*** DEBUG END ***

Uneven service

11 May 2018

IF YOU organise your services into a “complex railway timetable”, it helps to have a trainspotter to hand to monitor its effect. The Revd Dr Robert Barlow, when he was Priest-in-Charge of Teme Valley South, was just that, monitoring the congregation over a four-year period in which services in the parish moved from village to village. Congregations were expected to move with them. Dr Barlow’s conclusion is that — with notable exceptions — congregation members are loyal to their village church and are generally reluctant to move. This will not come as a surprise to anyone involved in rural ministry, but few attempts have been made to quantify the effect on churchgoing. To amalgamate church services is to allow wishful thinking to triumph over observation. It is also a misreading of the loyalty that people feel to their own parish church rather than to the wider group or, sadly, the priest. We understand fully the thinking behind such a move, as rural dioceses attempt to cover the ground with an ever-fewer number of clergy. But the effect of amalgamating services is to unchurch a large proportion of the rural population, discouraging regular attendance and introducing the unattractive scent of mothballs in buildings that consequently become under­used.

For ease and consistency, Dr Barlow gives his figures in per­centages. Although these are not particularly safe when numbers are small, they have the effect of revealing the scale of the problem, generally obscured when dealing in single figures. One congregation dropped to 1/30th of its size whenever the service moved out of the village. If a suburban congregation of, say, 300 dropped to ten, the authorities might conclude more readily that the concept of a mobile congregation was a myth.

No deal

“LOVE your enemies. Do good to them which hate you.” The President of the United States appears not to appreciate that treaties are not needed between friendly powers: it is one’s potential enemies who require most negotiation. President Trump presents himself as the arch-dealmaker, and promises to curb Iranian nuclear ambitions by playing tough and offering Iran less. But threats and fulmination, derived from what appears to be a desire to undo everything that President Obama achieved, show a poor grasp of statesmanship. Moderate voices in Iran will be discouraged, and anti-American sentiment will be reinvigorated. For the time being, the other signatories, the UK among them, are attempting to shore up the agreement without the US. But the political leadership in Iran is as capable of grand gestures as President Trump is, and President Rouhani has already spoken of restarting their nuclear programme. As the events of 9/11 showed, if the world becomes a more dangerous place, the US is not immune.

Browse Church and Charity jobs on the Church Times jobsite

Letters to the editor

Letters for publication should be sent to letters@churchtimes.co.uk.

Letters should be exclusive to the Church Times, and include a full postal address. Your name and address will appear below your letter unless requested otherwise.

Forthcoming Events

Green Church Awards

Closing date: 30 June 2024

Read more details about the awards


Festival of Preaching

15-17 September 2024

The festival moves to Cambridge along with a sparkling selection of expert speakers

tickets available



Festival of Faith and Literature

28 February - 2 March 2025

The festival programme is soon to be announced sign up to our newsletter to stay informed about all festival news.

Festival website


ViSIt our Events page for upcoming and past events 

The Church Times Archive

Read reports from issues stretching back to 1863, search for your parish or see if any of the clergy you know get a mention.

FREE for Church Times subscribers.

Explore the archive

Welcome to the Church Times


To explore the Church Times website fully, please sign in or subscribe.

Non-subscribers can read four articles for free each month. (You will need to register.)