CHURCH of England clergy are overwhelmingly committed to the
parish system, despite the challenges it poses, a new survey by
This is one of the clearest findings to come out of new research
devised by the team behind last year's Westminster Faith
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
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
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
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
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.