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The love affair with the parish — has it ended?

17 September 2021

Madeleine Davies, in part two of her study, looks at the forces for its retention and abandonment

Alamy

“Prospect of Bermingham”, drawing of the Midlands town in 1640

“Prospect of Bermingham”, drawing of the Midlands town in 1640

IN MAY 2021, the bishops of the diocese of Blackburn issued a letter setting out the way ahead. “We will never ‘manage’ or ‘decline’ our way out of a crisis,” they wrote. “Only faith can do that. As a diocese we remain committed to parish life, to maintaining our current numbers of stipendiary clergy, to forming excellent priests and lay leaders and to investing in the front line. We need more vocations to the priesthood and more lay leaders. And we need you!”

With echoes of Lord Kitchener’s recruitment poster, it sounded a defiant note. Today, the Bishop of Burnley, the Rt Revd Philip North, is anxious not to frame his remarks as a criticism of the approach taken by other dioceses, pointing to “incomparable” contexts, not least concerning giving: “This is what’s right for Blackburn.”

But he remains sceptical about the argument used for reducing stipendiary numbers, at least in the diocese of Blackburn. “For us, it doesn’t actually make much difference, because, basically, parishes pay for the ministry that they receive. If we take out ten incumbents, we basically lose the equivalent of the income for ten incumbents. . .

“I also think that, once you start reducing clergy numbers, the risk is you are getting into a downward spiral you can’t then stop. . . The irony is that good, faithful Christian ministry is income-raising. Able priests deployed to parishes is what works, what functions.”

Blackburn’s approach is not simply a maintenance of the status quo, Bishop North emphasises. It is notable that when, in 2015, the diocesan Bishop, the Rt Revd Julian Henderson, discussed ten-year plans with the clergy, he focused on the need for change, saying: “There are too many examples where our churches are unhealthy, chewing up the clergy, engaging in power struggles, not offering a warm welcome, being unchristian in their behaviour, driving people away, not drawing them in.”

It is vital, Bishop North says, to be “bold enough to intervene where parishes are really struggling, and where more radical change is needed”. Such parishes are not necessarily the poorest, he observes. “They are parishes where perhaps there are issues around relationships, around administration, around leadership, or whatever.” There are plenty of examples, he says, of places where “parish life has been at death’s door and is flourishing again. . .

DIOCESE OF BLACKBURNThe Bishops of Blackburn, the Rt Revd Julian Henderson, flanked by his suffragans, the Rt Revd Philip North and Dr Jill Duff

“Part of it is about the quality of leadership that we are able to provide for those parishes; the kind of training and support that we are offering is really, really vital. But also I do think that morale is massive. And, when the messages you are giving out are: ‘Oh, we are in trouble, decline is inevitable, we have to embrace the future,’ the future becomes the thing of threat, morale goes down, and parishes stultify.

“When you are really focusing on the person of Jesus Christ and the dignity of the call, the importance of the local church, and encouraging, often things will turn around and churches will grow.

“That’s certainly true in a parish. When you go in a parish, the one thing you are really trying to do is raise morale and give people hope in the gospel so they find a joy in church life. And, if that works at a local level, I don’t see why it shouldn’t work across a diocese.”

 

WHILE Blackburn isn’t the only diocese committed to maintaining clergy numbers, financial pressures and the planned cuts to stipendiary posts in many dioceses have raised concerns for some of the hundreds of priests ordained since the Church committed itself to increasing the number of ordinands by 50 per cent by 2020 (News, 23 January 2015).

Central funds have been deployed to address the problem. Last year, it was announced (News, 17 July 2020) that the Strategic Ministry Fund could be drawn on to ensure that 560 title posts — all but 150 stipendiary — would be available to match the number of ordinands due to emerge in 2021.

But the paper Perspectives on Money, People and Buildings circulated to bishops and diocesan secretaries in January noted “concern that, with a reduction in stipendiary posts, it will be more difficult for curates successfully completing their curacies to move into a first incumbency”.

It went on to warn: “If in any year there are insufficient curacies or first incumbencies, there will be two significant consequences: firstly, funds invested by the Church in training additional ordinands and curates may be perceived to have been wasted; and, secondly, the messaging/mood generated [may] deter candidates and lead to a shock contraction in the pipeline of new clergy. Exacerbated by recruitment freezes, or policies to recruit only from within, in some dioceses there is a real risk that this could occur in 2021 (News, 5 February).”

