I rejoice in the success of church planting and connection with younger people, but as a rural vicar I'd would want to challenge +Ric's idea that that 83.3% of the C of E's money should go to towns and cities! Some considerations:
Firstly, since towns and cities have many other denominations the big picture is that a lot of 'financial kingdom investment' is focused on urban areas - it's just through other denominations.
Secondly, in villages where the C of E is often (usually?) the only Christian community in the community, there's only so much slicing the cake thinner one can do. I'm currently the vicar of 3 churches, likely to be 4 in the next year or so, but that's pretty mild - vicars overseeing 6,7, 8 churches is more the norm in rural communities nowadays. In villages often the church is the only social hub - the pubs and shops are shutting, so churches have an increasingly important role to play, with missional opportunities as well.
Thirdly, where does the C of E's money actually come from? There are 9,000 rural C of E churches - most of them pay their parish share one assumes they're fairly self-sustaining.
Finally, and to me most important, we're deeply interdependent. 'Town mouse and country mouse' arguments don't do justice to the complexity and interdependence involved. How many people working in London, for instance, actually live in the countryside? Lots. On a day-by-day, year-by-year, decade-by-decade, generation-by-generation basis many people's lives and faith stories involve both town and village settings. Our church schools take many children from nearby towns; our commuters may benefit from lunchtime services in cities; people in the course of their lives may transition several times between living in towns and cities. Everyone, wherever they live and work, have spiritual needs, and if we're the body of Christ underfunding one area of ministry will mean the whole body suffers.
Balance and discernment are just as important as crudely looking at selected raw statistics.
"Where the population is denser, there are fewer clergy around to reach those people."
Why are these discussions so often focused on clergy? What about the lay people in the urban churches? Can't they be supported to use their talents to 'reach people'? One of the most interesting points in 'That Was The Church That Was' was (I'm summarising... ) the decline in lay involvement, particularly lay women's involvement, after the State took over many of the welfare functions of the C of E. For all the occasional bursts of enthusiasm for the laity, I'm not aware of anything in R+R yet beyond rhetoric. According to https://www.churchofengland.org/media/2452408/renewal_and_reform_presentation_160217_item_17.pdf the Lay Leadership thread has finished its 'extensive consultations' (anyone here who has been involved in these?) and is reporting next month to Archbishops' Council, so perhaps we're about to see some serious thinking here.
I'd also echo Peter's comments about our interdependence.
If you look at something like rural bus services, or delivery of service to remote locations, you can see the same 'cost' rather than 'value' equation used to justify cutbacks.
Reduction of policy to numbers-driven decision-making threatens to 'commodify' living, relational communities that may not be HTBs, but are equally valid (and priceless) in their own ways.
It also begs the question: whether city churches like HTB are the way to go. To an extent, this risks the gentrification of a metropolitan church, along a semi-charismatic and evangelical model.
Of course provision of services to remote or rural communities may sometimes involve added costs. (That's why some villages only get two or three buses a day, and none on Sundays, for example. The villages simply aren't profit making.)
But the really important question is: are those services needed? My experience of village parish life is that rural churches provide invaluable low-key service to the practical and spiritual needs of local communities.
There are subtleties involved in assessing 'value' that are far more intricate than simply 'cost' and 'numbers'.
For a start there is 'presence'. That is something huge about the Church of England, in thousands of English villages, that no other religious organisation matches.
It is part of the fabric of our society - evolved over the centuries and the rhythm of turning seasons - that we dismantle or disenfranchise at our peril.
Thank you Helen King for your perceptive comments. As a lay woman I have seen destructive marginalisation of lay involvement over the last 20 years and more. Why can the church hierarchies (i.e. clergy) not understand that it is the lay members of the church who are at the forefront of mission and evangelism, as well as the coffee rotas, flower arranging and child care. It is we who meet the unchurched and de-churched in our daily lives at work and in our communities. So how about giving us the tools we need to do that work effectively? The clergy are NOT the church. We are, lay people and clergy together. So let's work together. Over the years I have seen the average stipendiary clergy person becoming more and more detached from the real world which I inhabit. They want people back into church. I want people to discover the living Lord. Perhaps such knowledge will draw people into a church, perhaps not. But which is more important? People in pews or people in the kingdom?
