance at local level. The true work of the laity is to witness to Christ in the world: “Let your light so shine before men. . .”

The distinction between ordained and lay is important not only for the catholicity of the Church, but also for the integrity of the laity. Before ordination, I was a Reader for ten years, and I relished the freedom of that ministry, accepting its limitations. I expected priests to be selected and trained to criteria beyond enthusiasm, Bible knowledge, and faith. The Leicester plan reveals either sheer ignorance of C of E polity or an attempt to overthrow it, because “every-member ministry” boils down to congregationalism under episcopal management.

Angela and I often disagree, but I think she makes some interesting and important points here. Under our previous bishop, this diocese (Southwell and Nottingham) had committed to retain stipendiary posts, but not necessarily clergy posts—so that stipendiary ministry posts might be filled by lay people. But presumably such lay people will have had training, and a sense of vocation to congregational leadership, and will have been commissioned. So, I wondered, in what sense are they not ordained? The ability to ‘do the magic’ at Communion is even less Anglican as an understanding of what ordained ministry is about! As the Church of England report Setting God’s People Free highlights, one of the main challenges we have in church growth is a loss of vision for the discipleship of lay people in the places of their daily occupation, not on a Sunday.

But the more pressing question is what the impact will be of the significant reduction of stipendiary posts. As David Baker points out, the goal is to reduce from the current situation of 98 incumbents and 31 curates in training to a total of 80 posts, only some of which will be ordained—a huge cut of 38%. Every piece of research I know of predicts that cutting stipendiary ministry (note: stipendiary, whether lay or ordained) will lead to decline, not growth. This is specifically highlighted in the report From Anecdote to Evidenceand has been also demonstrated by other research coming from Church House. Mark Ireland, who has written and researched extensively on mission and evangelism, comments:

Far from saving money, cutting the numbers of stipendiary clergy [or posts] usually leads to a reduction in income, as less mission and ministry takes place and fewer people become disciples of Jesus Christ. When clergy are asked to take on more parishes in ever larger benefices, they somehow manage to keep all the services, buildings and occasional offices going, at least after a fashion, but they inevitably have less time and energy for mission and evangelism and planting new congregations. They also spend more time at their desk – and so have less time to spend in being a visible presence in the life of the community and talking to those who are searching for faith.

There is also the question of amalgamation. In his comment on the plans, David Baker has done the sums:

[The plan] runs the risk of turning clergy into something completely different from what they have been. There are 324 churches in the diocese; split them into 25 Minster Communities and that means 13 churches in each one. Even if every church only has communion once a month (and most would have it more often) that is still three per Sunday. Stipendiary clergy will likely end up whizzing round handing out bread and wine – won’t they? Overall, the sort of role envisaged for stipendiary clergy sounds nothing like the role for which I myself (writing as one such clergyperson) was trained, nor which I would wish or feel practically able to exercise. It sounds more like being an Area Dean – on speed!

Another part of the problem here is the historic flourishing, within the C of E, of quite different traditions in neighbouring parishes. What happens when these are joined together at the parochial hip? To take a theoretical possibility: suppose that you have two adjacent parishes, in which one is led by a gay, partnered priest in a Civil Partnership, who takes a non-realist view of Jesus’ resurrection (that is, it was an existential reality rather than a historical or physical event); and in the neighbouring parish you have a conservative evangelical who has a more historical approach to Scripture, and to boot does not yet accept the validity of the ordination of women. Both views exist in the C of E; they might well be in adjacent parishes. I wonder what happens when you put them together in a ‘minster community’ and ask them to collaborate in mission? One thing I think I can guarantee: less rather than more missional activity will take place, because energy is likely to go into addressing differences, if they work together at all.

Responses to reality this might be ‘This shouldn’t be the case’ or ‘They should just get on anyway.’ The first presumes creedal consistency across the Church, and I for one would welcome that—but that has to precede such missional partnership, and it will not arise because of it. The second is simply unrealistic.

And it is unclear that administrative amalgamation has ever really been effective in releasing people for mission and ministry. Martyn Snow, the bishop of Leicester, offered a response on Facebook to the negative comments on the plans, and in the conversation Tiffer Robinson observed:

As you are probably aware there was a project in a diocese (Birmingham? [apparently it was actually Sheffield]) to pay for administrators for a deanery to free the clergy up for mission and ministry, and the results, sad to say, was that the clergy were all much happier, but didn’t really do much more mission and ministry. I suspect because those clergy who want to do mission and ministry will neglect or offload the admin anyway, and those who secretly prefer the admin won’t be spurred to do mission and ministry in its absence!

Everyone I know who works in rural ministry tells me that greater amalgamation, keeping all the buildings open but stretching ministry more and more thinly, is not the way to go. It leads to more stress and less growth.

This all appears to represent a shift from the historical position of the parish being the basic unit of the Church of England, to making the diocese the basic unit. This is a very significant change.

Behind all this are some bigger questions of strategic thinking. Is the Church of England actually thinking coherently about this challenge, across its different silos of the Archbishops’ Council, the Church Commissioners, the House of Bishops, individual dioceses, and those doing research on questions of ministry, mission and growth? If so, how come different dioceses are adopting such profoundly different approaches to the shared challenges that we all face?

For example, it has been clear for some time that reducing stipendiary posts will not lead to growth—yet now we have Chelmsford, Sheffield and Leicester radically cutting stipendiary numbers with Lincoln coming next, whilst others (at the moment Southwell and Nottingham, and St Edmundsbury and Ipswich, and possibly others) committing to retain them as part of a strategy for growth—based on the research evidence. On a smaller scale, Bob Jackson’s research demonstrated beyond reasonable doubt that vacancies led to a decline in attendance and a loss of income, so that the best way to make the transition was to prepare ahead of time and appointment immediately, ensuring continuity of ministry within the parish. I have yet to come across even one diocese that does this.