This month, a spokesperson for the National Ministry Team said that the issues raised were “under review constantly. We believe that the Vision and Strategy for the future of the Church of England will lead to growth in the Church which will, as the Archbishop of York has said on several occasions, mean more, not fewer, clergy (News, 16 July). . .

“We believe that there is a direct link between the number of clergy in ministry — particularly stipendiary clergy — and the sustainability and growth of church communities; so it is in everybody’s interests that we can maintain a well-resourced, equipped, and trained clergy to spread the gospel in the parishes — that is what they are there for.”

 

FOR clergy already in post, Bishop North’s point about morale is salient. In a survey carried out in January, 43 per cent of clergy respondents said that their enthusiasm had decreased during the latest lockdown (News, 20 August). Clergy were more tired (82 per cent) and more stressed (60 per cent). Four in ten had not found it easy to cope.

This was the context in which the institutional roadmap for the 2020s — Vision and Strategy — was introduced. “There is a lot of tiredness in the Church,” the Archbishop of York acknowledged (News, 16 July). “We have had lots of initiatives. They have not always been well received. Neither have they always been particularly effective. . . We need to avoid this vision and strategy appearing as ‘one more initiative’.”

He went on to speak of the “huge shift in the tectonic plates of European and world culture that have shaped the world in which we serve and witness” as a context for the Church’s numerical decline.

The launch of a plan to establish 10,000 lay-led churches, with the cost of stipends, college-based training, and buildings referred to as “limiting factors” (News, 2 July) served as a lightning rod for anxieties about the future of cherished aspects of the Church.

A nerve had been struck. At the launch of the Save the Parish campaign (News, 4 August), the Revd Dr Alison Milbank, Canon Theologian of Southwell Minster, diagnosed “a tendency to view the parish like some inherited embarrassing knick-knack from a great-aunt that you wish were in the attic”.

For the Rector of East Blatchington and Bishopstone, in the diocese of Chichester, the Revd Arwen Folkes, it feels “as though our central leadership has lost a lived and physical sense of what day-to-day parish life is like — almost as if it has been boiled down to nothing more than a numbers game, and, as a result, has abstracted the idea of ‘parish’ in terms of ‘success’ and nice anecdotes. . .

“In the strategic documents, we hear more about the parish in terms of numbers or in monetary terms, as though the parish is ‘draining’ the wider Church of the gospel that it really needs to be working on. Yet the parish is part of the C of E’s vocation. It is our skeleton; it is our DNA in the Church of England.”

ARWEN FOLKESThe Revd Arwen Folkes, Rector of East Blatchington and Bishopstone, East Sussex

While she emphasises that the diocese in which she ministers “works actively to uphold the parish system”, her sense is that, nationally, much potential for compelling communication is being missed. She points to the Christmas advertisement produced by the national digital team in 2019: “I do wonder why we can’t have one of those for the parish: a national campaign of re-enchantment. ‘This is your parish. Did you know? Weddings, baptisms, funerals, someone to talk to, questions about life. . . We are here for you.’”

Her fear is that the national leadership is “no longer able to speak positively or confidently about the parish. . . This loss of vocabulary then plays into the parish’s own loss of confidence, and so we find ourselves in an ever-decreasing spiral of losing morale.” Her sense is that clergy need a “national message of encouragement”.

It is perfectly possible to achieve growth in a parish setting, she says. To do so in her area, it had been necessary to “find a strong voice that can speak locally over the institutional anxiety, over that sense of impending doom”, she reports.

“We try to use a narrative that engenders the excitement and potential of parish ministry — the rich vibrancy which bears Christ’s footsteps, for people who so badly need and yearn to be seen, heard, and loved. . . God is the one hosting the event, but if we insist in using words that are apologetic, unsure, anxious, and overly desperate — then that’s no invitation at all. Nobody will board a sinking ship.”

Alongside personal invitations, digital forms of communication have proved effective. “Rarely do I meet someone new without ending the conversation by asking them if they’d like to receive our monthly email, and signing them up on the spot. They all say yes.” Newcomers usually migrate from online to physical attendance.

“I used to think that the Church’s loss of confidence was due to ‘secular’ society, but now the real battle is within — a crisis of identity and a lack of hope,” she says. “Of course, a level of pragmatism is needed to cope with the material issues, but these are secondary to the spiritual issues that we all face as Christians — things such as not losing hope.”

