Comments: How to manage CofE church buildings

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 at 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 at 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 at 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 at Thursday, 15 October 2015 at 12:21pm BST

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

Posted by Father David at 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 at 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 at 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 at 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 at 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 at 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 at 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 at 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 at Friday, 16 October 2015 at 2:40pm BST

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

Posted by Erika Baker at 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 at 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 at 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 at 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 at 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 at 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 at 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 at 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. at 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. at 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 at Tuesday, 20 October 2015 at 12:24pm BST
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