Peter K+ thank you for your comment. I am in total agreement with you. I see something slightly different, too. Where I worship, 4 village churches outside Oxford, the tragedy is that so many Christians go into Oxford on a Sunday to one of the 'large' self-described 'successful' churches in the city. I can understand that Christians with children want their children to be part of a good children/youth programme, but it might be possible for them to grow such a children/youth programme locally if they wanted to and were prepared to put in the effort. The Church of England is tied having large numbers of Grade 1 listed buildings to care for. My heart bleeds for all those small villages with historic churches which need constant money for repair, which takes a huge amount of time as well as money, which therefore detracts from spending the time and money on being a vibrant Christian witness in the community. It is a dilemma. The issue is not as Ric Thorpe suggests to pour money into the city churches, but to do far more for the villages, including training the lay members of those churches. I worship with small groups of totally committed Christians who spend long hours ministering in their communities who work very very hard repairing the fabric of their buildings. Who are the loving face of God in their communities. These are the people who need the help of the church. I fear that Ric has forgotten what it is like to be a lay member of the church. As for the stated need to have 6.000 more priests. We already have 6,000 and more lay people many of whom are ready and willing to undertake training. Please can we stop this clerical/lay divide with the clergy apparently being the only people who can stop the decline in church attendance. I would love to see the money given by all those on the electoral rolls of large churches but who actually live in a rural area, to go to the churches where these people are resident. Just think what this sort of financial injection could do to help the mission of the villages.
I forgot to say that the link in Helen King's post gives me the message "Page not found". I wonder if others have the same problem?
The link in Helen King's post includes a terminal full stop. Click the link and, when you get "Page not found", go to the address bar and delete the final full stop, press "Enter" and away you go.
ED: I have now fixed the link.
On a Facebook thread the point was made that rural churches account for a third of all worshippers despite only serving a sixth of the country's population.
On what grounds does that deserve the allocation of 83% of funds to churches in towns?
I think the computer crashed as I tried to post so apologies if this comes through twice.
Apologies for the link not being quite right and thanks to Simon for correcting it!
I agree, Anne, with what you say and am a fellow Oxfordshire resident.
Has anyone here been involved in the research which is supposed to lead to the report on the laity which is going to bishops' council?
Helen re: the report/research on lay leadership. A questionnaire (via survey monkey) asking for local examples of lay leadership, ideas on what is our vision for lay involvement, general examples of best practice...etc was distributed earlier this year with responses required by beginning of May. I was made aware of it (and responded) through being a member of General Synod. Anne Foreman
When the bishop of Islington says that a number of rural churches need to be ‘helped’ to ‘face reality’, does he mean that as a promise or a threat?
Interestingly, in the very next sentence Ms Sherwood writes that ‘another key plank of [R&R] is the goal of recruiting 6,000 priests over the next 15 years’. It is my understanding that many, if not all, of these new clergy are to be stipendiary.
Many rural parishes are, frankly, extremely weak – not merely in terms of numbers but also demographic profile. I attended services at a number of churches in north east Suffolk and in Norfolk last weekend, and the congregations I saw (who seldom numbered more than ten) were huddled into chancels, and were almost entirely over the age of 75-80.
The consensus in this area (and of many others I have visited) is that, despite the bleak demographics, most parishes are ‘just about holding their own’, and that there remains a significant reservoir of goodwill for the maintenance of those churches within local communities, irrespective of the irregularity of attendance.
