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Primate: good vicars mean growing churches

10 January 2014

WHERE a good parish priest is present, churches grow, the Archbishop of Canterbury suggested last week.

In an interview on the Today programme on BBC Radio 4 on New Year's Eve, Archbishop Welby suggested that he was "extremely hopeful" about the future of the Church of England, despite falling numbers, partly because of "signs of growth in many places".

He said: "Of course there are churches that are doing better, and churches that are struggling more, depending on area and on leadership. But the reality is that where you have a good vicar, you will find growing churches."

The Archbishop was invited to contribute to the Thought for the Day slot by the chief executive of Barclays, Antony Jenkins, the guest editor of the programme for the day. In a subsequent interview with the presenter Sarah Montague, the Archbishop said: "We are falling in numbers and there is a change in attitude towards the Christian faith in the country - that is unquestionable. We need to be quite realistic about that."

He also suggested: "We sometimes give the impression at the national level that we are obsessed with a small number of issues."

He agreed with Ms Montague that the Church must be "very clear about its intention of growing its numbers. It doesn't happen accidentally. All the research we've got is that if we don't actually set out to grow the number of people and draw people to the reality of the love of God, in Jesus Christ, it doesn't happen. It's not a collateral benefit to existing."

He spoke about the growth in Fresh Expressions, which had "drawn the equivalent of two entire dioceses in new numbers".

Ms Montague also asked Archbishop Welby about the C of E's investment in Wonga, the banks' commitment to reform, and his admiration for Pope Francis.

The Archbishop's link between growth and a "good vicar" provoked consternation among some clerics, however. "All good, but as a regular vicar left me feeling that the church is shrinking because the vicars aren't good enough," wrote the Vicar of Great Missenden with Ballinger and Little Hampden, Canon Rosie Harper, on Twitter, echoing several other clerics on the site.

"As the Diocesan Missioner in Devon, I would want to bear witness to the fact that some of the most imaginative, talented, and courageous vicars I meet are serving in rural multi-parish benefices, which are on the whole declining," wrote Canon Anna Norman-Walker on her blog.

"However, I do agree that where an excellent vicar has the realistic task of leading a single parish church into growth, then growth happens."

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