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Synod: Churches Conservation Trust

18 July 2014

Churches Conservation Trust

THE Bishop of London, the Rt Revd Richard Chartres, introduced an order to continue funding the Churches Conservation Trust (CCT) by £1.35 million a year, the same amount as the Church provided in 2001. Government funding for the Trust had been cut since the recession, and its viability was in doubt if more money were not found. "The Church will not and cannot pick up the shortfall from government."

Dr John Beal (West Yorkshire & the Dales) spoke to support the CCT. The £1.35 million contributed by the Church Commissioners each year was turned into some £6.25 million through government funding, donations, and grants, he said.

The Revd Dr Patrick Richmond (Norwich) challenged the Synod to be realistic about the likelihood of more and more buildings' becoming redundant in the future. "The buildings do not shuffle off quite as easily as the ageing members of our congregations," he warned.

The Revd Tony Redman (St Edmundsbury & Ipswich) said that church buildings helped with the Church's mission, because they "tell stories of hope, suffering, and success". But he warned against struggling congregations' showing more love for their buildings than for their priest or community.

Canon Christopher Lilley (Lincoln) spoke of the three churches in his parish looked after by the CCT: "It has been a real joy and pleasure to work with them in partnership." But "We do need to look at how, in larger rural dioceses with many Grade I buildings, we can support the future of these churches."

April Alexander (Southwark) pointed to a disparity between the National Trust, which had 200 properties and 5000 staff, and the CCT, which had 345 buildings and employed 50 full-timers. She urged the Synod to back the motion, and promote the Trust's work.

The Archdeacon of Lincoln, the Ven. Timothy Barker (Lincoln), said that a review committee on buildings which he was leading had decided that it was a "bad witness" to close them.

Canon Steven Saxby (Chelmsford) advised: "Talking up church closure is unhelpful to mission."

The Revd Duncan Dormor (University of Cambridge) said that the C of E had "much it could learn" from the CCT's "fantastic" volunteer recruitment and training procedures. "Loyd Grossman is an outstanding advocate for parish churches in this country within the heritage world, and the CCT stands out in that world," he said. "We in the Church of England should be immensely proud of that."

Bishop Chartres responded to the debate by welcoming a move to a clearer statistical base about church growth and decline, with the publication of the report From Anecdote to Evidence. Only 20 churches a year were being closed, he said, which was not an "enormous spate". "But those who are anxious about the future have good cause." The Church would continue to argue with the Government for a more "realistic partnership" in the care of redundant churches.

The Synod approved the Order, which will become a Statutory Instrument after Parliamentary approval. It requires the Church Commissioners to pay £4,065,000 to the CCT for the period 1 April 2015 to 31 March 2018, together with a top-up amount of up to £150,000 from excess proceeds and premiums. 

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