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Prescriptions for the future health of the Church of England

21 March 2014


From Mr Nigel Holmes

Sir, - "Big buildings and big institutions fall down slowly but there comes a point when the roof really does fall in and we move from being Durham Cathedral to Fountains Abbey. . . My own gut feeling is that there will be serious questions of viability before I retire, probably camouflaged in pastoral reorganising at diocesan level. Say seven to ten years." These are words written by the present Archbishop of Canterbury when he was the Bishop of Durham, and are quoted by Andrew Atherstone in The Road to Canterbury (DLT, 2013).

Thank you for your series of articles on the state of the Church. The sobering statistical analysis by Professor Linda Woodhead has been particularly telling. As many of your articles have proclaimed, flexibility in thinking and radical structural change is urgent. We must make the best use of abilities available. In the past, the greatest waste was the sidelining of women; in our day, inflexibility of movement between categories, especially lay to ordained, marginalises many unpaid ministers. So that the fewer paid clergy can devote more time to mission, the maintenance of ministry will fall increasingly on volunteers. Yet the talents of Readers remain under-used.

As so often in the Church of England, those with influence can easily frustrate the will of the people. A survey of more than 1000 Readers found that one-third felt frustrated, and the vast majority sought significant change. Their views were all but ignored. We cannot afford to waste such talent and experience.

Sadly, many with power regard ministry as static. To my mind, it should be dynamic, offering movement between categories, progression matching flourishing talent and accumulated experience. As numbers diminish, the survival of the Church in a recognisable form will depend on this. Mission impossible?

Woodside, Great Corby
Carlisle CA4 8LL


From Mr John Griffiths

Sir, - In a Church running out of clergy and lacking the resources to keep buildings serviceable, the laity is the one part of the Church which can be expected to play a more crucial role in the future. This is why it is all the more scandalous that there is no integrated strategy for lay training; and that the vast majority of money spent in the Church of England is being spent on buildings and clergy. It is high time that the laity were imagined as more than pew-fodder replacing the money sluicing out of the holes in the Church Commissioners' pockets, and were resourced as being vital to the future of the Church in England. Let us start investing in the laity.

58 Middlefield Road
Hoddesdon EN11 9ER


From Mr Alan Stanley

Sir, - Much is said and written about the ministry of clergy. Very little, if anything, is written about the theology of the non-ordained without making it it in some way an appendage of the true parish ministry, that of the clergy.

The many growing Churches take the theology of the whole people of God much more seriously. Many have a voluntarist ecclesiology that, although we may not accept all that involves, does in actuality place the whole local congregation at the centre of the cure of souls in that area. Many growing worldwide Anglican Churches value, nurture, and enable the ministry of the non-ordained.

Assbridge Lodge, Cattle Lane
Aberford, Leeds LS25 3BN


From Dr Sheila E. Fisher

Sir, - In the debate about church health and the careful reflections of the past four weeks, I find myself wondering where the recognition of the power of chaplaincy ministry is.

In the wider world of schools, prisons, healthcare, airports, and in the hard times of life such as illness and bereavement, chaplains reach out in the love and grace of God.

The content, especially and disappointingly in the final issue, has been centred on parochial ministry; and yet there is no either/or aspect to parochial and chaplaincy: they are complementary aspects of Jesus's ministry. He respected the scriptures and taught in the synagogue. He had an equally powerful ministry in the towns and countryside, reaching out to the marginalised and vulnerable.

Surely it is time for our Church to do the same? It is possible to support the parish structure, and yet feel a vocation to a wider ministry, reaching out to places that parochial ministry finds it difficult to access. This demands different, but complementary, talents from parish leadership; and yet there appears to be no pathway to identify and offer training to those who feel this call.

2 Primley Park Mount
Alwoodley, Leeds LS17 7JJ


From Sister Monica and Sister Catherine

Sir, - It is inspiring that the Archbishop of Canterbury is developing and encouraging the ecumenical aspect of the religious life at Lambeth Palace. This continues the work of traditional Anglican religious communities at the instigation of Archbishop Runcie, who invited the Order of the Holy Paraclete to establish a presence at the Palace. It was continued by Archbishops Carey and Williams; and for a short time, two communities (the Community of the Holy Name and Sisters of the Love of God) worked and lived together, involved in the life of the Palace and in the local area. We thank God that the Chemin Neuf community is able to build on this work (News, 28 February).

64 Allexton Gardens, Welland
Peterborough PE1 4UW

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