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Letters to the Editor

26 May 2023


Leicester diocese and its minster-community plan

From the Diocesan Secretary of Leicester

Sir, — We were disappointed not to be invited to comment on “Parishes can say “No” to new schemes” (Comment, 18 May) and would like to address some of the inaccuracies in Canon Angela Tilby’s article. It is incorrect to state that minster communities are an attempt to merge or abolish parishes. Rather, they seek to put them on a footing that is sustainable for mission and ministry in the 21st century and is financially self-sustaining.

The minster-community framework came out of an extensive research exercise and 400 local conversations, which produced more than 85,000 words of feedback. The framework was approved by our diocesan synod in October 2021, with 72 per cent of members in favour. It is implemented through a local facilitation process, meaning that parishes decide what the model will look like in their context, the nature of the leadership team, and the focus of their mission.

As in any diocese, a significant proportion of our income comes from parish contributions. Unfortunately, only a dozen parishes currently cover the costs of their own ministry. Part of our planned approach to tackle the shortfall has involved both a reduction in the number of central staff and the sale of diocesan assets (land, houses, and investments). This is not, however, a long-term solution to achieving financial stability; and so we are looking to parishes to become self-sustaining.

This does not mean making clergy redundant, but will probably involve reshaping posts through the established legal processes, working with parishes and their patrons, after clergy departures. Minster communities will also be able to draw on the gifts of lay leaders, SSMs, and retired clergy, as well as stipendiary posts.

The diocese of Leicester is not, as stated in the article, “insensitive to theological difference”. Theological diversity in the Church of England is not a new thing: we already have benefices where individual churches in the benefice are drawn from different traditions, churches work together across traditions in deaneries, and diocesan committees and central staff teams also span the range of Anglican traditions.

We do not recognise Canon Tilby’s reference to “evidence that the scheme is unlikely to work”: evidence and opinion are not the same thing. We are committed as a diocese to seeking to realise the Kingdom of God in all that we do, and have carefully and prayerfully discerned this framework as the best way to do that, and to ensure the ongoing importance of the parish in our context for the years and decades to come.

7 Peacock Lane
Leicester LE1 5PZ

From the Revd Alison Myers

Sir, — The incorrect fact with which Canon Tilby set the tone of her column last week was the misnaming of the Launde Minster Community as the Launde Abbey Minster Community.

Launde Abbey is not part of the structures of the diocese of Leicester, and is owned and run by an independent charitable trust. We have many friends in Leicester diocese, but we are self-supporting financially, and independently governed. In fact, we also serve Peterborough diocese as its retreat house, and host groups and individuals from a range of other dioceses, as well as from other denominational bodies and charities.

Our mission is to pray for the Church — local and national — and to serve those who serve others, within it and beyond it. We offer a place of sanctuary for those who are bruised by the Church’s challenges, and a place in which many are inspired by the work of the Spirit, sometimes in spite of them.

Working at the Abbey, I see much commitment and love for local church communities alongside a growing realism about what is not working right now. The easy dismissal of the hard work being done in local conversation to sustain and enable church communities in a challenging context is unhelpful.

Warden of Launde Abbey; Priest-in-Charge of Loddington with Launde
Launde Abbey, East Norton
Leicestershire LE7 9XB

From Canon Professor Alison Milbank

Sir, — Canon Angela Tilby is quite right to be disquieted by the creation of large minster communities in Leicester diocese. They might more properly be described as ”monster” communities, because the 20-25 figure that she mentions as the predicted size of a minster area actually refers to the estimated number of minster communities created in the diocese, not the size of each.

In a diocese with 234 parishes, this would work out as about 12 parishes to one minster, whereas 35 churches have been “invited” to join the Launde Minster Community.

How can any proper cure of souls be exercised in such a unit? The diocesan documents envisage one oversight minister — who is only a priest owing to an amendment to the original proposal — and two pioneers, as well as the operations manager.

Although these pioneers will most probably be clergy at present, the diocesan policy is to make more of them lay appointments in the future, thus reducing the possibility of proper eucharistic provision even further. With almost non-existent pastoral care and local worship provision, does the diocese really think that parishes will pay their current parish share, or double it, as the Launde working-party document envisages?

A number of Leicester parishes have already been held in vacancy for long periods, and they could be forgiven for believing that the diocese just wishes that they would die. We all know that amalgamation drives decline, as does offering fewer services. There are alternatives. I invite readers to consult the financial research pages of the Save the Parish website to view our suggestions. But it seems from schemes such as these that there is a death-wish among the hierarchy of the Church of England.

Burgage Hill Cottage
The Burgage
Southwell NG25 0EP

From Mr Alan Stanley

Sir, — Canon Angela Tilby is quite right to encourage parishes to say no to the minster model proposed by the diocese of Leicester. May I add to the cogent reasons that she gives by drawing on the experience of my own three-church benefice during the two years of our vacancy.

In that time, we have maintained a vibrant pattern of worship, both Sunday and mid-week, resourced mainly by our own LLMs and authorised lay worship leaders, and supplemented by visiting clergy. The dying have been visited, death beds attended, funerals conducted, and a wide variety of pastoral needs met.

In this, I am sure that we are no different from hundreds of parishes up and down the country. These are the ways in which parish churches, in the phrase used by the Revd Brett Murphy, in Canon Tilby’s article, are “little chunks representing the Kingdom of God”. What the Leicester minster model fails to take into account is the insights brought to us by the Bishop of Manchester in his book God’s Belongers (Books, 21 July 2017), summarised by the Revd Professor Leslie Francis in the current edition of Theology (vol. 26, no. 3).

