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Report of the Church Buildings Review Group

by
23 October 2015

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From Claire Walker

Sir, — I welcome the publication of the Church Buildings Review Group report. It makes clear the challenges facing the Church in its stewardship of 15,700 church buildings, including obtaining funding to keep them in good repair. But it also shows that making it possible for more people to use church buildings by adapting them for community use gives them a new lease of life.

Funding from public and private sources to keep parish churches in good repair and to install modern facilities is essential for their survival, as costs are beyond the reach of most local communities.

Since 1953, the National Churches Trust has played its part by providing more than £90 million of funding — in today’s prices — to help repair and support Christian places of worship. Funding for church buildings is money well spent, as they are a great national asset that benefits all of society. They are places of beauty, indispensable hubs for community activities, and sanctuaries for worship or quiet contemplation.

Churches may be historic buildings, but they can be part of our future, too.

CLAIRE WALKER
Chief Executive
National Churches Trust
7 Tufton Street, London SW1P 3QB

 

Sir, — I wish I could say that I had read the Church Buildings report with interest, but so much of it was academic waffle that I did not. The Church manages to insult women yet again — and entirely invalidate much of its argument.

The tables show only stipendiary clergy — mainly, of course, men, like almost everyone involved with this report. I understand that two-thirds of the clergy are non-stipendiary — mainly, of course, women. The committee were evidently not interested in non-stipendiary and retired but active clergy, nor Readers, who do so much now, and so ignored the effect that their distribution would have on the figures.

I don’t think figures are available, but an intelligent guess might be that retired but active clergy gravitate to rural areas (where they might have had a country retreat in their working life, and houses tend to be cheaper), and non-stipendiary clergy tend to be in more affluent areas, as they need their own, or their husband’s, finances.

I live in a seven-parish benefice. There is a stipendiary Vicar and also a stipendiary assistant curate. In addition, there are three non-stipendiary (male) priests and a Reader. Instead of the stated diocesan average of four churches to a stipendiary priest, in real terms there are 1.2 churches, a very low ratio. The non-stipendiary priests seem to take as many services as the stipendiary ones, but most of the churches, apart from the mother church, which has two services each Sunday, have only two or perhaps three services a month.

If all the churches in the land, including festival churches, are to have a Christmas Day service, in the absence of spectacular management (did I see a pig overhead?) we would need as many priests as at present; my benefice couldn’t manage to give our parish church an Easter Day service (cancelled three weeks in advance, but we were never notified by the benefice office) with a ratio of a priest to 1.2 churches! If we have enough priests for the festivals, what will they do for the rest of the year?

May I add, lest we are thought to be a financial burden: although there are only 40 houses in the parish, we raised £30,000 in 12 months on top of £100,000 in grants, paying not only for all the repairs, inter alia, to stop the chancel east wall falling down, but the Parish Share, a share of the benefice-office expenses, and all the outgoings, maintenance, and insurance — with a surplus.

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