 

THE Church’s leadership is eager to reiterate its support for the parish system, and has rebutted the sugegstion that it is in the process of dismantling it (News, 5 March). This is accompanied, though, with a clear message that parish churches alone will not turn around numerical decline. A “mixed ecology”, in which Fresh Expressions and church-plants develop alongside (and often flow from) parishes, is to become the norm.

In his 2010 review of For the Parish: A critique of Fresh Expressions by Alison Milbank and Andrew Davison, the Archbishop of York argued that the book did “not take seriously enough the decline in churchgoing in many parts of the country, and the ways in which the parish church has failed to be the rich resource for Christian living and community involvement which the authors describe here” (Books, 26 November 2010).

This thinking has shaped the distribution of central church funds, which, since 2015, has been underpinned by a commitment to investing in mission and growth. Under the previous system, £50 million a year was distributed from the Church Commissioners to the dioceses, of which three-quarters was “Darlow funding” to poorer dioceses.

A task force at the time determined that it was “subsidising decline”. Resources were being channelled into parish churches “for the simple reason that they are declining, not because they are in deprived communities or are serving large populations”. In one diocese, more subsidy (£2.6 million) was put into parishes that were less deprived but declining than those that were more deprived but growing.

It was estimated that a diocese where attendance fell by five per cent could receive a four- to five-per-cent increase in Darlow funding, and that only one third of funding allocated to dioceses was going to the poorest communities.

The successor to Darlow, agreed by the General Synod, came in two parts. Half of the pot (£24 million per year) would still be earmarked for the dioceses with the greatest concentration of low-income communities (rather than any measure of diocesan wealth). Last year, 26 dioceses received funding totalling £26.3 million, and much of it was used to fund stipendiary posts for parishes unable to fund ministry.

In the diocese of Worcester, the Lowest Income Communities Fund (LICF) enables about ten additional stipendiary clergy to serve in its poorest parishes, over and above what can be afforded locally. By the end of 2019, 40 per cent of LICF funding was directed to the most deprived ten per cent of parishes.

But, while some dioceses have gained from the new formula, and transitional funding was put in place, others have lost significant amounts in a shift described as “traumatic” in one study (News, 8 November 2019). The loss of Darlow is among the factors referred to by dioceses that are now making radical changes to the way in which ministry is organised. Chelmsford’s central funding fell from £3.1 million to £1 million (News, 4 December 2020). In York, support was cut by nearly half, in real terms, to £1.2 million.

The other half of the national pot has been distributed through grants for strategic development funding (SDF), totalling, on average, £25 million a year. Dioceses submit bids to compete for a share of the pot. Proposals must demonstrate that their project will make “a significant difference to their mission and financial health”. This explicitly cannot include funding for posts that already exist.

While the claim that most of the money has gone on “resource churches” (News, 6 August) is inaccurate, it has been calculated that about 30 per cent has gone to churches supported by the Church Revitalisation Trust, a church-planting charity based at Holy Trinity, Brompton, in London. Other grants have gone towards large-scale diocesan reorganisations, including £5 million for Birmingham’s “People and Places” strategy, which will allocate clergy and resources according to population, not historical parish boundaries, over the next five to ten years (News, 1 March 2019).

Often overlooked are the SDF sums that have gone to supporting parishes. Many of the resource churches that have received funding are parish churches rather than plants, while other grants have been used to fund staff such as pioneer ministers, and children’s and families’ workers allocated to parishes (Features, 15 November 2019).

 

IT IS worth noting that LICF and SDF represent just three per cent of the total economy of the Church. None the less, a clear central emphasis on new ventures is evident. The 2018 Strategic Investment Board report observed: “Projects which involve establishing new worshipping communities — be they new congregations within ex­­isting churches, fresh expressions of Church, or resource churches — are delivering numerical growth, and reaching dechurched and un­­churched people, more quickly than other approaches. . .

“There are likely to be many reasons for this, but the fact that they are by their nature mission-focused from the outset, and can easily be designed around the needs of those with no experience of Christianity, are likely to be relev­ant.”

In a blog published that year, David Jennings, the head of funding at the Church Commissioners and the Arch­bishops’ Council, wrote that it was “regularly reported that levels of intentional, external mission have fallen to low levels in much of the inherited Church”.

The capacity of existing churches to grow was often related to their capacity to undertake mission “relev­­ant to families, children, and young people”, he wrote. Half the churches had a weekly adult at­­tendance of 31 or fewer, and a children’s attendance of three.

