THE PCC of All Saints’, Spring Park, Shirley, in Croydon, has expressed dismay at a proposed pastoral reorganisation instigated by the Bishop of Southwark, the Rt Revd Christopher Chessun, which would result in the removal of the incumbent, the Revd Yvonne Clarke.
The draft pastoral scheme proposes to dissolve the parish of All Saints’, Spring Park, and turn the Grade II listed building into a chapel of ease — traditionally a place of worship within the parish (in this case, of St John the Evangelist, Shirley), for people who cannot reach the parish church conveniently.
The church, which costs approximately £2000 a month to run, has reportedly been in financial difficulty for decades, now exacerbated by the pandemic. The PCC has been fund-raising for general maintenance, as well as for its own plans to develop the church-hall site into a new community hall and affordable dwellings.
The diocesan rationale for the proposed pastoral scheme, which is in the public domain, explains: “As the result of ongoing concerns about the financial viability and capacity for governance and mission going forward, the Bishop of Southwark held a Visitation to the parish of All Saints, Spring Park, in 2016. This was conducted by the Bishop and Archdeacon of Croydon.
“A series of Directions were issued as a result of this, designed to help the parish to address these areas. There has sadly been no evidence that this has been the case nor has the parish demonstrated the future capacity to do so.”
In 2019, the Archdeacon of Reigate, the Ven. Moira Astin, who is Assistant Archdeacon of Croydon, produced a report for the Croydon Archdeaconry Mission and Pastoral Committee outlining proposals for the provision of ministry and mission in Shirley. Out of five options, it was decided to dissolve the parish but retain the building, which, it is suggested, could be used for pioneer ministry in future.
“Whilst a post of incumbent status would be lost, the diocese is committed to ring-fencing the post for new expressions and forms of ministry under the supervision of the incumbent of Shirley (St John),” it explains. “The scheme was carefully considered by the Diocesan Mission and Pastoral Committee, which was addressed by the Vicar and PCC’s representative, before being proposed to the Church Commissioners.”
The proposed removal of Ms Clarke, who has been Vicar of All Saints since 1998, has caused distress among some parishioners. The PCC said on Wednesday: “The Parish of All Saints needs our Incumbent the Revd Yvonne Clarke. . . To carry out its mission in this ethnic diverse parish All Saints needs to remain as a parish church for worship and not to be made a ‘chapel of ease’. . .
“It isn’t Christian and is indeed unprecedented to remove the Revd Yvonne Clarke from her post after she has done no wrong. . . The Bishop of Southwark has yet still to meet with Rev Yvonne Clarke and The Parishioners, after starting the action, against All Saints from 2016.”
The diocese of Southwark responded in a statement on Wednesday: “As the process set out in the Mission and Pastoral Measure is still ongoing, the Diocese regrettably cannot comment beyond what is in the public domain.”
The Church Commissioners’ Mission, Pastoral, and Church Property Committee had arranged a closed hearing at the end of last month to decide on the draft pastoral scheme; however, this has been changed to an open hearing at a date to be decided, after protests from the PCC and residents.
A spokesperson for the Church Commissioners said: “The proposals include provision for the parish church of All Saints’, Spring Park, to become a chapel of ease in the St John, Shirley, parish — the proposals do not seek its closure in any way. A virtual hearing will take place at an upcoming meeting of the Mission, Pastoral and Church Property Committee, with the exact date to be communicated to the relevant parties.”
The PCC said that it was “a travesty” that it had had to argue for an open hearing, but that it had been “a huge win” for the parish. “So as not to discriminate against those with no Internet access, All Saints’ are asking to have the hearing post the current Covid-19 Lockdown and in person, at Church House. This will finally allow the people of the Parish against this Pastoral Measure to be heard in person.”