Monday, 10 February 2014

Statement from Church Commissioners on Bishop's Palace, Wells

The Church Commissioners issued this statement this morning.

Statement from Church Commissioners on Bishop’s Palace, Wells
10 February 2014

As the providers of housing for all Diocesan Bishops in the Church of England, the Commissioners consider that the sustainability of the ministry of each bishop to be of crucial importance. This means that every Bishop should be housed appropriately and that their homes are properly places of rest and privacy in the midst of ministries which are increasingly demanding in terms of leadership and management, civic engagement and pastoral support of the whole diocese.

In arriving at their decision the Commissioners held two meetings with senior members of the Diocesan leadership team, including Bishop of Taunton, prior to any decision being taken and kept them informed of the progress of the matter through the Bishoprics and Cathedrals Committee and the Board of Governors. We listened carefully to their concerns. The fact that they do not agree with the decision that was ultimately made is not evidence of a lack of consultation.

The provision of housing inevitably involves choices and on occasion making hard unpopular decisions. In recent years similar decision have been taken in Durham Diocese and Carlisle Diocese. In every case the provision of housing appropriate to the local context. In Wells the Bishop’s Palace is currently celebrating record 2013 visitor figures of 61,100; a 39% increase compared to 2012 (44,100 visitors). In addition 53 events were held at the Palace (an increase on the 47 held in 2012), including festivals, fairs, medieval falconry, outdoor theatre, hands-on workshops and family trails.

The Church Commissioners share with the Palace Trust, who continue to be responsible for the day to day running of the palace, the hope that this increase in visitor numbers and activity will continue in the years to come. The Commissioners do not share the view that the future of the Palace as a viable attraction is dependent upon the Bishop residing in the building.

In light of such activity it is right and proper that considerations such as appropriate privacy for any new Bishop are considered and whether it is sustainable for a diocesan bishop and his family to live in the midst of an increasingly busy tourist attraction. The Commissioners believe that it is not. Inevitably such decisions are hard choices and in this instance the Commissioners are aware that their decision has not been popular. It must however be balanced against wider considerations, not least where the welfare of those who by virtue of their calling find themselves in demanding positions of responsibility.

The Commissioners believe that by living in the palace the Bishop will in practice find it very difficult to avoid devoting significant amounts of time to its maintenance, operation and upkeep. The experience of the last bishop bears this point out. It remains the commissioners view that any incoming bishop should not find his ministry restricted in this way before his ministry commences.

The new Bishop played no part in the decision with the consultations with the senior leadership team taking place before the bishop’s appointment. Going forward the issue of the Bishop’s housing is not something which should overshadow the Bishop’s ministry. We agree with the diocese that it would be unhelpful for this issue to be one in which the Bishop himself is expected to become involved.

In the short term the Commissioners have invested in a property in Crosscombe which they believe will enable the Bishop to carry out his ministry whilst the search continues for a more permanent home. The property was formerly owned by the Diocese and not by the Commissioners contrary to some media reports. The Diocese sold the property to a purchaser who invested considerably in repairs and upgrades to the property. The Church commissioners have subsequently completed their purchase of this property. No funds from the diocese, the monies given by parishioners on a regular basis, was involved in the purchase of the property which will be part of the property portfolio held by the commissioners for investment purposes.
The office of the Bishop of Bath and wells will remain at the Palace where he will continue to be based with his staff and the Bishop of Taunton. The Bishop’s chapel will also continue to be used as a regular place of prayer by the Bishop and his staff.

Posted by Peter Owen on Monday, 10 February 2014 at 10:30am GMT | TrackBack
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Categorised as: Church of England

As Harry Hill often says "There's only one way to sort this out - FIGHT!"

Posted by: Father David on Monday, 10 February 2014 at 11:03am GMT

I find myself looking on at the vast quantity of comment on this subject with growing stupefaction. Whilst I must confess to a nostalgic, Trollopian fondness for bishops remaining in their ancient seats (ideally dressed in aprons and gaiters whilst drinking port), we surely have more pressing matters to which to direct our energies.