I wonder what conversations the House of Bishops has about these things? Is there really no shared approach to these challenges? Is every bishop king or queen in his or her own diocesan castle? Does that make any sense?

And how does it connect to the notion that stipendiary clergy and a national resource, trained in a nationally coordinated way? As Mark Ireland comments again:

We have been praying and working for a 50% increase in vocations. Just when God seems to be answering our prayers and the number of vocations is increasing, we should be prayerfully trusting God to provide the finance to enable us to deploy these priests. What other organisation would go to the trouble and expense of recruiting and training new staff, only to tell them at the end of their trainee post that there was no job for them?

With growing numbers of people being ordained, and therefore a swelling cohort of curates in training, where will all these people be deployed if dioceses are cutting stipendiary posts? And what thought has been given to this, as joined up thinking, before individual dioceses made their decisions?

Then there is the question of finance. Martyn Snow comments online:

Firstly, this is not all about money. Yes, we’ve been hit hard by the lockdown and like most dioceses we have a big hole in our budget. We are cutting 15% out of our central diocesan costs and we have already said to parishes that there will have to be a much closer link between what they pay and what they receive in stipendiary ministry. But there is much more to this than money.

Perhaps—but the question of money is there, front and centre! My understanding is that the diocese are facing annual deficits of £1.2 million and £1.6 million in the next two years, and many other dioceses are in similar situations; the document above from the Diocese of Lincoln mentions an annual deficit of £3 million per year for the foreseeable future. The pressures of the pandemic have exacerbated existing weaknesses; as I noted in relation to Chelmsford Diocese, the Bishop of Barking highlighted that increased giving of just £1 per week per congregant would solve all their financial problems, yet this was an issue that appeared not to have been addressed in the previous ten years.

Another person commenting on Facebook observed:

The amount the Church Commissioners made on investments last year equated to over £35,000 per parish in the C of E. The money is there, it is just that a certain ideology in the church prevents it from going where it needs to.

There is a ‘certain ideology’ in place, and it was the one which led to replacing the distribution of the proceeds of the Church Commissioners across the dioceses according to the Darlow formula with splitting the money between Lower Income Communities (‘LInC’) funding and Strategic Development Funding (SDF) given to projects and changes that offered some demonstrable evidence that they would lead to growth in discipleship and membership. There are lots of examples of where this has worked well, such as Preston Minster in Blackburn Diocese, but such successes have raised some painful questions.

The first is the paradox of a diocese receiving less general funding, (LInC rather than Darlow, which is often half the amount) but more funding for specific missional projects. That would be fine in better times, but when dioceses are facing mounting deficits, it means they are having to cut some activities (because of lack of funds) whilst, in the eyes of some, lavishing money on shiny new projects. The juxtaposition of these two contrasting realities creates some unsurprising tensions. But what would we rather do? Deprive new initiatives, many of them reaching young people, in order to sustain ministry to the bitter end amongst elderly and declining congregations?

The second issue is the regime for dispersing Church Commissioners funds. I have long been concerned about both the lack of transparency around how decisions are made here, and the (lack of) connections between decisions here and the reality of ministry on the ground. I have asked questions in Synod both about the connection between applications for SDF funding and diocesan plans to cut stipendiary numbers, and the criteria by which the Commissioners decide how much to protect their capital assets, and how much money is dispersed each year. On the latter, I had assumed that there would be some consistent, numerical criteria, but instead that answer was that ‘It is a judgement, made in the light of market conditions.’

In 2020, the Church Commissioners assets ended up at £9.2bn, having had a return of 10.4%, which must amount to around £870m. So why was only £281m dispersed (£162.5 to current ministry plus £118.9m towards pensions) and the remainder added to the assets? Surely this is the time to consider releasing the further £500m or so, which would still leave the assets protected against inflation?

Apart from this kind of radical financial support, is there any alternative? David Baker offers one, and it goes like this:

In my rather idealistic and possibly naïve mindset, I like to imagine another alternative scenario in which Leicester Diocese had said to all churches: “We’re sorry, but in a couple of years we will effectively be bust. So each church must pay its own running costs, including for all the clergy it has, and their pensions etc. We also invite you to voluntarily fund and pool ministry with less well-off churches with whom you feel able to work missionally. Any church which can’t afford to run on this basis, either through its own giving, or through support from others will, inevitably, close. And we invite you to declare how much you are willing to contribute each year for central posts such as safeguarding expertise and Bishops. We will then budget centrally accordingly.” Messy? Yes. But better longer-term? Arguably.

My own suggestion heads in a similar direction, but it is possibly to flesh out more elements to it:

  • Do everything we can to retain stipendiary posts. Therefore ask hard questions about the sustainability of keeping smaller church buildings open.
  • Address the issue of finance through a focus on giving as discipleship.
  • Recruit evangelists.
  • Envision lay Christians to be faithful and confident disciples Monday to Saturday.
  • Create a culture of invitation and exploration.
  • Teach and resource Christian parents in raising their children in faith.
  • Look at what is already working well; learn from it, and seek to replicate it.
  • Start new things, and allow old things to follow their natural course.

I suspect many of these things are already happening in Leicester Diocese, and would love to hear about them. But one thing I am confident of: reorganisation, of any sort, is not going to deliver growth. Tackling questions of giving, of invitation, and of a focus on mission directly are the only things that will help.

