Wednesday, 14 October 2015

How to manage CofE church buildings

Updated Friday and Saturday

The Church of England yesterday launched a new report of how it manages its 16,000 church buildings. There was this accompanying press release.

Launch of major new report on how the Church of England manages its 16,000 church buildings
13 October 2015

As part of its Reform and Renewal programme, which was debated in the General Synod in February, the Church of England has today published a report and launched a consultation on proposals to improve the support for its 16,000 church buildings.

The report comes from the Church Buildings review group, which was chaired by the Bishop of Worcester, the Rt Revd Dr John Inge. It constitutes the first attempt in many years to undertake a comprehensive review of the Church of England’s stewardship of its church buildings and includes a wide range of statistics, a substantial theological reflection and a survey of various initiatives being taken in individual dioceses. The report goes on to identify a number of principles that should shape the Church’s approach and makes some specific recommendations.

The review notes that more than three quarters of the Church of England’s churches are listed, and the Church of England is responsible for nearly half of the grade I listed buildings in England. More than half of churches are in rural areas (where 17% of the population lives) and more than 90% of these are listed.

Welcoming the opening of the consultation, Bishop John said:

“Our 16,000 church buildings are a visible sign of ongoing Christian faith in communities throughout England as well as being an unparalleled part of our country’s heritage. This report looks at how we can best support the thousands of local volunteers who care deeply for and about churches and offer wonderful service to their communities using their churches.

“We believe that - apart from growing the church - there is no single solution to the challenges posed by our extensive responsibility for part of the nation’s heritage. We hope therefore that this work will be a catalyst for discussion about how churches can be better cared for and used for the common good.”

A copy of the six principles recommended by the group and the recommendations are available below. [Ed: These are below the fold.] The consultation period runs until Friday 29 January and will include a debate at the first meeting of the new General Synod in November.


The report is available at:

Press reports

John Bingham The Telegraph Church of England considers Christmas-only parishes

Harriet Sherwood The Guardian Some churches will only open for Christmas – CofE report

David Keen blogs: When Should My Parish Church Be Demolished?


Giles Fraser The Guardian We must do to our churches what Beeching did to the railways
And in response Letters to the Church Magazine has this Mid-October Special.

Tim Wyatt Church Times Review calls for more state funds for Church buildings

Sir Tony Baldry (chair, Church Buildings Council) Ensuring that church buildings are a blessing and not a burden

Tiffer Robinson Giles Fraser has missed the point: rural churches need to be valued, not exterminated

Ian Paul Talking (non)sense about rural mission


For so long as a building has a contribution to make to the mission of the Church of England and remains open for worship, the legal responsibility for it should normally remain at parish level, and where that is not possible, at diocesan level. Local ownership- in every sense of the word- is generally to be preferred to other alternatives, not least because it will continue to facilitate wider community support for what is often the most significant historical building in the locality.

What is understood by ‘open for worship’ has evolved over time depending on local contexts and will need to evolve further for some buildings over the coming years. Legislation needs to facilitate this.

More generally, the overall legislative framework governing the use and management of church buildings needs to be simpler, less prescriptive and less burdensome for laity and clergy. There needs to be more flexibility to reflect the wide diversity of local situations.

Dioceses need to integrate thinking about their church buildings with their mission and ministry planning. Regular diocesan strategic reviews, taking account of diocesan and deanery plans, mission action plans and parish audits are important for ensuring that buildings issues are given their proper weight- neither dominating nor being overlooked or regarded as a specialist subject.

Over the centuries it has never been either possible or desirable to retain all church buildings. There have always been and will continue to be circumstances where closure is the right option. In those cases the process needs to be managed sensitively but efficiently, with more focused effort than now on seeking alternative uses.

The work undertaken nationally to support parishes and dioceses in their stewardship of buildings needs to be reshaped at member and staff level to provide a sharper focus, pool expertise and facilitate greater strategic thinking.


1. Church and Government representatives should explore ways in which more assured financial support for listed cathedrals and church buildings can be provided for in the long term. (Paragraphs 46-48 and 125-128).

2. In order to facilitate new, creative models of managing and caring for buildings and free up clergy and laity for mission and ministry the Parochial Church Councils (Powers) Measure 1956 should be amended to enable a PCC - with diocesan consent - to formally transfer its care and maintenance liability to another body. (Paragraphs 129-136).

3. Guidance on legal models relating to the use of open church buildings should be more widely disseminated in order to promote good practice in enabling such wider use. (Paragraph 137-140 and Appendix 3).

4. The next phase of the Simplification Agenda, in looking to reduce ‘red tape’ affecting parish and benefice structure and organisation, should, as proposed, review governance requirements with a view to relieving pressures on clergy and laity and freeing up energy and resources for mission. (Paragraphs 141-146).

