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Survey finds C of E clergy wedded to the parish system

10 October 2014


"There's a feeling of vibrancy": clergy from the dioceses of Blackburn, Liverpool and Manchester are supporting a campaign to highlight the benefits of working and ministry in the North West of England, launched at the Christian Resources Exhibition, in Manchester, this week. Examples of clergy working in the region include the Revd Anne Taylor, Vicar of St Peter's, Formby

"There's a feeling of vibrancy": clergy from the dioceses of Blackburn, Liverpool and Manchester are supporting a campaign to highlight the be...

CHURCH of England clergy are overwhelmingly committed to the parish system, despite the challenges it poses, a new survey by YouGov suggests.

This is one of the clearest findings to come out of new research devised by the team behind last year's Westminster Faith Debates.

The survey asked 1500 Anglican clergy, chosen at random (News, 15 August), how important the parish system was to them: 83 per cent said important, 12 per cent said not important, and five per cent held no strong view.

The only other of the 29 questions asked that generated such unanimity, regardless of church tradition, concerned the nature of God: 83 per cent believed in a personal God; nine per cent answered: "No one can know what God is like."

The commitment to parish ministry was informed by the missionary focus of those who responded to the questionnaire. Asked which constituency the Church of England should prioritise, they replied:

  • England as a whole - 66%
  • Anglicans who are not regular churchgoers - 18%
  • Regular churchgoers  - 5%
  • Other - 7%
  • No opinion - 2%
  • Don't know - 2%

Professor Linda Woodhead from the Department of Politics, Philosophy and Religion at Lancaster University, who devised the questionnaire, said on Tuesday: "It is fascinating that the level of clergy support for the parish system is so high, especially since the growth of cities, increased mobility, and shrinking numbers of clergy and worshippers are putting the parish under pressure as never before.

"One answer may be nostalgia: the idea of the parish goes together with the village green, warm beer, and cricket.

"Many clergy probably have a deeper reason, believing that the real work of the Church goes on at parish level, where it touches people's lives most deeply.

"A third reason is that the majority of clergy still believe, like William Temple, that the C of E exists not for the benefit of its own members, but for society as a whole."

Ole Riis, Professor of Sociology of Religion at the University of Agder, and an expert on the Church of Denmark, has said: "The parochial system reflects the domestic pattern in agricultural society. But most people nowadays live in a state of mobility.

"In order to become relevant for supporting networks for people today, the Church should consider a reorganisation, and become more flexible itself."

The discrepancy between the high level of support for the parish system and the strain it places upon the Church (News, 7 February) is one of the topics covered in a new series of debates beginning in Oxford this week. Organised by Professor Woodhead and the new Dean of Christ Church, the Very Revd Dr Martyn Percy, they will examine different aspects of the Church's ministry and predict how they might survive or develop over the next 20 years.

The YouGov survey also asked a related question about clergy housing. Only half the respondents were convinced that the present arrangement should continue. Asked which option they most favoured, 49 per cent agreed that the Church should go on providing housing. On the other hand, only four per cent favoured providing a higher stipend so that they could arrange their own. The rest favoured a mixed economy: 18 per cent wanted a higher stipend and self-determination, but with church-owned housing in expensive areas; 24 per cent wanted the ability to choose (four per cent did not know or favoured another option).

For more details of the debates, search 'faith debates' online

All figures, unless otherwise stated, are from YouGov Plc.  Total sample size was 1509 Anglican Clergy. Fieldwork was undertaken between 14th August - 9th September 2014.  The survey was carried out online. 

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