If every diocese follows the direction of Leicester, I cannot see anything happening other than further, and faster, national decline.

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112 thoughts on “In which direction is Leicester leading the Church of England?”

  1. The driver for this sort of reorganisation is almost always financial/administrative – however much it might have the word Mission applied to it. Unless there is a concerted, sustained, effort at every level in the Diocese to embed a missional culture it will always revert to being admin led (so, for instance, what will be the criteria for shaping the communities – ability to mission more effectively, geographical, ecclesiological, administrative or what?) – and senior staff very often don’t have the time (& maybe inclination) to be able to produce effective culture change

  2. I must say it’s been fascinating, since this whole ‘save the parish’ thing kicked off, to realise the variety of opinions within the Church of England as to what the Church of England is for! From some you almost get the impression that they think the whole job of the Church of England is to ensure that the correct type of magic person says the correct magic words in every ancient church building throughout the land on at least a semi-regular basis, and if that ritual is maintained everything else will take care of itself.

    Then others seem to see it as a kind of National Holiness Service, there to bless things that people bring to be blessed, and to help people who are going through acute hard times like a sort of spiritual Casualty ward, free at the point of use.

    A very few seem to think that it is supposed to save the souls of the population…

    And that’s not by any means an exhaustive list.

    But while it’s fascinating it does mean that discussions like this do tend to look like a lot of people taking part each other. How can you possibly decide what the structure of the organisation should be before you’ve decided what the purpose of the organisation is? Obviously the best structure for an organisation dedicated to keeping alive the ancient rituals is going to different to the best structure for an organisation which is there primarily to provide comfort and support and affirmation to people when they want it is going to be different from the best structure for an organisation which is there to save people from eternal damnation.

    So what is the Church of England for? What is its purpose? What, if anything, would be lost if it ceased to exist?

    Until the teleological questions are sorted out I don’t see how you lot can possibly decide how to organise yourselves.

    • Great point ! What is it for ? Once agreed then finance / resource accordingly . That said, trying to reach any decision in the c of e takes an eon!… and maybe that’s part of the problem !

    • The Church of England exists for all of those things and more. They can’t be separated and to do so gives rise to a sect or, in the worst case, a cult.

      • They can’t be separated

        Lots of denominations manage to do so so clearly they can.

        and to do so gives rise to a sect

        What’s wrong with a sect? Did Christianity not start as a sect?

          • (But mostly I’m interested in why you think being a sect is bad given, as I say, that’s how Christianity began.)

          • I haven’t said being a sect is bad or good. It’s just a statement of fact. Groups that focus exclusively on one of your three options end up not being part of the CofE. Your original premise was that the CofE had to choose one of the three. My reply is that history suggests that is not possible – and in my own view that’s because it is theologically impossible.

            I went on to say that in worst cases a cult emerged. A cult is definitely a bad thing.

          • I haven’t said being a sect is bad or good. It’s just a statement of fact.

            You certainly implied it, by saying that being a sect was on the road to being a cult.

            Okay, so if being a sect isn’t bad, then that’s not an argument against the Church of England becoming one. So why shouldn’t the Church of England become a sect, if becoming a sect is the price of intellectual and logical coherence? Surely being intellectually coherent is more important than whatever benefits are gained from not being a sect?

            Your original premise was that the CofE had to choose one of the three.

            No, my original question was, what is the purpose of the Church of England? What would be lost if it ceased to exist?

            Or to put it another way: if the Church of England didn’t exist, why would you start it?

            Care to try answering that?

          • Certainly not here. It’s way off topic. Do e mail me and we can continue the discussion there.

            Far from being off-topic, it’s directly related to the topic of the article. How can you work out a good organisational structure for the Church of England without a clear idea of the purpose it’s trying to achieve?

            So do you have an answer? Because if you refuse again I’m afraid it will start to look like you don’t. ‘I have a great answer but it’s a secret so I can only put it in an e-mail’ isn’t very convicing, you know.

            (And if you did give an answer in an e-mail I would obviously just have to paste it here immediately so that the public could see and critique it, anyway.)

            Groups that focus exclusively on one of your three options end up not being part of the CofE.

            Out of interest, does that mean you’re saying that the Methodists are a sect? Presbyterians? Pentecostals? Baptists? If not, what examples of sects are you thining of?

          • S, I find it very amusing that you accuse people in the CofE of lying when they make the declaration of assent whilst you deliberately give a false e mail address. Now that really is a lie.
            End of discussion here. You may draw whatever conclusions you wish but, like your e mail address, they will be false,

    • In one of his ‘Reflections of an Anglican Theologian’ titled ‘The Thing that Matters Most’ Dr. Martin Davie explains that he was prompted by Bill Clinton’s successful slogan ‘It’s the economy stupid’ to reflect on what should be an equally clear, brief slogan for the Church of England. He concludes:

      “When all is said and done, the Church’s core business is saving souls, and the only way that souls will be saved is if people come to realize that this life is not all there is, and that they need to put their trust in Jesus in order to avoid an eternity of damnation and enjoy an eternity of blessedness instead. The Church’s calling is to be God’s instrument to bring people to this realization, and for this to happen the leaders of the Church need to switch the focus of their message to the thing that matters most, the life of the world to come.”

      “It’s eternity, stupid”.

      Phil Almond

      • Goodness, that’s a very reductionist, fire insurance kind of ecclesiology.
        Firstly, the Church is not a business and, secondly, it exists to offer worship to God and to spread the gospel.
        Saving souls, indeed! How very unbiblical.