5. The Simplification Group’s recommendation to amend Canon B 14A to facilitate ‘Festival Churches’, while proposing further work on their role and how mission and evangelism are developed in the surrounding communities, should be implemented. Additionally, the Church Buildings Council should work with dioceses pioneering this concept to identify and promote good practice in caring for such buildings. A grouping such as an Association of Festival Churches may also offer a beneficial means of supporting such initiatives. (Paragraphs 147-152).

6. Regular diocesan church building reviews or audits should be incorporated into each diocese’s vision and strategy, as well as forming an integral part of deanery Mission Action Planning. Dioceses need to see the strategic importance of investment to address buildings issues, drawing in as much outside help as can be secured. (Paragraphs 153-156).

7. While closed church buildings should continue to vest in Diocesan Boards of Finance until their future is settled, any Diocesan Mission and Pastoral Committee should be able to transfer all of their use-seeking functions for closed churches to the Church Commissioners, with the latter’s consent. (Paragraphs 157-171).

8. Staff in Church House involved in all aspects of church buildings including cathedrals and chancels should be brought together to form a single staff team, with the relevant staff (excluding those working regionally) based in one location within Church House. (Paragraphs 172-188).

9. A new statutory Commission (perhaps entitled the Church Buildings Commission for England) should be established to take an oversight of the Church of England’s stewardship of its church buildings and enable a more strategic view to be taken of priorities and resource allocation. This would replace the present Church Buildings Council including its Statutory Advisory Committee, and the Church Commissioners’ Church Buildings (Uses and Disposals) Committee. While no changes in the responsibilities of the Church Commissioners in relation to church buildings issues are proposed, the new body, for some purposes, would act as a committee of the Commissioners. (Paragraphs 183-203).

10. The current powers and responsibilities of the Churches Conservation Trust work well and should not be changed. (Paragraphs 204-207).

The consultation period is now open and will close on the Friday 29th January 2016 at 5pm. Comments should be sent to

The church buildings review was set up jointly by the Archbishops’ Council and Church Commissioners and carried out as part of the Optimizing the role of the NCIs, which made recommendations about the ways in which the National Church Institutions (NCIs) can be more effective.

The Church Buildings Review Group was made up of the following members:

The Rt Revd John Inge, Bishop of Worcester (lead bishop for cathedrals and church buildings) (Chair)
The Rt Hon Sir Tony Baldry (Church Buildings Council Chair; former Second Church Estates Commissioner)
James Halsall (DAC Secretary for the Diocese of St Edmundsbury & Ipswich)
The Ven Christine Hardman (former Archbishops’ Council member and Bishop-designate of Newcastle)
Andrew Mackie (Third Church Estates Commissioner; Chair of Pastoral and Church Buildings (Uses and Disposals) Committees)
Jennie Page CBE (Vice Chair of the Cathedrals Fabric Commission)
Ian Watmore (Church Commissioner and member of the Church Buildings (Uses and Disposals) Committee).

Posted by Peter Owen on Wednesday, 14 October 2015 at 6:00pm BST | TrackBack
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Categorised as: Church of England

I became quite excited when I read about the notion of "Festival Churches" and wonder to whom does one apply in order to become one? I quite fancy the idea of doing only about four Sundays a year and I think I might just be able to manage, Christmas, Easter, Harvest Thanksgiving and Remembrance Sunday. If pressed, I might even well consider getting out of bed for Pentecost.

Posted by: Father David on Thursday, 15 October 2015 at 4:36am BST

"If pressed, I might even well consider getting out of bed for Pentecost."

Hilarious, Father David. I think I love you!

Posted by: Susannah Clark on Thursday, 15 October 2015 at 8:02am BST

I think Father David's loving instinct to quip may have over looked the situation where an ancient parish church stands in a parish with only three inhabited dwellings (the extreme case in Lincolnshire) - in such places the priest(s) who provide its monthly / quarterly / termly / festival services will have been getting out of bed early and keeping hard at it over quite a number of services over a large area on most Sundays in the year.

Posted by: Peter Mullins on Thursday, 15 October 2015 at 11:36am BST

This is a suggestion which will only make a very tiny dent in the problem, but worth considering in relation to about half a dozen churches.

I propose that the transfer of churches to the Ordinariate of Our Lady of Walsingham be considered.

Posted by: Paul Waddington on Thursday, 15 October 2015 at 12:21pm BST

I say, Susannah, steady on, I'm a happily married man!

Posted by: Father David on Thursday, 15 October 2015 at 2:16pm BST

Didn't the suggestion to give churches to the Ordinariate arise at the time it was set up, and didn't the Roman Catholic church say that they did not want those churches?
Or am I misremembering that?

