WHERE a good parish priest is present, churches grow, the
Archbishop of Canterbury suggested this week.
In an interview on the BBC's Today programme on
Tuesday, the Most Revd Justin 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
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 give the Thought for the
Day by the chief executive of Barclays, Antony Jenkins, the
guest editor of the programme for the day. In the subsequent
interview, the Archbishop acknowledged that "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 that "We sometimes give
the impression at the national level that we are obsessed with a
small number of issues."
He agreed that the Church must be "very clear about its
intention of growing its numbers. It doesn't happen accidentally.
All the resesearch 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 of
people across the country".
The Archbishop's link between growth and a "good vicar" provoked
some consternation among the clergy.
"All good, but as a regular vicar left me feeling that the
church is shrinking because the vicars aren't good enough," wrote
Canon Rosie Harper, chaplain to the Bishop of Buckingham, on the
social-media site Twitter, echoing several other members of the
clergy 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."
During the interview, the Archbishop said that the Church
Commissioners had yet to drop the Church of England's £80,000 stake
in Wonga (News, 26
July). "They are working out how they can dispose of those
shares without disposing of millions and millions of pounds of
investment at a loss, because they have a responsibility to
pensioners," he said. The stake is at "three stages removed".
The Archbishop, who shared a platform with Mr Jenkins at a
debate organised by St Paul's Institute on good banks (News,
14 June), also faced a question about the banking sector's
commitment to reform.
"People like Antony are dealing with the impact of 30 years, I
think, in which there was strong pressure to go in one direction,
which is about maximising shareholder return; and it's not instant,
but a progressive loss of vision as to what banks were for in
society." he said. "The challenge for leadership is to change that
culture - [a challenge] which says 'We are not here just for
ourselves: we are here for the whole of society.' And that's a
massive, massive challenge and will take a long time to turn
around. . . I think a number of them are doing it. Barclays are
working very, very hard, and the major banks are working very, very
He had conversed, however, with "senior members of the City from
foreign organisations" who were "very clearly still in denial about
what happened in 2008".
In his New Year message, the Archbishop defended Christian
commitment to speaking out about poverty.
"If you love your neighbour, you're going to be deeply concerned
in the things that trouble them, whether it's about heating bills,
whether it's about insecurity in families and the need for good
community life," he said. "It's not about politics: it's about
He said that the late Nelson Mandela had said that "dealing with
poverty is not an act of charity: it's an act of justice. He said
every generation has the chance to be a great generation, and we
can be that great generation."
Mr Mandela was quoted by other senior clergy on Wednesday.
"Mandela has got into the heart of what it is to be human in
terms of qualities of forgiveness and reconciliation," the
Archbishop of Wales, Dr Barry Morgan, said. "Why, then, do we find
it so hard to believe that God is a God like that, and that it is
because we are made in his image that we are capable of acts of
forgiveness and reconciliation ourselves?"
The Bishop of Worcester, Dr. John Inge, spoke of being inspired
by the example of Mr Mandela as described by a prison chaplain in
the Church Times (News, 13
Archbishop Welby also recorded a Christmas message for Vatican
radio, in which he described meeting Pope Francis as "one of the
highlights of my life".
"We remember that we are called not to form a great
organisation, not to be in committees, or working groups, or task
forces; but to put our hand into the small, vulnerable hand of
Jesus Christ, the baby in the manger," he said. "And hearing the
call of God through him, to trust ourselves to the one who makes
himself empty, that our world may be transformed, and each of us
may be filled with the love of God."
During his Today interview, Archbishop Welby said that
Pope Francis was his "person of the year", an honour also bestowed
on the Pontiff by Time magazine.