A REPORT on the review of the Mission and Pastoral Measure (MPM) was welcomed by the General Synod, despite its having received some heavy criticism during a debate on Monday evening.
Introducing the debate on the motion, which requested that the Archbishops’ Council bring forward a draft Measure for first consideration in 2024, the Third Church Estates Commissioner, Canon Flora Winfield, said that the Synod had heard “how complicated processes can encourage mistrust and erode respect”.
The document before the Synod was at least the 40th draft produced in nine months — a sign of the extent of the “listening and attention we have tried to bring to discover, understand, and express consensus around this work”. The drafting group had travelled throughout the country to see the Measure in practice. The “overwhelming message” was that “how this work is done matters as much or sometimes more than what is done, and that trust was a key issue”.
What was proposed was a “new, spacious legal architecture, which will provide the best conditions for a proper mission and pastoral environment for conversations and consultation”. The group had taken into account “fragile places and the need for something like a fallow time”. Also identified was the importance of “being able to talk earlier and in a more open and collaborative way about pastoral arrangements, ministry matters, and the future of buildings”, giving people “a sense of agency”. She thanked the Synod reference group for its work.
The Revd Mark Wallace (Chelmsford), who is a CPAS patronage trustee, encouraged members to be “cautious of any attempt to reduce the historic and legal power of patrons”. The patronage system had served as “check and balance on the use of power in parish appointments”, and patrons brought experience, expertise, and independence.
The Bishop of Islington, the Rt Revd Ric Thorpe (Southern Suffragans), had a “fairly major concern that the report largely focuses on the status quo — it is more pastoral than mission in its orientation.” Legislation needed to reflect the commitment to a mixed ecology: the proposals were not going to help bishops to make the changes needed. The time taken by dioceses to adopt MPM frameworks could hold up innovative planting and new worshipping communities.
The “fallow” concept was a good idea. “But can we make space for parishes which need support to be able to grow lay-led communities or to receive a plant or governance oversight from a resource church?” He regretted the approach to BMOs, which were a “major growth area”. To subject them to a statutory five-yearly review seemed “arbitrary and centralising”.
He concluded: “Candidly, you couldn’t really tell from reading the report that the Church has severe mission and financial challenges. I have a concern that the Church will become inoperable in some parts of the country if it’s prevented from making the changes needed to prevent its extinction or more positively to help it thrive.”
The Revd James Pitkin (Winchester), a member of the Synod reference group and vice chair of Church of England Employee and Clergy Advocates, said that the current Measure was often “misapplied” by bishops and diocesan staff and experienced by parishes as “a painful and sometimes bullying process”. He welcomed the review.
Canon Dana Delap (Gloucester), team vicar of 11 small rural parishes, chairs Gloucester’s DAC and is member of the Church Buildings Council. She said that the current MPM did not recognise the way in which churches were “a focus for small communities”, especially if they had no other place to gather, she said. They could not sustain regular weekly worship and were “less than ‘festival churches’ but more than ‘fallow’ churches”. She was wondering who would pay for the upkeep of “fallow” churches. A simplified process for alternative uses for buildings sounded “marvellous”.
Jonathan Baird (Salisbury) said that there was “one impressive thing about this report: it has rather attractive coloured photographs.” He noted that 1600 people had responded to the consultation, about the current Measure’s “horrors. Such horrors continue to haunt us.” He and other members of the reference group had been “unable to address” two central matters: the “nigh universal collapse of trust in the Church” and “the misuse and abuse of episcopal and diocesan power”.
He spoke of the “chronic imbalance of resources between bishop and parish”; there was “no defence against the parish being steamrollered” and “no way to stop the latest ill-advised scheme being forced through”. He referred to “the wreckage of Truro, Leicester, and Winchester”. Parishes needed “early redress and fairness”, including legal support and stronger powers of self-determination. The report was a “charter of surrender”, and he urged the Synod not to welcome it “to avoid the ecclesiastical nuclear winter of Wales, Scotland, and the Methodist Church”.
Canon Tim Goode (Southwark), a trustee of the Churches Conservation Trust spoke on the concept of a “fallow” church. The CCT would welcome the opportunity to be a “safety net, supporting historically important churches that are presently in active use, trying to prevent their closure, and avoid the possibility of their then being vested with the CCT”. It had expertise in conservation, maintenance, interpretation, and community-building. This would be subject to being given resources and funding, and the CCT did not have the scale to assist all those who might require help: it would need to work alongside friends and partners.
The Bishop of Norwich, the Rt Revd Graham Usher, said that, while he had seen much that worked well under the current Measure, there was “undoubtedly room for improvement”. In Norwich, 95 per cent of churches were listed, and each was “a treasure trove of memory, their architecture creating the beauty of holiness, locations of God’s mini miracles, and places of answered prayer”. Some in “tiny, tiny hamlets” now had “no local support” or had been left “stranded in fields, as the population has moved. And I am getting local parishioners asking for some solutions for these problems.”
The Diocesan Churches Trust had been established to enable some to go into a “season of hibernation”, and he prayed “desperately” that that season would not last long. He could see “immense benefits” in the report brought forward.
Several amendments fell during the debate, and the motion was carried.
That this Synod:
(a) welcome the Report GS 2315 on the review of the Mission & Pastoral Measure and the recommendations it contains;
(b) request the Archbishops’ Council to bring forward a draft Measure for the First Consideration at a group of sessions in 2024 to give effect to the recommendations that involve legislative change; and
(c) call on all concerned, including bishops, dioceses, parishes and the National Church Institutions, to welcome and embrace the call expressed in the Report for good conversations and a pastoral approach to be at the heart of any processes considering possible changes to ministry structures.