        • God loved the world in this way: that he sent his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish, but have eternal life.

          …or is that too reductionist and business like…?

          • Except that Jesus talked much more about the Kingdom than he did eternal life. And in the Johannine tradition eternal life is here and now, not some pie in the sky when you die.
            Souls are saved by bringing the kingdom in now. Not by telling people to avoid hell.

          • What an odd comment! the kingdom of God in the teaching of Jesus is about the present coming of the future age to come—it is a quite eschatological term.

            ‘Eternal life’ in John is not so different; the term means ‘life of the age [to come]. The only real surprise here is that it is so realised in the Fourth Gospel.

            Jesus said heaps and heaps about avoiding destruction and the ‘outer darkness where there is wailing and gnashing of teeth’. You would have to fillet the gospels very well to avoid this!

          • You would have to fillet the gospels very well to avoid this!

            You know sometimes, by which I mean often, I do wonder whether ‘Andrew Godsall’ is a massive practical joke — the Anglican Titania McGrath — and everybody is sitting at their screens sniggering at me for falling for an act so obviously, ridiculously fake.

            If that is the case could you let me know now please? You’ve had your fun.

    • A great reply, and you are right. The questions of purpose being paramount, and I would add “What is it all about?”. There are so many conflicting opinions/strategies to observe, indeed where are we all going?
      Personally, I think more could be positively achieved by paying attention to advice/comments in the synods, that is passed upwards (there is a wealth of experience on all levels to be heard out there) rather than decisions/consultations being relayed in the opposite direction. Just let us help?

  3. Do please keep us updated on how things go in Leicester.
    What has been the response of Leicester DEU or Renew group?
    Will be interesting to see how many theological clashes there are, such as you outline.
    And will there be a review date as to whether the diocese has grown or shrunk through such practices after say 3 years? 5 years?

  4. Angela Tilby writes – Church Times quote: ” …expected priests to be selected and trained to criteria beyond enthusiasm, Bible knowledge, and faith. ”

    Exactly what are these selected criteria beyond these listed requisites, is she referring to?

      • To have to provide so much verbiage for a new scheme indicates a lack of clear direction. The starting point was to save money; now more will be spent on the diocesan officers needed to run it. Not a clever policy when the parish core is dismissed. The designers have clearly lost their way. R Walker. T: 01625 530030

      • Thank you for this information Andrew. For a non-Anglican like me, can you tell me who makes the final decision for selection? Is it the Bishop alone or a group of people delegated by him or her?

        • The Director of Ordinands, who is an officer of the Bishop, guides the candidate through the whole process and has quite a lot of influence in the early stage of the process. He or she will then recommend to the bishop that a candidate be sponsored for a national selection conference. There, a panel of selectors, nominated by the bishops, interview in some depth against each of the criteria. They then recommend to the sponsoring bishops whether or not a candidate should go on to training. Initial training takes 2-3 years and candidates are judged against formation criteria each year. At the point of ordination, if they proceed to that, they then enter a further 3-4 years of training and are again judged against formation criteria.

          It’s a thorough process……

      • But Ian Criterion B is all about understanding the CofE…..
        The summary reads:
        Candidates should show an understanding of their own tradition within the Church of England, an awareness of the diversity of traditions and practice, and a commitment to learn from and work generously with difference. They should be able to speak of the distinctiveness of ordained ministry within the Church of England and of what it means to exercise public ministry. They should be able to reflect on changes in contemporary society and the implications of this for ministry and the Church.

        • As someone who was on a working party on the teaching of church history in the1980’s I have seen it play less and less part in ministerial formation in the years since. Yet it is difficult to see how criterion B can be fulfilled without it. In retirement I waswheeled out to do post ordination training and found a remarkable ignorance among new clergy of the history of the C of E and how its various traditions have come about.

          • It is fair to say that the majority of those offering for ordination at present come from Network churches, Fresh Expressions, plants etc. Their church tradition is Evangelical first and CofE second. DDOs have expressed concern over the last few years that it’s the ordinands from this strand that have almost no knowledge of the CofE.

          • it’s the ordinands from this strand that have almost no knowledge of the CofE.

            Are they more or less likely than those from other strands to believe the Articles?

          • The Articles don’t get a mention at all in 24 pages in the selection criteria. They are not of any significance in the selection process. As I have said before, they are not taught or examined in any way.

          • The Articles don’t get a mention at all in 24 pages in the selection criteria. They are not of any significance in the selection process. As I have said before, they are not taught or examined in any way.

            That doesn’t answer the question though. Are they more likely to believe the articles (regardless of whether you think that’s a good or a bad thing)?

          • If the Articles aren’t a subject of enquiry how would anybody know? Any answer would simply be speculation.

          • If the Articles aren’t a subject of enquiry how would anybody know? Any answer would simply be speculation.

            Oh, I’m sorry, you didn’t have a problem passing on gossip about their alleged deficiencies in knowledge of history, so I assumed you would gossip equally about all topics. Could you let us know what subjects you think are proper to gossip about and which aren’t?

          • No gossip at all. I was a Director of Ordinands, as was Perry, so we had direct knowledge. Our job was to enquire against the defined criteria.

          • I was a Director of Ordinands

            Well, I feel terribly sorry for anyone of a different opinion to yours whose marks depended on your giving an impartial assessment.

          • An impartial assessment is part of being a professional. I’d prefer that someone who can only give a false e mail address didn’t speculate on such things. Thank you.

          • An impartial assessment is part of being a professional.

