Updated again Thursday evening
The Sunday Times published a news story with the headline: Church to cut paid clergy as a fifth of flock wanders off which is based on a report circulating among diocesan secretaries etc.
The damage inflicted on the Church of England by the pandemic is revealed in a leaked internal document which warns up to 20 per cent of its regular worshippers may never return.
It calls into question “the sustainability of many local churches” and the continued financial subsidy given to 5,000 loss-making parishes out of a total of 12,000…
The next day, the Church Times published a news story which includes the full text of that document. You can read that here: Financial crisis threatens Church’s strategic plans.
(Note the Church Times paywall arrangement: if you are not a subscriber to the newspaper, but you register with the site you get two additional free articles each month, i.e. a total of four items.)
DECLINING income, accelerated by the pandemic, means that dioceses are facing “indiscriminate cuts” to clergy posts, undermining the Church of England’s attempts at strategic reform.
New assistant curates, recruited in the recent push for vocations, could struggle to find incumbencies, an internal document suggests.
Details of the scale of the challenge are contained in a discussion paper circulated to all bishops and diocesan secretaries in the middle of last month. It confirms that the C of E’s income fell 8.1 per cent in the year to November 2020. It projects a further fall of ten per cent for 2021, calculated before the latest lockdown was announced. Expected savings on expenditure for 2021 are currently three to four per cent. These overall figures disguise a large variation between dioceses.
The document, Perspectives on Money, People and Buildings, seen by the Church Times on Monday, has not been made public, despite confusion from parish priests and others about media reports on its contents, and a declaration at the start: “Honest sharing of information on how those resources of money, people and buildings are being stewarded for greatest impact is vital.”
The Archbishop of York has published an article on his own website which comments on the above, The Church of England still needs clergy. This article is also available in the Church Times with the strapline There are no central plans to cut the number of priests, says Stephen Cottrell. Do read the full text of what he says.
The Church Times also has this news report: Clergy won’t be pushed out in cost cuts, says Archbishop of York
CLERGY are still needed to serve the Church of England, and “are not being pushed out” of their posts to make up for the continued decline in income, the Archbishop of York, the Most Revd Stephen Cottrell, says.
None the less, the Church will have to make “tough” and “challenging” changes to spread both its wealth and stipendiary clergy fairly across the 42 dioceses, he warns. This is likely to result in some cuts to stipendiary posts in all dioceses, many of which — especially in the north — are being left vacant after clerics retire…
The Spectator has published an article by Emma Thompson with the title Holy relic: what will be left of the Church of England after the pandemic? (registration may be needed).
William Nye has published a furious response on the Church of England website. Copied below.
As a longstanding and loyal reader of the Spectator, I was disappointed in your cover story about the Church of England.
I was amazed to read the ludicrous claim that the parish system is being dissolved like the monasteries, repeated without even a cursory check on whether this could possibly be true. We read of a supposed central take-over of independent dioceses and an imaginary national plan to roll out cuts and sell assets to fund more managers. The old canard that the Archbishops decided to suspend public worship last year at the height of the first wave of the pandemic, rather than the Government, did not even get a rudimentary qualification.
No one from the Spectator called the Church of England to ask whether any of these things were true.
This matters because truth matters. It matters because this kind of misinformation is damaging and demoralising to clergy and laity in every corner of England who have been worshipping God and serving their neighbours in extraordinary new ways, despite the restrictions we have all faced during this pandemic.
There is no national plan to roll out cuts to clergy or to buildings. We need our clergy and our lay volunteers – all are part of the people of God – and we need our church buildings, which are a precious resource for the whole nation. Some dioceses are having to adjust the balance of stipendiary (paid) clergy and other ministers; and to shift where clergy are deployed, following movements in the population. Yet we rejoice that we have seen an increase in the number of people coming forward to be trained and ordained as clergy. This year the number of people being ordained into stipendiary ministry will be 43% higher than eight years ago.
Nor is there is a national drive to close churches. Yes, a small number of church buildings do close every year after a complex process in which alternatives are carefully explored. Yet we rejoice that we have also been reopening churches, and planting new congregations. In the last five years, we have planted or reopened or revived over a hundred churches – in towns and cities across England, in places such as Blackpool, Preston, Rotherham, Wigan, Dudley, Goole, Stockton-on-Tees, Mansfield, Swindon, Hastings, and Plymouth.
These are challenging times but facts and perspective are important. The Church of England has been worshipping God and serving our neighbours for many generations. I am confident that we will continue to do so, bringing the Gospel of Christ to every community for many generations to come.
Secretary General, Archbishops’ Council, The Church of England