“The issue being reported is that, where congregations are small and/or increasingly elderly, although their witness may be very faithful, their ability to engage in effective mission — particularly to those not represented in their current congre­gation — is likely to be constrained. And, even if they can engage, current service offerings, orientated to the existing congregation, may struggle to retain new people.”

In such situations, dioceses needed to develop new strategies, of which the most common approaches were the creation of new worshipping com­munities in the form of Fresh Expres­sions, resource churches, and church-plants, he wrote.

The 2019 report Resourcing the Future projected that SDF projects would produce more than 1600 church-plants, Fresh Expressions, and new worshipping communities. It is important to note, that, in practice, these plans often entail a close relationship with parishes. This is echoed in diocesan strategies more broadly. (Coventry: “We will resource our parishes across the diocese to grow new congregations in the parish.”) The Vision and Strategy plan for 10,000 new churches envisages that these will emerge “out of revitalised parish ministry”.

 

WHILE the Save the Parish campaign has tended to pit Fresh Expressions against the parish, the Vicar of All Saints’, Leavesden, the Revd Edward Green, who chairs the Sanctum Collective — a network of people exploring creative mission, worship, and community, including sacramental Fresh Expressions — believes that the two share a common cause, “in having an emphasis on context over a particular style.

“Fresh Expressions work well in partnership with parishes, especially when there are those for whom Sunday morning is never going to work.

“This can be a struggle for Christians of all traditions to understand, who see Sunday morning as the ‘big event’, and I suspect there is an element of socio-economic privilege involved, too.”

He cautions against confusing Fresh Expressions with church-planting or resource churches, which can “tend towards the gathered/commuter model of church, detached from neighbourhood. The original meaning of ‘inherited church’ was this gathered/commuter model, and Fresh Expressions was an attempt to seek an alternative rooted in the missio Dei to reach those who have no contact with church.”

Content that his diocese — St Albans — has an emphasis “very much on community, neighbourhood, and parish”, he is nevertheless conscious of “a very real insecurity on the ground that the gathered model is preferred in the centre”.

He welcomes people “thinking seriously about the value of parish church . . . a community that lives and worships in the same neighbourhood — often, people from different backgrounds and church traditions — and, at its best, recognises that the mission of God happens in neighbourhoods.

“This has been under threat in the post-war period from a gathered model of church where Christians are encouraged to commute to a congregation of their stylistic preference: high or low, contemporary or choral.”

His concern, however, is that “this distinction is not recognised by Save the Parish. The term ‘parish’ is being co-opted to include gathered congregations, as long as they fit a certain style.

“The test of a parish church is a congregation where 90 per cent of worshipers live in the parish itself, and an identity that is rooted in that community before any particular style or worship tradition.”

Like Mrs Folkes, he would like to see “stronger messaging encouraging Anglicans to worship in their parish churches, with the expectation that parish churches are prepared to grow and change to welcome them”.

 

IN WALES, it is now almost a decade since a landmark review concluded that the parish system was “designed for an age crucially different from our own” and was “now stretched beyond what it can or should properly bear” (News, 27 July 2012). It recommended replacing parishes with much larger “ministry areas” led by a “leadership team containing lay people as well as clergy”.

The Church lost no time in adopting the proposal, moving even before it had been endorsed by the Governing Body. Suspending benefices is much easier to do, legally, in the Church in Wales than in the C of E. Yet much of what was recommended in the 2012 review, including its focus on “releasing the energy” of lay people, is now being echoed by bishops in the C of E.

Has it been a success? A progress report from dioceses (Are We There Yet?) in 2017 conveyed diverse approaches to the model. While, in some dioceses, parishes have been replaced entirely by ministry areas, in others the journey is still under way, and, in the diocese of St Davids, it has been agreed that they will remain in place, while forming “coalitions”.

In a blog earlier this year, the diocesan secretary of Bangor, the Revd Siôn Rhys Evans, wrote: “The unviability of the territorial parochial mindset can be a source of true anxiety for clergy — not only in terms of needing to maintain multiple presences — which has been a tension for some time — but also because an understanding from the ground up of the global unviability of the whole enterprise can easily, and reasonably, engender fatalism about the sustainability.

Siôn Rhys EvansThe diocesan secretary of Bangor, the Revd Siôn Rhys Evans

“For the young cleric, the prospect of a 30-year ministry serving such a demanding but unfruitful system, the economic viability of which might have disappeared completely before a 2050 retirement, can create a perfectly rational motivational crisis. It would be odd if it didn’t.”