            Just like gossiping on public websites about the backgrounds of those over whom you have authority is? Yes, I suppose it is,

          • I wasn’t aware of any gossip here at all. Simply fact.

            You’d have some published statistics to back up your attacks on students from certain backgrounds, then?

            I mean, if it’s fact, and not just bitchy gossip, then there simply must be published statistics to back it up. Mustn’t there?

          • I was supporting what Perry and Ian said S. Perry, like me, guided students through the selection process. Ian taught them at a theological college. All of us noticed the same trends.
            Now we are off topic again so thanks but bye for now.

          • I was supporting what Perry and Ian said S.

            No you weren’t. You were attacking students of one particular background, which neither Ian nor Perry did.

            All of us noticed the same trends.

            Perhaps they could confirm whether they indeed noticed that, as you asserted, the decline in standards is entirely the fault of one particular ‘strand’. Or whether that is a baseless slander.

            Now we are off topic again so thanks but bye for now.

            Funny how you only start caring about being off-topic when you are in trouble.

          • I am absolutely confident that both Ian and Perry are aware of the shift in the numbers of ordinands towards the Evangelical tradition. They could not do the jobs they have done and be unaware of it.
            Gordon Kurht, former Director of Ministry Division published an interesting article tracing the shift between 1963 and 2003. The shift has been even greater since he wrote this article

          • I am absolutely confident that both Ian and Perry are aware of the shift in the numbers of ordinands towards the Evangelical tradition.

            And what about: ‘it’s the ordinands from this strand that have almost no knowledge of the CofE’? Would they agree with that? Given that you apparently have no actual statistics to back up your attacks, or you would have provided them already.

          • I’d genuinely thought I wouldn’t have to spell out the rather obvious logic here but it seems I do have to.
            Given that the trend Gordon Kurht analysed up until 2003 has continued to rise quite markedly to the point where on some selection conferences there are only candidates from the evangelical strand, then there aren’t many ordinands from other strands for us all to have observed what we have observed in are there…..

          • on some selection conferences there are only candidates from the evangelical strand, then there aren’t many ordinands from other strands for us all to have observed what we have observed in are there

            You don’t seem to realise that that hurts your case rather than helping it. If you don’t have any students from other backgrounds to compare to at all, how can you possibly know whether what you are seeing is a lower standards from one particular background, or a more general drop in standards across the board, which you are not seeing because of your skewed, self-selected sample?

            I strongly suggest a remedial class in basic statistics.

            But before that I suggest not indulging in unprofessional bitchy gossip about your students on a public website.

          • What you say would be true if *all* selection conferences were like that. They aren’t. So what you say is nonsense.
            I’m not passing any judgment at all, but simply supporting what others have said. It’s observable fact that few ordinands have any in depth understanding of the C of E. A For evangelicals it is more the case because they class themselves as evangelicals first and CofE/Anglican second. That might be quite a good thing for mission.
            As Perry observes, there is a ‘remarkable ignorance’ amongst new clergy about the history or traditions of the C of E. And as Ian observes, there are gaps in the syllabus for other subject areas too. Everyone I know involved in clergy training will tell you that there is pretty poor Knowledge of the bible compared to 20 years ago.
            These are facts. Not judgements.

  5. A point of clarity- the proposed figures are for full time stipendiary clergy only, and don’t apply to curates in training, so the percentage cut is lower than the article suggests.

    • Thanks—that is very helpful. So it is a 20% cut—though some of those will be lay, will they not?

      That then raises another question: with so many fewer stipendiary posts, where will the curates go after curacy? There will then have to be a reduction in curates, won’t there?

  6. Hmmmm.

    For the second article in a row, I feel discouraged. Doubly so as a handful of good friends of mine work for Leicester diocese (both lay and ordained), and are likely to be directly impacted these changes.

    One hopes that 3-5 years or so down the line the diocese that have invested in retaining (and expanding) stipendiary posts will be able to evidence the growth, effectively forcing the hand of the remaining fence-sitters to follow suite. Ideally this will be before the result of cuts implemented by Leicester et al become irreversible.

    At least it does sound like the potential money is there (if I’m reading you right). Financially at least the CofE isn’t bankrupt….


    Complete aside, I saw your name (Ian Paul) appear on a list of Pusey house lectures later this year, as well as the honorable David Runcorn. Yet although I saw this on an official circulation, I can’t find it on either the Pusey house website or their facebook page. Are you able to enlighten me?

    • ‘For the second article in a row, I feel discouraged’. You didn’t read my post on the healing of blind Bartimaeus then…?

      ‘One hopes that 3-5 years or so…’ that will be too late. Decline will have accelerated, and in the meantime we will have had 5 cohorts of ordinands looking for curacies and curates looking for posts…

      ‘I saw your name (Ian Paul) appear on a list of Pusey house lectures…’ Sent you a message.

  7. What are the real options then?
    1. Close churches?
    2. Spend more to support church decline?
    3. Join in ever bigger groups?
    4. May churches pay for their own ordained ministry?
    It seems to me the Dioceses want 3 because they can’t afford 2 and fear 1. The closing of churches doesn’t change the financial burden and so at a purely business level it probably costs a Diocese more because the Common Fund is not guaranteed to roll to the next church and so like a franchise they want to keep them going. That only leaves 4 and do we really believe a turn to Congregationalism will happen?