Belonging to God, Dr Walker concludes, can be characterised in four different ways: belonging through activities, through events, through place, and through people. The concern with the minster model is that activities such as Sunday-by-Sunday worship in the local place, led by a local person, will be gradually replaced by one larger service in the minster area. The Occasional Offices will be taken by a remote figure: each minster area will be led by just one priest. Local decision-making will be diluted to meet the challenges of holding up to 35 parishes together as one unit.

The main thing that I want to add to Canon Tilby’s concerns, though, is the discouragement that all this centralisation brings to the parish-church community, with the consequent haemorrhage of good will, people, and money. Just a modest investment in encouraging the parish-church community will bring benefits far greater that any grand central scheme.

Apple Acre, 2 Rein Court
Aberford, Leeds LS25 3BS

From Sir James Burnell-Nugent

Sir, — The minster scheme was marketed by Leicester diocese as an improvement in Christian ministry, but the people of the newly announced Launde Minster Community have been led astray. The paper agreed in the Leicester diocesan synod on 9 October 2021 promises “An appointed minister for every Christian community (ordained/lay, stipendiary/non-stipendiary/volunteer)”. The most recent Launde Mission Community Implementation Report dated November 2022 paints a picture, however, of ministry that comes nowhere near the Church of England’s strapline of “A Christian Presence in Every Community”.

The finance section of the implementation report notes that, unless parishioners give more, the diocese will fund only 1.9 clergy or lay leadership for the whole minster community, creating a ratio of one minister (possibly not ordained) per 18 churches. As Canon Tilby pointed out, reducing clergy leads to less giving.

The report recognises this danger in concluding: “Parishioners will ask what the Parish Contribution is going towards when there is a low level of spiritual support provided. This may well create a ‘doom loop’ where giving further reduces and thus less funding further shrinks the number of clergy available.” There is no mention of this risk in the diocesan-synod paper.

The final page of the Launde implementation team’s report states: “We don’t fully know which congregations and PCCs are aware that churches may have to be re-purposed.” So, they expect church closures to follow, but this has not been drawn to churchgoers’ attention, either.

No wonder the implementation report tellingly identifies that “An outline plan needs to evolve and emerge relatively quickly to illustrate the benefits that a Minster Community will bring to the parishes of the Launde area.” How dangerous to have started implementing the minster-community scheme across the Leicester diocese without having shared information on the benefits and risks with the 234 parishes that will perforce be affected.

Sheepham Mill, Modbury
Devon PL21 0LX

Don’t let the safecrackers close your doors

From the Church of England’s Senior Church Buildings Officer

Sir, — Your news story “Burglars use explosives in spate of silver thefts” (19 May) drew attention, in a dramatic way, to a spate of thefts from churches which has made a significant impact since the start of this year. In the face of such news, it is easy to question the efficacy of crime-prevention advice such as that published under the heading “Security and Crime Prevention” on the Church of England’s website. It does, however, remain good advice.

With support from Historic England, Opal, the national crime-intelligence unit for serious organised acquisitive crime, has a heritage-crime analyst. The unit has reviewed all the church-theft incidents from crime reports and otherwise notified to it. Its analysis has shown that traditional security and good practices remain effective, and that there is no need to change habits over, for example, leaving a church open for visitors. The police know about this crime at a national level. I would ask your readers, please, to be confident about calling the police over any incident, as this is a matter that is of interest.

The disposal of stolen metal from church roofs is subject to the Scrap Metal Dealers Act (2013), which, with its requirements over ID and non-cash payment, has helped to contain this crime. The disposal of precious metal is less regulated, and there is no requirement not to pay cash. Policy-makers active in this area have made the Home Office aware of this potential loophole.

Cathedral and Church Buildings Division
Church House, Great Smith Street
London SW1P 3AZ

Sentamu castigated by Archbishops’ Councillor

From the Revd Dr Ian Paul

Sir, — As someone who has been closely involved in the discussion about national safeguarding, I was appalled to read the response of Lord Sentamu to the Devamanikkam review (News, 19 May).

It is he, not the reviewer, who has failed to understand — that safeguarding is the responsibility of the whole Church, and cannot be delegated. His further comments bewailing the damage to his reputation confirm his failure to understand the basic importance of safeguarding process.

As a member of the Archbishops’ Council, I hope that all in current episcopal leadership will distance themselves from his comments, and I commit myself to helping to ensure that we have the independent safeguarding that we have so far failed to deliver, and which is long overdue.

102 Cator Lane
Nottingham NG9 4BB

Good news of Millennials and spirituality

From Professor Fraser Watts

Sir — Your report of the World Values Survey conducted at Kings College, London, mostly makes bleak reading (e.g. belief in God has declined very rapidly in the UK, with only five countries with less belief in God etc.) (News, 19 May). Religion and spirituality, however, are chan­­ging in intriguing and surprising ways, and there is some good news. Younger people are the most likely group to believe in life after death.

There is other evidence of an in­­crease in the belief in an afterlife, de­spite belief in God decreasing.

My advice to those responsible for the church’s missionary strategy is to look for trends that point in an en­­coura­ging direction, and build on them. Missionaries have always tried to find aspects of indigenous culture that they can build on.

I also take encouragement from The Spiritual Turn, by the young Canadian social scient­ist, Galen Watts. He found that the spiritual beliefs of Millennials in C3, a thriving independent evangelical church in Toronto, were mirrored almost exactly in Millennials in more secular settings. There is growing evidence of a pervasive spiritual worldview emer­ging among Millen­nials. It is not Christianity, but it offers some­thing that Chris­­tians can connect with, if they are open-minded enough. It might lead to a new and vibrant strain of Christianity.

2B Gregory Avenue
Coventry CV3 6DL

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