However, if the central authorities really want to slough off much of the perceived burden of these rural churches, then they could go about the job of killing country parishes quickly and easily by jacking up parish shares in order to finance the training, stipends, maintenance and, above all, pension liabilities of the 6,000 new clergy who will scarcely make any difference in most places to the future success of the Church. I repeat: the plan to ramp up ordinations will only succeed if candidates of remarkable gifts are ordained; there are very few such people; even if they wish to foresake material comforts and security to proclaim the Word, many will blanch at clerical pay and rations. Enhancing pay and rations to levels that would attract a critical mass of people of real ability would bankrupt the Church. Therefore, most of the projected 6,000 will be people of average (i.e., mediocre) ability, who will make scant difference.
Bishop Thorpe: Is the death of much of the rural (and urban/suburban) Church worth that [trifling] statistic? Does the Church want to be a Church OF England, with a presence in ‘every community’, or does it merely wish to be a ‘kettled’ church IN England?
There are a number of ways of ‘doing’ ministry, and ordination is only one of them.
Thanks, Anne. So you became aware of the questionnaire by being on GS and were able to respond - but who else could receive it and respond? Was that made clear in the material you saw?
As you can tell, I'm wondering what the evidence base is. I'm aware from various things I do that different dioceses have very different patterns of lay ministry (authorised or licensed), even before we get to the majority of lay people who aren't included in the authorised/licensed groups.
There are some realities here which need to be faced - the CofE has fewer full-time stipendiary priests than the number of posts it collectively wants to fill, and the situation is likely to get worse over the next few years. So there is a question of how you allocate priests when you don't have enough.
Penetration in rural communities (number attending church as proportion of population) is high. That is in part an artefact of the failure of successive generations (Victorians, "Towards the Evangelisation of England" etc) to engage in really effective urban mission.
Current leaders in the church have found ways of unlocking historic resources to fund current initiatives.
The response should not be to resist the program, but to use the opportunities and transcend current limited vision.
Froghole makes some pertinent points. I have ministered in Norfolk for 9 years, in a diocesan and regional role that means I get to see lots of churches, mainly Anglican.
Many rural churches have been very flexible in how they 'do church'and share ministry. By contrast, I seem to see the big suburban churches still very focused on clergy as the ministers -indeed Readers are often ignored in these churches, whereas rural benefices make better and more creative use of Readers and this encourages other lay ministry. Therefore, the HTB and other church plants have much to learn from the rural churches.
When R&R was first mooted, the initial document (produced by the now Bishop of Oxford) spoke of a 50% increase in (licenced?) ministers. This quickly got turned into a 50% increase in ordinands in the subsequent discussions, not helped by another bishop who took on the lead in the work from Steven Croft who managed to address a meeting of theological educators (so including many Reader trainers, lay development officers et al) in which he spoke only about stipendiary ordained ministry. (And I could add other anecdotes to this one...)
We are not perfect in Norwich diocese, but we are trying to promote whole ministry, not just ordained ministry and the rural churches are often leading the way. (Oh, and our ordinand numbers are up too - with many from the rural benefices...)
I have had experience in both rural and urban settings, and I agree with Anne, Froghole and Charles.
In my first parish, a 4-point rural charge, one of my congregations had an average Sunday attendance of 6, all over the age of 60. Yet it was a very vibrant congregation, outward-looking with pastoral care for everyone in their village (population 24), always very welcoming of the occasional visitor, generous in their financial support, and with strong lay leadership that maintained the building and cemetery and managed the finances. As their priest, my involvement was limited to 3 Sunday services per month (a lay reader from one of the other congregations in the parish took service there on the other Sunday) and maybe an afternoon per month of pastoral visiting in the village. Rural congregations can be very good at marshaling their human resources to maximum effect and ministering to one another. Unfortunately, I have often seen clergy as a hindrance to ministry in those settings -- clergy who want to control and manage every aspect of parish life, when spread among 3 or 4 or 5 congregations, tend to stifle the life of the parish because they cannot be everywhere at once and cannot allow ministry to happen without their being present.