      • A good point Ian, but the question is how to achieve this? I know, I’ve attended meetings, read a leaflet or dozen, but not easy and not now. We have managed to increase giving on the plate, but not the regular promise. We are not big enough for card readers, but those that attend, give. “We want More, You should Give More” I don’t think works. Rural Churches are the focus for closure, running ministers off their legs off, getting three services in a Sunday etc. As I say at this time when people has less in their pocket, how at street level is it done? Parish Share time and it only goes up? It would help if confidence was restored in the C of E, and there was a direction. The church is a place of worship not just a cash machine. There is a balance to achieve which could be helped by the C of E investments.

        • I think the outlines of a solution would be a. giving people lots of easy opportunities to give, including electronic; b. integrating the question of giving into systematic teaching on discipleship and c. making planned giving a regular and assumed part of what it means to be a member of the Church.

          I don’t think people should need confidence in the ‘C of E’; giving is primarily giving to God, who has been endlessly generous to us, and to the local congregation to support and enable its ministry.

  8. In 2003 Exeter Diocese produced a document Moving On in Mission and Ministry. It was a strategy envisioning that every parish would be either a stand alone mission community or part of a greater grouping which would have 150 participants and a certain income, if I remember £60000. It was also envisaged there were set roles in each MC so for example each one would have an administrator.
    Nearly twenty years on the diocese still has MCs but not in the original form envisaged. Simply put it one size does not fit all. If the proposals had been rigidly adopted, there would have been a massive withdrawal of Ministry from inner city areas and from areas of rural deprivation.
    This is not to say parishes should not aim to work together. But a one size fits all approach simply will not work. There are lessons Leicester Diocese would do well to learn from elsewhere

  9. I am interested to know that Andrew Rumsey, in whose training I was privileged to play a modest part, has spoken this week in favour of not shutting down churches too quickly.
    I know it seems untidy, but I am very conscious of the numbers of derelict churches, which, if the tidiers and reorganisers had had their way would have been pulled down at worst and shut down and repurposed at best. Churches with tumbledown spires, or roofless naves, like Southwell Minster in the early 19C.
    Perhaps mothballing is an idea. But then again, in two villages with a total population of less than 80 people each, their parish churches were the only public amenity, and with some careful planning in a team of thirteen parishes it was perfectly possible to provide worship twice a month. Indeed, I remember singing the Exultet on Easter morning in one of these, standing under a chancel arch carves with Saxon figures, as one of the most joyful of liturgical moments. The congregations would usually be between 10-20, an amazing percentage when you think about.

    • Yes, I agree. Once you lose a capital asset you will never get it back. A service twice a month with 20 people in it is great—and using it as a social centre even better. But let’s not pay for a stipendiary clergy person there, and let’s not have clergy racing in to ‘do the magic’ 13 times on a Sunday.

      Even better, in between meeting there twice a month, let’s gather together from the villages to a centre most weeks, where perhaps 100 could meet in a sustainable way.

      • Yes, in the 1950s-60s in the East End it was common practice for everyone to go to each other’s Patronal Festivals and they were great events. Each church could do their own one. Also increases bonds across a wider locality.

  10. Many comments on this topic say something like “cutting stipendiary posts will lead to decline, not growth.” That seems to presume that dioceses like Chelmsford (mine) and Leicester have made a policy decision to cut posts, in the vain hope of growth. I think the causality is in the reverse direction. We have been seeing decline for decades (clergy retiring/resigning, congregation numbers falling) while costs rise. The accounts are becoming impossible to square, parishes are saying they cannot increase giving, so budgets are saying we have to reduce costs, and the main cost element is stipendiary posts.
    I guess what we really need is a bright spark on the Archbishops’ Council who will propose a radical programme of Renewal and Reform! Oh…

    • Ha ha! But here are some realities. First, giving does not need to increase *that* much to solve all the problems. Anglicans still don’t give much compared with other Christians. Secondly, many dioceses still spend one third on central staff, and two-thirds on clergy posts. That needs a better justification. Thirdly, as folk have pointed out in FB discussions, not a few dioceses are decided to keep buildings open (‘as a presence in the community’) and spending money on that—whilst cutting clergy! Fourthly, is there any joined up thinking across the dioceses about this? We just agreed a 50% increase in ordinations—which the bishops signed up to. How do these conflicting strategies line up? Fifthly, the Church Commissioners assets increased by around £880m last year alone…

      • Ian, how much roughly would you think the average parishioner in the pew needs to give a month for a parish church to remain sustainable?

        I imagine this would vary from church to church but is there a baseline figure that is the bare minimum taking into account the average running costs?

        • My rough calculation is: let’s assume that Christians tithe. Suppose half of that comes to the C of E, or rather, the local congregation. If the total cost of ministry (including pension etc and a contribution to central costs) is around £50k, then in an area of average earnings, you would need around 40 active givers to sustain one full time clergy person. That sounds about right, doesn’t it?

          • Yup… In the 1950s 5% was, I think, the CofE guide for giving to the parish.

            On the £50k…. I’m out of touch with current costs but around ten years ago one diocese was costing posts at £60k, including central costs and initiatives. That was hard to live with.

            And… there was a “desire” to add an equivalent rental cost for a clergy house! The centre can be an all consuming plane around which everything else just orbit.

          • Wow, that is so helpful to have the breakdown so clearly! Great example of transparency! But it also raises some questions:

            a. I wonder why the pension contribution is so high, when actuarial values have actually change a lot recently, and in a downward direction. And why has no-one asked the Commissioners to contribute more here?

            b. In London, housing costs are higher than elsewhere.

            c. The training costs seem extraordinary. Its look as though there is one ordinand for about every four current clergy! If training last three years, then that suggests that, after initial training, clergy are only in ministry for four times that ie 12 years, when in reality the three initial years should set people up for around 30 years of ministry, or more, so initial training should be a maximum of one tenth the cost of stipends.

            d. There is £13,000 for central and parish support, on top of safeguarding, training, and national issue. That seems exorbitant.

            e. Vacancies don’t actually represent a ‘saving’ since they lose the diocese money!

            f. Many of the central costs are fixed or semi-fixed. So if the number of clergy go down, then cost per clergy goes up!