What learning from the past decade could the Church in Wales pass on to the C of E? “I think it’s been really important that the dioceses have done it at the same time,” he observes. “It hasn’t been a piecemeal, ad hoc, and possibly morale- sapping merger of parishes when things have reached a point of unviability in individual situations. . . Everywhere — rural, urban, affluent, less affluent — has been on the same journey, and, in terms of morale and purposefulness, that has been important.”

Honesty has also been vital, he suggests, “to see that we are standing on a burning platform, and there is a need to act and to change together. I think that stepping away from denial has been important.”

It has been important, he says, to recognise “the massive benefits that come from being able to do things collaboratively between churches. . . Being able to not feel guilty that we are not able to run youth projects in our individual church, but recognising that we can work together on a good project together within the ministry area — that is fabulous.”

This collaborative approach has also been mirrored in a commitment to regular residential gatherings of clergy, archdeacons, and bishops, producing “a shared culture of trust and intentionality”.

While he does not believe that an attachment to the parish was weaker in Wales, he senses that the approach in his Church may be the future that awaits English dioceses. In Wales, he reports, there was “a yearning to be able to do worthwhile mission and ministry better”, and “a massive desire not to be . . . sapped by some of the pressures of maintaining things in a very atomised way”.

He also has an encouraging message for those who are anxious that the lay people sought to help lead in the C of E may not be found. This year, 13 people were licensed to “accredited, public, representative licensed lay ministries”.

“They are so obviously called and so obviously liberated into ministry by having that vocation recognised and validated by the bishop in that context,” Mr Evans says. “I think that, if one is intentional about it, it is possible to share leadership with gifted and committed lay people.

“In all of that, I don’t want for a minute to minimise the challenges of it . . . but the threadbareness in some places cannot be an argument for maintaining the status quo. It’s the opposite.”

 

AFTER chairing the 2012 review in Wales, the Rt Revd Lord Harries, a former Bishop of Oxford, predicted that this pattern of ministry would come to be seen as “increasingly appropriate for the Church of England” (Comment, 27 July 2012), and, in places, it would seem that he was prescient.

Readers with long memories may also wonder whether Canon John Tiller is starting to feel vindicated. In 1983, as chief secretary of the Advisory Council for the Church’s Ministry, he introduced a one-man report, A Strategy for the Church’s Ministry, concluding that the parish system as an effective means of mission and pastoral care had already, in large measure, broken down.

It proposed replacing the system of one-man incumbents with the exclusive care of souls with “every-member” ministry, in which, as described in the Church Times’s summary, “diocesan teams of specialist clergy work with local churches having their own local leaders, both ordained and lay”. Stipendiary clergy should “go where the need is greatest”, Canon Tiller proposed. “It is their dominant leadership role which needs to disappear, particularly where their presence tends to suppress the initiatives and insights of local people.” He also called for the abolition of patronage and the parson’s freehold.

A Church Times leader praised the report as “one of the ablest and most interesting documents ever presented to the General Synod and to the Church at large”. Dioceses were less keen. Revisiting his proposals ten years later, however, Canon Tiller stuck to his guns (Comment, 19 November 1993).

Sceptical about the potential for merely “superimposing” shared ministry (stipendiary clergy, NSMs, retired clergy, and Readers) on existing structures, he forecast that most churches would be in no position to support “full-time workers” from their own resources. Parishes would need to act together, “perhaps in a reformed kind of deanery unit”, to decide how the stipendiary ministers available locally could best be used “according to the varying priorities of mission”.

He diagnosed that, for Anglicans, congregationalism was “one of the dirtiest of theological words. Indeed, so much is the very smell of it deplored that our ministerial structures have seemed at times to be explicitly a device for suppressing the ‘misplaced’ enthusiasm of people in the pews.”

 

MANY elements of his proposals are echoed in today’s diocesan strategies, but it is striking how many continue to emphasise a commitment to the parish system. “The parish and parish growth is at the centre of all we do,” the Lincoln plan states. The diocese of Salisbury remains “committed to parochial ministry — and the local, visible presence of its priests, people ,and buildings”, while Manchester speaks of a “clear commitment to supporting and strengthening the parish system”.

In response to the Save the Parish campaign, the Bishop of Ramsbury, Dr Andrew Rumsey (Features, 2 June 2017), took to Twitter to say that “most bishops and archdeacons are working flat out to save and not dismantle the parochial system, whose adaptability has been one of the keys to its astonishing resilience”.