Posted by: Erika Baker on Thursday, 15 October 2015 at 3:37pm BST

As a priest serving a rural area I have care of four church building, so read this report with interest. From a first reading it seems that some of the most significant issues are missing:

-By 'caring' for church building they really mean 'paying' for church buildings. In rural areas this may be a burden but is rarely a problem. (Paying for clergy is a different matter.)

-Who owns church buildings. Many rural churches have been looked after for generations by the same families who still care for them. Not all of them go to church. And yet the national church claims ownership of them, though it is nowhere to be seen when the roof is leaking.

Posted by: Ian Arch on Thursday, 15 October 2015 at 3:44pm BST

Personally, I'd love to see moribund churches offered to new-start religious communities.

In many places England needs radical re-colonisation with the Christian faith. Obviously that needs integration with local communities, not just outsiders being parachuted in.

I think the Church should offer start-up religious communities funding and free tenure, and encourage simplicity and self-sufficiency.

Instead of being beautiful remnants of a passing way of life, sort of picture postcard idylls of a bygone age, the fabulous network of village churches might offer - or a few of them might - renewal and exploration of community and the rhythm and service of the Christian life.

Obviously I am only speaking intuitively and not practically and specifically. I'm not sure how it would work, but I believe that it could.

I believe that religious life needs radical re-exploration. Could there be a link up with the lonely and underused churches that are scattered across our land?

Posted by: Susannah Clark on Thursday, 15 October 2015 at 3:45pm BST

And another thing (if I may rant)!

I have a church building in a village of only a few hundred residents. It needs £500k of fairly urgent work. We could do this for around £200k. But we can't. There are many professional fees to be paid. The villagers know this. They would give the £200k - even £500k if that was what the building needed. But they won't give money to the army of officials.

Posted by: Ian Arch on Thursday, 15 October 2015 at 3:50pm BST

Ian A, by 'caring' for church buildings they really mean 'paying' for church buildings - I agree. And the system is, the 'church' has a duty to do the maintenance - this applies however wide or narrow your definition of 'church' vis-a-vis 'community'. So the 'church' has to either ask for the money, or at least be the bank account that the money is paid through. And when it is the duty of the 'church' to receive money from the 'community', that is the death knell of any mission that proclaims that Jesus came to give rather than to receive.

Posted by: Jamie Wood on Thursday, 15 October 2015 at 8:32pm BST

Dear Peter, Having spent the early years of my ministry in the Lincoln diocese I fully appreciate the situation in so many rural parishes with small populations and ancient parish churches to maintain. Indeed the very first Team Ministry was at South Ormsby in the Lincolnshire Wolds. I do hope that we in the Church of England are beginning to realise and appreciate that amalgamating more and more parishes together is not the right way forward and most certainly doesn't lead to growing churches either numerically or spiritually. I don't know what the solution to the situation in our rural dioceses is but I do hope and pray that "Re-imagining Ministry", which seems to very much in vogue, can produce a more sane and manageable way forward and one which is Vision-led not Problem-led.

Posted by: Father David on Thursday, 15 October 2015 at 9:08pm BST

Retain the buildings for community to use as they wish. Get rid of most stipdendiary clergy and let each community provide its own. Use the money saved on stipdendiary clergy and all those bishops and diocesan advisers and secretaries and PAs and administrators to help fund upkeep of buildings. But let me get my pension first.

Posted by: Fr William on Friday, 16 October 2015 at 10:19am BST

In response to Erika Baker, the C of E decided that there was no question of any property being transferred at the time when the Ordinariate was formed. It is also the case that, at that time, hardly any of the groups were strong enough or wealthy enough, to contemplate taking responsibility for buildings. Some groups favoured a sharing arrangement, but this was also refused. I doubt whether sharing would have worked well.

Time has moved on and some of the Ordinariate groups have grown in size and confidence. One has actually purchased a redundant church from the Methodists. Some are hampered by not having a church of their own, while others have been able to fit in well with a local Catholic Church.

However there are still groups that do not have a satisfactory base. It may be that one or two of these are located near a C of E church that becomes redundant.

Posted by: Paul Waddington on Friday, 16 October 2015 at 2:40pm BST

Thank you Paul Waddington. I'm glad that is the case.

Posted by: Erika Baker on Friday, 16 October 2015 at 7:33pm BST

I think Fr William has hit the nail on the head. There's no reason why priests are needed in most parishes. Perhaps the best communion service I have ever attended had a lay, non-ordained celebrant.