In urban ministry, control-freak clergy are not as much of a hindrance to a parish being successful, because they do not have to spend hours each day on the road and thus have more time to involved themselves in actual ministry. These clergy are also more likely to find an audience in urban areas that is happy to abdicate responsibility to the "professionals", as long as they provide a quality product for consumption.
That said, I do see many opportunities for "rationalization" in rural ministry. Buildings are expensive to maintain. I have encountered congregations where they struggled to keep the church open primarily for their funerals, with no mission or ministry beyond offering comfort to the bereaved. Why should the wider church be asked to subsidize a priest and a building whose only ministry is burials?
I can but congratulate evangelicals for their efforts and deserved success, and that's meant with whole sincerity.
Individual liberal churches are also successful, but far too many run with the extraordinarily laissez-faire attitude of Martyn Percy: "We need to love and cherish the institution, and growth may come, or it may not."
This is incredible: a church that doesn't evangelize will die. Growth won't "come" by an act of magic, it'll come by the efforts of its members to reach out. Not by harassing people on street corners, but by sincere words backed by deeds. I'll happily assume that Percy's actions belie his own casual words, but it's an attitude that drives evangelicals to distraction, and with good reason.
If the evangelical model of growth has problems, they're best addressed by formulating and implementing a thorough and detailed alternative to grow churches; an alternative to complement the dedicated work of evangelicals.
"There are some realities here which need to be faced - the CofE has fewer full-time stipendiary priests than the number of posts it collectively wants to fill, and the situation is likely to get worse over the next few years. So there is a question of how you allocate priests when you don't have enough."
In Anglicanism we do not have priests ie ministers who intermediate between lay members and God, although I accept that a disappointing number of ministers claim to be priests. All part of seeing ordained ministry as special because there is not a shortage of ministers. Most city parishes are close together so one minister could easily manage half a dozen or so, as is done in many rural praised, with lay readers leading worship and services.
In my personal experience there's little or no correlation between ordination and being a good - or poor - parochial leader. I have known every combination. That being the case - when finances are tight - why ordain more ministers?
Helen - If you go to https://www.surveymonkey.co.uk/r/HPMC5WT you will find a page outlining the scope of the survey, but I guess we'll have to wait for their report to see who was actually consulted. My own interest is in the group you refer to - the large numbers of lay people not authorised/licensed. Anne
Helen - sorry, should have said the National Deaneries network sent information about the Lay Leadership consultation to all deanery lay chairs. Anne
Ho hum, Anne; I don't remember anything being mentioned at our Deanery Synod. Mind you, very little ever is, apart from the parish share. I did manage to get the Shared Conversations on the agenda, simply by offering to speak about my experience on them. Very few members had any idea they were happening...
Anne Foreman, thank you so much for sending the link to the Survey. It interests me when it says:
"The purpose of the Task Group is to review how the Church supports lay leaders in community and society as well as within church structures. Its objective is to make recommendations that will increase the effectiveness and confidence of lay people in leading where they are called to serve – in wider society, in local community and within the Church of England (Church) in ways that grow disciples, extend God’s Kingdom and transform society."
It then says "For the purposes of this consultation exercise, the Task Group is provisionally defining ‘leadership’ as applying to those holding formal or informal positions or roles or positions of significant influence within the Church, an organizational structure or the community." But it then seems to be far more concerned about the church. I would love to know how many respondents mentioned any 'organisational structure or the community".