            Overall, this seems very expensive. Most vitally, we need to see the equivalent figures from other dioceses to make a comparison. I wonder what the chance is of that??

            I should add that, at this cost, a sustainable congregation would be around 60 givers rather than 40. Though earnings are higher on average in London.

          • Part of the problem is the number of parishes who withhold parish share, either because they believe the CoE is ‘unbiblical’ or because they won’t accept a bishop who ordains women. Then, anecdotally, there are parishioners who have stopped giving because they believe that the CoE is homophobic and/or transphobic and/or misogynistic.

          • The training costs *are* extraordinary. When I first got a programming job in 1977 they sent me on a 2-week course, then I was up and away. Why on earth does a clergy person need 75 times as much training before they can be let loose on real people? – especially since the person selected *already* has the impressive list of qualities helpfully posted by Andrew Godsall above.

          • Why on earth does a clergy person need 75 times as much training before they can be let loose on real people? – especially since the person selected *already* has the impressive list of qualities helpfully posted by Andrew Godsall above.

            Well you see when selected they might believe in God, and it takes a long time to educate that out of them.

      • A “diocese” (I assume that you mean a DBF or a bishop) doesn’t really have the direct power to keep churches open or to close them, at the moment they tend to close in an uncoordinated way when the local church either makes the decision, can no longer function, or loses the capacity to keep paying (usually the insurance or for the repairs that make it insurable). So “ask hard questions about the sustainability of keeping smaller church buildings open” either needs a broad consensus for church closure (unthinkable at the moment – “Save the Parish”) or significant change in the law. Smaller buildings are easier to keep open (cheaper) than large ones, so that doesn’t make much sense, but do you mean smaller congregations? If that’s what you mean, see the experience of Methodism, amalgamating small churches doesn’t make one bigger church. But if churches do close, who pays for the upkeep? At the moment it is the DBF. In many rural areas most closed churches have almost no cash value, are very hard to find credible buyers, and present a host of complex planning, access, conversion and special interest problems. You may be able to think of “hard questions” to ask but we will also need some answers for what next. Add up the total spent on buildings including utilities, basic maintenance and insurance and at some point in the next few years we will pass what we spend on stipendiary ministry.

        • Thanks—all valid points. But I suppose what I am referring to by ‘closing churches’ is simply not holding services there with regularity, and not demanding that stipendiary clergy race around to offer communion.

          • Re Jamie Wood above. Selection is selection for training. Usually 2 yrs ( sometimes 3) residential training: 3 yrs non-residential. I am not sure what Ian (as a great defender of rigorous training) would think of clergy being “let loose” after two weeks!!
            I taught church history part time on a course. Latterly the amount of time was reduced. Yes I would hope ordinands knew something about the church that produced the creeds and the Reformation. But I think it is impossible to understand the C of E today or English religion generally without some knowledge of its history since the Elizabethan Settlement. The lack of much grounding in general history in schools before the 20c doesn’t help.

        • It is difficult to keep a church building open for <£5-10k per year – maintenance, heating, lighting, insurance etc (ignoring the costs of clergy). Is it really worth doing so for the sake of one service a month attended by a handful of people?

          I think we need to separate buildings from ministry as far as possible. Ideally buildings would be owned and maintained by a separate organisation (perhaps a church equivalent of the National Trust) and leased to congregations as needed. This would facilitate alternative uses of the buildings where possible.

          • An interesting idea, however the National Trust is at a critical level of maintaining what they have together with management issues appearing this year. It reality the C of E own the buildings, but don’t maintain them. This is down to the PCC’s via grants, donations etc. Selling them off really solves nothing other than raising lets say 100k. They would be better off (as suggested above) having regular/once a month services at each church in turn (if it was possibly to secure 100 people) to secure giving. There is no need to build another place of worship at lets say 1 million, when there are buildings already here. What is needed is a plan to use them?

  11. This has made a good read, but what is missing is a proper consideration of the increasing significance of the Self Supporting Minister and the Licensed Lay Minister, who cost the Church nothing and can do most of the clergy-only work. However, their usefulness is all too frequently blocked by the intransigence of the stipendiary clergy, who see them as a threat.
    I suggest a totally different strategy. Keep all the churches and allow new local congregations to spring up naturally. Each church can have an unpaid Minister – and a stipendiary one if they can afford it. This way we can all get somewhere and those who have faith in God and a willingness to work will create vibrant Christian witness and a care for their local communities.

    • That’s interesting. I am not entirely convinced about your explanation for the ‘blocking’ of SSMs, speaking as one myself—though I do see some truth in it.

      But you appear to be rejecting the ‘amalgamation’ principle, quite rightly too. As you say, affordability is the key question.

  12. The amalgamation principle is a counsel of despair, but it appeals to the bureaucratic mind, especially as it implies increased income on account of not having to maintain historic buildings and the ministerial costs that go with them.
    This policy has been followed ruthlessly in Wales and the results are clear. Shut the church and remove its ministry and the people will gravitate towards towards the nominated centre – or so they think. Instead people just drop out all together. Whom the gods wish to destroy they first make mad!!

