THE new Second Church Estates Commissioner, Andrew Selous MP, said this week that he “longs for the country to come back together” after a divisive two years. And he praised the open letter from Church of England bishops in the run-up to the General Election, which said that the 2016 referendum result should be respected.
The letter provoked criticism from many, but Mr Selous, a Conservative who has represented his South Bedfordshire constituency for 19 years, said that it was the “right thing” for bishops to do.
“I long for this country to come back together again. We have lived through extremely angry and divisive times. I was absolutely delighted that the bishops said in a letter before the election that the referendum result should be respected; that was the right thing to say. The Church has a role in pointing out what unites us and brings us together.”
Mr Selous was announced as successor to Dame Caroline Spelman at the end of last week. The Second Church Estates Commissioner acts as a link between the Church of England and Parliament, answering MPs’ questions about church affairs, and representing any church concerns.
Mr Selous, whose voting record demonstrates his opposition to same-sex marriage, set up the All-Party Parliamentary Group for Strengthening Couples’ Relationships, and said that he has long been passionate about bolstering marriage. He believes that the Church has an important part to play.
“If you have strong marriages and strong relationships, they act as a bulwark against poverty, and can offer resilience when people come across difficult points in their lives.
“I like and admire the work of churches and their care for marriages of parishioners. I wish that could be extended further — it is really valuable. Sometimes, churches do not always offer the marriage ‘after-sales service’ people need.”
Mr Selous said that it was a service that some churches might extend to “any couple” who came forward. He would not be drawn on how he would act if the outcome of the Living in Love and Faith project, expected later this year, were to challenge his personal views on same-sex marriage. He said that, like others, he would be “awaiting it with interest”.
“I am very new in the role. I am aware of Living in Love and Faith, but I do not think it is right to make a pronouncement on this.”
Asked about loyalty to the Church and to his party, he said that he did not wish to dwell on “tensions” that the position might throw up for him, but focus instead on the opportunities that it would give him to share his “abiding passion” for the Church of England, and to offer stories of the enormous contribution of the Church to wider society.
Mr Selous attends St Mary’s, Studham, a village church near Dunstable, Bedfordshire, and also worships with his family at the Vineyard Church, St Albans. He and his wife made the decision to take their three children to services at the Vineyard Church as it offered activities every Sunday for children, which his parish church did not.
Educated at Eton, Mr Selous served in the military before working in insurance. An active member of the Conservative Christian Fellowship throughout his time in Parliament, he also served as Parliamentary Private Secretary to Sir Iain Duncan Smith during his time as Secretary of State for Work and Pensions, during the early days of Universal Credit.
The Archbishop of Canterbury is among the many church leaders who have called on the Government to make urgent changes to the benefit. Archbishop Welby said in 2018 that the rise in foodbank use was directly related to the benefit, and called for its roll-out to be stopped (News, 21 September 2018). The Trussell Trust’s figures from its foodbanks showed that use of them had soared by one third in areas where Universal Credit had operated for a year.
Mr Selous this week defended the benefit, saying that evidence was emerging that “it has been successful in helping people get back to work, which is a good thing.” Many people in his constituency, he said, “have been surprised at how it works for them”. Complaints about it did not feature heavily in his constituency work.
Asked if his support for the benefit was unqualified, he said: “I support the principle of making work pay; but I want to make sure it is delivered in a humane, compassionate way. I have played my part in helping to bring about changes to it.”
Mr Selous, a former prisons minister, praised the work of chaplains in prisons, and said that he would like to see parishes forging closer links with prisons to help with rehabilitation.
He described himself as a “green Conservative” before David Cameron thought of the term, who wanted to assist the Church in doing more to reduce its carbon footprint. A keen cyclist, he said that many churches were not equipped to help worshippers use green modes of transport, and called for bike racks outside churches. “I have to stash my Brompton behind the font,” he said.