I would have, in the past, been enormously grateful for any support from the church for the work I do in the wider community. However now the institutional discrimination we seem to have in place, exacerbated by the lay/clergy divide means that I no longer trust 'the Church' to have any understanding at all of the pressures I face, the issues of real people in the real world. I long for my colleagues and neighbours to discover the risen Jesus, but I am certainly not taking any of them to church. I tried to once on "back to church Sunday", but it was a disaster. The service came from the BCP and all my neighbour could say afterwards, was "there is a lot of 'health' in me. I'm not going to say 'there is no health in me'". Everything else had passed over her. Nothing of the gospel had communicated itself to her, just this negative comment in archaic language. I understand that there are people out there for whom this type of service has attraction, but for the average person under 50 who has neither a degree in literature nor an understanding of church history, it is a non starter. in fact it puts people off. So how do I reach my neighbour with the good news of Jesus? By loving her and trying to live out the gospel and talking to her over a cup of coffee about Jesus. She loves talking about Jesus. What I would value help with is how to help her take the next step. And then what? Certainly not the local church. This is a real dilemma for me.
Thank you, Jim Pratt for your comment. Over the years I have seen a significant rise in the number of priests who are control freaks and think they are the lynch pin of the local church. One of the saddest things I saw in the last few years was when a number of lay people in the congregation of their parish church had significant issues with the stance and behaviour of their parish priest, that instead of getting together with the complainants and talking about their fears and concerns, the then Area Dean wrote them off as trouble makers, even though there were 8 different people complaining (quite separately) and refused to engage with any of them. Of course their priest had to be 'right' and do no wrong, after all he is a priest. Hmmm. Not a sentiment I agreed with. But I'm just a lay woman and therefore have no voice. No wonder we get into serious trouble in the church when lay people are so marginalised and ignored. Just think Chichester.
It would be very interesting to know, Helen King, if any Deanery Synod anywhere has talked and thought about lay leadership. Yes, you have very similar experiences as I re the Shared Conversations. Nobody else had even heard of them. Well done for getting it on the Agenda of your DS.
The thing about 'management' and the church is that the two don't seem to go together. Making a commitment to attend church, with all the emotional investment that involves, entails vulnerability. We are all vulnerable when we come clean and give of ourselves. It's a big ask - growing as a disciple, extending God's kingdom and transforming society! Jesus said "For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light." Does that mean the burden of religion?
“On a Facebook thread the point was made that rural churches account for a third of all worshippers despite only serving a sixth of the country's population.
On what grounds does that deserve the allocation of 83% of funds to churches in towns?”
and Anne says:
“It would be very interesting to know… if any Deanery Synod anywhere has talked and thought about lay leadership.”
With these comments in mind, I thought it might be helpful to share the story of the deanery in Essex of which I’m area dean.
1. In 2009 the deanery had 15 paid “incumbent level” clergy – but we knew this would have to reduce to 10 by 2016. We had a round of consultations with each PCC and a vote at deanery synod about how this reduction would be achieved, but also about forming “pastoral communities” – sets of parishes sharing clergy and “equipping every member to be a full-time Christian, serving the community and telling of God’s love”. Although there would be less clergy, we were determined that there would be a lot more ministers by the end of the 7-year period – and I’m glad to say we achieved this, with the introduction of many authorised preachers as well as self-supporting clergy, licensed lay ministers, pastoral assistants and evangelism enablers. There are now around 65 ministers in the deanery – up from 25 in 2009 – not including retired ministers of various kinds. Our then archdeacon also held a workshop for churchwardens on leading Sunday morning worship. The role of the clergy became increasingly one of mission, and of training and encouraging the ministry teams.
(to be continued)
(continued from previous post)
2. We’ve just had a further round of consultations and a vote of deanery synod, and the number of paid incumbent-level clergy is likely to reduce by 2025 from the current 10 to 7.5. We considered a formula for deployment of clergy by population (one paid clergyperson for 10 000 population approx.) and a formula by average attendance (one paid clergyperson for 120 average attenders approx.) but ended up with a more complex formula which takes both these factors into consideration, but also geographic distance between worship centres. Again, we are keen that the conversation isn’t only about the deployment of paid clergy, and are continuing to try to restructure in order to support lay members in their ministries – both within the church (for example one church in the deanery has a lay minister in pastoral charge, and incidentally it’s the one showing the highest percentage of numerical growth!) and outside it (a recent workshop aimed to help us think about our working lives as a ministry in themselves).
