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Proposal to axe experts could affect hundreds of closures, warns church-rescuing charity

13 October 2021

Twitter/Friends of Friendless Churches

St Helen’s, Skeffling, in the East Riding of Yorkshire, one of the churches cared for by Friends of Friendless Churches

St Helen’s, Skeffling, in the East Riding of Yorkshire, one of the churches cared for by Friends of Friendless Churches

AS MANY as 368 churches could be closed during the next five years, Friends of Friendless Churches has warned, as part of a strongly critical response to plans to streamline the method of making churches redundant, outlined at the last General Synod meeting. Church House has described this as a “worst-case scenario”.

In a thread posted on Twitter, on Monday, Friends of Friendless Churches, which cares for 59 redundant places of worship in England and Wales, quotes from a consultation paper, Church of England Mission in Revision: A review of the Mission and Pastoral Measure 2011, (News, 2 July, 16 July; Comment, 1 October). It envisages “incremental” short-term and long-term changes to the Mission and Pastoral Measure (MPM), which governs pastoral reorganisation and the disposal of churches no longer deemed viable as Anglican places of worship.

The Third Church Estates Commissioner, Dr Eve Poole, described the paper as “deliberately capacious . . . the Master’s dissertation and not the Wikipedia entry. We took our task of simplification at face value.”

Friends of Friendless Churches quotes from the paper that: “12 dioceses were planning a light number of closures (fewer than 5), 9 were planning a medium level (6-12), but 5 dioceses were planning a much larger number of closures (up to 40) within the next 2-5 years.”

Friends of Friendless Churches says that this could amount to the closure of “anything between 131 and 368” churches.

It continues: “So more churches will need careful appraisal, but the proposals seek to remove or diminish the expert advice that informs decision-making. The Commissioners seek to cut reports from the Church Buildings Council and instead buy in the expertise. A ‘development style’ approach.”

Friends of Friendless Churches also says that the Commissioners wish “to diminish the role of the Statutory Advisory Committee, the expert body, which has 4 State nominees protecting the State’s interests in these nationally important, public buildings”.

It says that local authorities “do not have the level of expertise necessary to deal with places of worship”, and are “poorly funded, under-resourced, and at least one third do not have a Conservation Officer.

“Furthermore, listed building consent covers the building only and cannot control the fate of contents which are not fixtures. When it comes to valuable, moveable heritage, this is vitally important.

“Parish churches are public buildings, originally built and endowed locally and all members of the parish, whether practising Anglicans or not, are entitled to be heard and considered properly. But the Commissioners propose to reduce the rights of the public in this instance.”

The thread concludes: “Historic churches are the essence of placemaking. It should not be fast or easy to close a place of worship. Their futures should be assessed by people with appropriate expertise and there should be a reasonable opportunity for the whole community to contribute its views.”

A Church House spokesperson told The Times on Wednesday: “There are concerns that increasing financial and demographic pressures might make it more likely that more closures will be necessary. The 368 figure comes by aggregating a worst-case scenario based on the indications we were given.”

The consultation period has been extended to the end of the month.

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