If this question must be addressed, I think the best approach would be to transfer bishops' residences to the dioceses and leave them to decide locally what they want to do with them - house the bishop, flog them off, turn them into conference centres or whatever. I would also favour the corresponding adjustment to the financial interaction between the commissioners and the dioceses moving, after a transitional period, to being an equal sum, rather than one that permanently favours those dioceses that currently have more expensive-to-run residences.

Posted by: Stuart, Devon on Monday, 10 February 2014 at 2:22pm GMT

"ministries which are increasingly demanding"

Self-aggrandizing nonsense I think, in a church which has never had more chiefs and fewer indians.

Posted by: american piskie on Monday, 10 February 2014 at 2:33pm GMT

The senior staff of the diocese of Bath and Wells were consulted by the Church Commissioners but if their remarks after the decision to evict the new bishop from his moated palace are anything to go by then they must have been unanimous in their opposition to the Commissioners proposal during the period of consultation.
The Commissioners seem to be highly short sighted in their proposal. 61,000 visitors to the palace at Wells last year an increase of almost 17,000 on the previous year. What a marvellous evangelistic opportunity for the new bishop to have so many people in his front garden to tell them something of the story of Jesus Christ. St. Paul would delight in having that number come to him rather than he having to face all the perils and dangers of those troublesome missionary journeys.
The Commissioners still have egg on their faces over their decision to sell the Zurbaran paintings of the sons of Jacob which thankfully remain at Auckland Castle. It looks like they are making a similar mistake down in Somerset. All we need now is a comment from that former occupant of the palace at Wells - Lord Carey - who seems, at the moment to be unusually quiet on the subject.

Posted by: Father David on Monday, 10 February 2014 at 3:40pm GMT

Of course being a bishop is a demanding ministry. Think of the average vicar, who holds down several full-time jobs - looking after a Christian community (or three), plus looking after the preservation of a listed building (or three) on a totally inadequate budget. And that's just a vicar. Anyone who manages to be a bishop and stay sane deserves our wholehearted admiration.

Posted by: Jamie Wood on Monday, 10 February 2014 at 5:55pm GMT

"meetings with senior members of the Diocesan leadership team, including [the] Bishop of Taunton ... We listened carefully to their concerns. The fact that they do not agree with the decision that was ultimately made is not evidence of a lack of consultation."

It's a 'Reverse Pilling'. A Bishop being listened to - and then completely ignored!

Posted by: Laurence Cunnington on Monday, 10 February 2014 at 6:49pm GMT

If the idea is that "the Bishop should be housed appropriately and that their homes are properly places of rest and privacy" then why not increase their salary by £40K and leave them to rent or buy their own home?

Posted by: Turbulent priest on Monday, 10 February 2014 at 8:14pm GMT

I think this story is just amazing ..........

You couldn't write a better script for an edition of All Gas and Gaiters, proof that reality beats fiction every time!

In many people's minds this also represents just where the CofE is in its journey of faith.........
Shall the bishop live in a 800 year old palace or in a million pound house we sold for a lot less recently and had to buy back ......
And we wonder why .......

Posted by: Martin Reynolds on Monday, 10 February 2014 at 11:04pm GMT

Whatever the outcome of this decision to house the Bishop of Bath and Wells in more modest surroundings than the ornate and prestigious quarters provided in the Bishop's Palace; no doubt the Bishop of Rome, Pope Francis, would agree with the Gospel imperative of Holy Poverty that he, himself, is embracing and exemplifying at the Vatican.

If the Palaces of Bishops can be better used to provide a means to help the poor - by opening them up to fee-paying public - this would seem to be a laudable Gospel initiative for the C. of E.

Posted by: Father Ron Smith on Monday, 10 February 2014 at 11:53pm GMT
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