It hasn’t always been easy to make the change. Some clergy have found it difficult to move from being central to a community (and leading/preaching weekly in the same place) to being like Titus in the New Testament – forming and encouraging a ministry team and letting the team take centre-stage; the most frequently asked question by visitors to the church I’m Vicar of is “where’s the Vicar?” (Answer: he’s only here on a Sunday morning 50% of the time, but we have a brilliant team of people who lead worship and preach and you’ll enjoy meeting Fiona). There has been a fear of a loss of availability of the sacrament (though we’ve worked hard to make sure that communion has always been easily available in each Unit (set of churches) every Sunday morning). There’s a widespread misunderstanding that we’re restructuring in this way to save money (no – we’re doing it to become a church where every member’s gifts are used to the full). My greatest concern is that, although some churches have as many as 10% of their members sharing in authorised or licensed ministry, some others have a much smaller number of laypeople serving in this way and getting very tired.
thank you for that. Yes, villages are often very good at setting up a comprehensive lay ministry team and support - our benefice certainly is.
I don't quite understand, though, why that should mean that the majority of the funds goes to churches in towns. Surely, they could do the same thing?
What is it that makes churches in cities need that much more money?
This has been a most interesting thread, with links to a number of useful comments. The dissonance between the dean of Christ Church (the unofficial leader of the opposition to the bench) and the central authorities can be reduced to an argument about means rather than ends. I am sure that Dr Percy wants parish churches to grow, but his ostensible nonchalance about where matters might end has been construed as dangerously complacent. However, there is also a slightly unsavoury ruthlessness about some of the more growth-orientated policymakers. We all want growth, but at what cost, and in whose favour? Should the quantity of converts prevail over its quality, and who is the best arbiter of quality in a Church where there are radical divergences of opinion in almost every direction? It is all very well promoting the HTB model (and I have seen what it has accomplished in Brighton, Hammersmith, Hoxton, etc.), but one of the more telling observations of the Brown/Woodhead book has been the relatively underwhelming number of converts at HTB relative to the duration of the programme and the levels of expenditure.
Andy Gr makes some useful points. I am especially interested in what he has written, insofar as I have attended services across the entirety of the Chelmsford diocese (and others), including all of the churches in his deanery. Chelmsford’s fortunes, although at times parlous, need to be contrasted with those of another south of the river, which still has a relatively high proportion of 2/3 parish benefices and a proportionately higher wage bill. Chelmsford had long been aware of its difficult predicament, and moved aggressively and relatively early to reduce the stipendiary headcount and rationalise benefices. It started this process a generation ago, and it has bought valuable time for the Church in Essex. At times this rationalisation has been a little too extreme (I can think of a couple of benefices near Colchester which are much too large) but, overall, its good sense cannot be disputed and closures have halted.
One word of warning: bishops Trillo and Waine closed many churches in the 1970s-90s. I can think of one parish in the South Chelmsford deanery where the ancient church was closed on the basis that worship would continue in a local hall; that failed, and now the parish is basically unchurched. To anyone who thinks closure is the answer: be warned.
Andy, that sounds excellent but we really do need to start teaching that *any* group of Christians gathered together can celebrate the Eucharist and there's zero need for any minister to be present - ordained or otherwise.
@Kate 19 August at 11.01pm
I think the Diocese of Sydney has trialled the 'zero need for any minister to be present' approach, with the result of a massive increase in diaconal ordinations. You might want to explore some of Bishop Keith Rayner's responses to the lay presidency debate from the mid-1990s (Rayner was the Australian primate at the time).
Eucharist might well take the form of some type of Agape in a more informal setting. But the 'zero need' side of the equation might need to be balanced against the ecclesiological reality of Anglicanism. Our assumptions are that a priest connects a particular celebration of the Eucharist to the whole Church. And that's before we come to questions of canon law and church discipline, not all of which is there to obstruct good Christians from joining in worship...
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