The report sees church buildings as redundant but I see them as Temples dedicated to the Lord and personally I would always cut diocesan staff before priests and priests before buildings. The top down hierarchy isn't working and the church needs to rebuild by empowering local lay communities.

I do also think though that the State likes having an established church whether that is to provide chaplains in hospitals and the military, leading State events like Remembrance Sunday, royal weddings or just providing bishops for the House of Lords. It's about time the State started paying.

Want St Paul's available for State weddings and funerals? The State should pay for its upkeep. Bishops for the House of Lords? The State should pay a large part of their stipend. It's time to renegotiate the deal and if the State won't pay, dis-establish

Posted by: Kate on Friday, 16 October 2015 at 8:02pm BST

Why when congregation numbers are quoted is God Himself always overlooked? A presence of just one (or arguably two) worshippers including the worship leader may sound small but a group, no matter how small, gathered in the Presence of the Lord is always an abundance. By quoting numbers without the Lord, His centrality is overlooked. It's also likely to give an impression to non-believers that the focus is the priest and not highlight that God is our everything.

A small group might not meet financial targets but worship should be for the Lord, not for accountants.

And what about the Lord Himself? He turns up, week-in week-out to thousands of churches. He is never late. He tries to speak with everyone. And yet His own church doesn't even acknowledge His presence in their attendance figures. It is a good thing His patience and grace are so immense.

Posted by: Kate on Friday, 16 October 2015 at 8:45pm BST

Thank you Kate. I have worked in the NHS, a UK university, an Irish medical school, the Church of Ireland and the Church of England. Of these the C of E is without doubt the most pompous, the most hierarchical, the most top-heavy, the most self-important, the most self-referential and the most risible. This is one case where buildings most certainly matter more than people - in this case the people who impose from above administrative hoops for parishioners to jump through regarding the buildings that they - for whatever reason - treasure. Some of these apparatchiks even claim to know the mind of God. As has been pointed out elsewhere, GS elections are about as representative as those to the Supreme Soviet of yore. Or even loss so. The sooner it all collapses the better.

Posted by: Fr William on Friday, 16 October 2015 at 9:40pm BST

Ordinariate ... what's that? Why not give a few churches to the Anglican Mission in England, they're all of a kind.

Posted by: Concerned Anglican on Friday, 16 October 2015 at 11:34pm BST

Tiffer Robinson's article is an excellent engagement with Giles Fraser's thoughts.
It's not just about the buildings and about having some place somewhere where people can drive to of Sunday morning.
If we really want to close our rural churches or hand them over to the state/private investors, we will need to do it with a very clear understanding of the wider consequences Tiffer explains so well.

Posted by: Erika Baker on Saturday, 17 October 2015 at 8:04pm BST

Can anyone explain why the report references stipendiary clergy in the tables but not the unpaid clergy? I'm curious and may be missing something.

Posted by: Hugh Valentine on Saturday, 17 October 2015 at 9:49pm BST

I think that many now regard the Beeching Axe as a great mistake and something to be regretted. Has HTB every considered a Rural Church Plant? Perhaps this is something that the new Bishop of Islington might consider thinking about! Now that would be a challenge.

Posted by: Father David on Sunday, 18 October 2015 at 3:47pm BST

"Can anyone explain why the report references stipendiary clergy in the tables but not the unpaid clergy? I'm curious and may be missing something. " - Hugh Valentine

I was puzzled too. The point that jumped out at me was the number of churches per stipendiary cleric - from memory it was about 3. Bearing in mind the number of benefices in that diocese with 4,5,6, or more churches I wondered where all the stipendiaries were hiding? I thought perhaps churches per benefice might have been more helpful, and, reflecting on Hugh's observation, perhaps numbers of *parochial* clergy (stip.& non-stip.) might also have been more useful. Would I be unduly cynical to suggest such figures might reveal a disproportionate number of non-parochial stipendaries in some dioceses?

Posted by: John U.K. on Sunday, 18 October 2015 at 10:36pm BST

Somehow I missed by omission :(
My second sentence should read:
The point that jumped out at me was the number of churches per stipendiary cleric in the Diocese of Norwich - from memory it was about 3.

Posted by: John U.K. on Monday, 19 October 2015 at 12:36pm BST

The number churches per cleric statistic is interesting - and provides certain challenges. Being an urban minister I have served in two parishes with populations in excess of 25,000 - there the challenge is the number of people per cleric. It is difficult to compare the two challenges - the roles are hugely different, the challenges are different, and unless we have experienced them, I doubt we really know what they are. The strategic issue for the Church of England, if it has limited resources, is how to deploy those resources. What can serve us badly is a heroic model of ministry exercised in the face of these challenges.

Posted by: Mark Bennet on Tuesday, 20 October 2015 at 12:24pm BST
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