    • I am not sure what you are referring to, the Church in Wales review reflected most peoples views when it said:
      ‘First, we need to be positive about church buildings. They are sacraments in stone, pointers in their way to realities that abide when all else passes away ……. If someone visits a small, isolated country church and finds that it is well kept, cared for and clearly prayed in, this is itself a witness.’
      If we have ruthlessly followed this policy then I apologize for any misunderstanding. In Llandaff we have maintained clergy posts with no plan to change this, largely because of the generosity of our lay people who have the highest rate of meeting Parish share than any diocese in England or Wales.

      • ‘First, we need to be positive about church buildings. They are sacraments in stone’. If that were so, then Jesus would have commissioned architects, and not apostles.

        In the NT they had no buildings, and that helped them avoid our error, in thinking that the word ‘church’ refers to a building.

        • Ian, I think you are arguing with the wrong person.
          I have in the past, likened these discussions to a fight in a car park…I now think it is more like a John Wayne brawl in a saloon. In the end no one knows what they are fighting about but a good time is had by all…no idea who pays for the furniture.
          I am responding to what I believe to be the incorrect statement, that the policy of church closure and amalgamation has been ruthlessly followed in Wales (at least since the 2012 Church Review). I thought my quote illustrated an attitude, unlikely to inspire ruthless church closure. That was my only intention.

          • Thanks for the clarification! But I wonder if we are mixing terms? In the Church of England ‘amalgamation’ usually means keeping buildings open, but grouping the parishes into larger groups, with fewer clergy to ‘cover’ many more buildings.

            Attachment to buildings leads to ineffective large groupings, and all the evidence points to this accelerating decline.

            Does that make sense?

          • ‘In the NT they had no buildings’. You mean they only met outside?

            I think it’s fairly obvious that he meant they had no buildings specifically or primary for the purpose of Christian groups meeting; they met in buildings which had other primary purposes.

          • (Of course if you’ve been to Pompeii you’ll realise that in a climate like Rome’s ‘inside’ and ‘outside’ are less clear-cut concepts; there are plenty of buildings with areas that are ‘inside’ the buildings but don’t have roofs over them.)

        • A good point but God also created architects and apostles. Because of persecution, I believe that is is the reason of there being no buildings to meet in, it all being done in secret and ad hock. Not to mention funds, but that was why God created Accountants? Oh dear sorry. As Christianity grew did not the need for safe worship, and the need to do so locally instigate the need of buildings then to become churches, which in turn increased the need of more clergy etc?
          I agree that a well presented church is a statement as discussed. I don’t believe 800 years of our church and the people buried there that helped to maintain and served God can be considered an error.
          What is needed is to spend money wisely at this time, not risking expensive new projects, not putting vicars at risk, not visually showing a decline by selling the churches, but to use them. Do this as a benefice, jointed benefices/ group, but use them rather than spending on new buildings. If a Diocese was to use its Bishops at rural churches, in turn, gathering congregations from church to church, just may be. I do pray for a solution and thank you for a brilliant post.

  13. I am in Leicester Diocese. The Minster Model was the least worst of the 3 models offered. My concern is that Diocesan structure and numbers of Bishops etc have grown to the detriment of clergy in the parishes. It is bureaucracy gone mad and there are so many questions to answer. The role of churhwardens? and clergy had the “cure of souls” in the parish? How much is being taken away from Parochial Church councils? The age of our congregations does not bode well for the future.Because the Cof E have not sorted out redundant churches in a sensible manner in previous years, we now have the total shift away from parish ministry. I have never known a church that has grown without clergy leading. The Bible says that “where there is no vision the people perish”, there has to be on the ground spiritual leadership. I will be retiring from Lay Ministry next year and am not hopeful for the future.

  14. I left the Church of England some years ago because of its continuing departure from biblical doctrine and action. Previously I had attempted to “contend for the faith” with fellow-believers, but in the end I was disheartened through other evangelical Anglicans who seemed untroubled by the spiritual decline taking place and were content to “go with the flow.”

  15. It seems Leicester are going down the rabbit hole dug by Bob Jackson “The Road to Growth” that the Church in Wales had gone down. Where some full time clergy and occasionally an ordained assistant are covering 10 parishes as Ministry Areas each lay led. Burn out may follow.

  16. “every-member ministry” boils down to congregationalism under episcopal management.

    Oh no. Someone might get the idea that bishops aren’t really necessary. The sky will fall. The Earth will tear itself asunder. The Moon will turn to blood. Puppies will be slaughtered. Bishops might be made extraneous!

    Wait. I think I see a possible strategy for saving money.

  17. Ian Paul…

    “Attachment to buildings leads to ineffective large groupings, and all the evidence points to this accelerating decline.”

    That’s my instinct… Where is the best evidence base?

    I’m wondering if it is only “attachment to buildings”? Are large groupings ineffective on their own? Clearly they can be a gravitational pull and are able to fund more projects /staff but do they strengthen outreach or more “satisfy the saved”? I’m not supposing it’s binary.

  18. How much money could go to each parish by cutting down on administrators at diocesan level and drastically pruning the increasing number of suffragan bishops?

    • There is no diocese that has not been cutting central posts in recent years. But one effect I can be to make the reduce the resourcing and support of local ministry – just when it is needed more. So whilst I get why this is said, the relationship of the ‘centre’ to the local isn’t that simple.

      • Indeed, it is not. But I am not convinced that you are right in saying that all have been cutting at the centre. Do you have any evidence for that? In our diocese, just under a third of all the people paid in the diocese are at the centre; in some dioceses it is far less than that.


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