The Bishop of Peterborough, the Rt Revd Donald Allister, describes the parish as “the centre of things, for us”. When he arrived in 2010, he was charged with helping a diocese in steep numerical decline, reporting some of the lowest levels of giving in the Church, and similar levels of clergy morale.

One of the key drivers that he diagnosed was a “loss of local ownership”. In a series of roadshows in 2016 (a refresher of a vision launched five years earlier), he observed: “What the Church of England has done over the last 30 or so years has been effectively to take powers away from the local parish and give more and more powers to a deanery, or to the diocese.” Growth would come, he suggested, if people in parishes felt that they had control over decisions.

“They weren’t allowed to have an associate priest, even if they could afford it, when I arrived,” he recalls. Under his leadership, the diocese made a commitment to raising clergy numbers (at the time, already ten per cent below the national allocation), initially through doubling the number of ordinands. The diocese agreed to pay for these new curates, and their housing, and did so by raising parish share, targeting a five-per-cent rise every year.

The communications approach was to be very frank about the cost of stipendiary ministry — “a big ask for most parishes”, Bishop Allister notes — and the extent to which it was being subsidised: “If your parish share is less than £57,000, then you are being subsidised.”

The response was encouraging: parish share increased by five per cent each year for the first five years. The big increases have not been maintained since 2016, however. Bishop Allister blames the Brexit referendum as a possible cause, followed, in the past two years, by the freezing of parish share owing to the Covid-19 pandemic.

He maintains, however, that increased giving is “the right thing to be teaching or encouraging”, and hopes that cuts to clergy numbers can be avoided. In 2016, the diocese agreed to release £7 million of reserves as “seed corn” to help to fund more clergy before parishes were able to meet the cost. While warning that such assets would eventually run out, the latest annual report reiterates that “all research shows that where ministerial posts are cut, especially clergy, churches decline in number and impact.”

 

ACROSS the Church of England, Peterborough’s candid approach to giving — setting out the cost of a full-time post for a stipendiary priest — is being echoed. “The situation has become startlingly simple,” Archbishop Cottrell (then diocesan bishop) told Chelmsford diocesan synod in 2019 (News, 28 February 2020): “If you want a priest, you have to pay.”

Congregation giving funds three-quarters of the Church’s ministry and mission, and, while the average regular gift has increased (from £9.70 per week in 2010 to £14.10 in 2020), most Anglicans are not giving the five per cent of net income recommended by the national Church. A 2020 survey of 2000 Anglicans attending church at least once a month found that one third did not give to their church at all, and that only 27 per cent viewed their church’s needs as “very important”.

Diocesan-giving advisers and parish-giving schemes have both been linked to improved giving. The National Giving Team points out that, if the average regular gift increased to £16 — i.e. by less than £2 a week — this would provide a further £56 million (factoring in Gift Aid) for ministry and mission — assuming that it led to an equivalent rise in parish-share contributions.

ANDRE GIBSONDeacons at Peterborough at Petertide July 2021

At the time of Archbishop Cottrell’s stark synod address, the diocese of Chelmsford estimated that, if most of its churchgoers gave an extra £2 per week, the hole in its finances would be filled.

A test of the wider community’s commitment to the parish church will come this autumn, when the National Giving Team launches an initiative to help “those who feel close to the church even if they are not regular attenders at our services” to give a small amount regularly.

In Peterborough, Bishop Allister speaks of “waiting and watching. If things pick up post-Covid . . . then we are in the clear. We are delaying decisions about cutting because, ultimately, we don’t want to do it.” Reflecting on the charge given to him on his appointment, he believes that morale in the diocese has improved. The growth in the number of clergy applying for posts in the diocese is partly the result of “trusting the clergy and the parishes to do it their way without a diocesan formula”, he thinks.

“Parishes need to do their thing, their way,” he continues. “We don’t have a diocesan policy on how to achieve growth: we have a diocesan strategy that encourages it. . .

“I don’t want people to think that the diocese is the Church. The parish is the Church. . . I’ve never come across people who’ve come to faith through a diocese, or being discipled by a diocese. It’s parishes that do that.”


“Does the parish need saving?” An online debate, coming soon. See here for details and tickets.

Read the first part of Madeleine Davies’s study here

Forthcoming Events

20 October 2021
Does the parish need saving?
Warnings that the parish is under threat date back decades. But are claims that it is now being dismantled accurate? Join our panel for a lively online debate.

21 October 2021
Transgressing Theology
From SCM Press: authors Natalie Wigg-Stevenson and Thia Cooper in conversation.

More events

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