Margaret Brown argues that the future of the Church of England is in the hands of its parochial clergy.
Many Church people are extremely worried about losing more clergy due to the Church’s cutbacks in expenditure. So much so, that nearly 100 members of the General Synod, clergy and lay, of a large cross-section from nearly every diocese in England and, together with the Dioceses of Sodor and Man and Europe, have taken the unprecedented step of signing a petition which has been sent to the Archbishops of Canterbury and York as Presidents of the Archbishops’ Council.
The petition states:
the number of clergy in parochial appointments should remain as at present, or be increased, because mission begins first with the parishes.
Where strength lies
The ‘grass roots’ from the length and breadth of the country are desperately anxious to retain their churches and clergy, for it is in the parishes where God’s work is done Sunday by Sunday and week-day by week-day through the faithful proclamation of the Word and the administration of the Sacraments. If clergy in the parishes are reduced still further, there will be another decline in Church attendances, for the strength of the Church is in the parishes. The recent tragic bombing in America has shown how people have flocked to the churches and want the ministry of the clergy.
Parishes are now having to pay for clergy stipends and a new demand is being made on them for clergy pensions. Parishes are already paying for the cost of running the General Synod, together with its boards and councils, committees, working parties and what many consider to be unnecessary posts, by way of the parish quota. This is before paying, perhaps for a leaking church roof, and giving to the work of the Church overseas. The Church of England has become far too bureaucratic at the expense of the parishes. Furthermore, there is not enough money at parish level to pay for all these things.
They are as follows:
Wherever possible, two or more dioceses should share diocesan offices and staff. The numbers working in diocesan offices with a large number of staff must be drastically cut.
It is appreciated that the number of staff at the Church Commissioners has been reduced, but within the Annual Report there should be an indication of the work of staff by departments in order to ascertain the optimum number required in each department.
The age limit for a priest holding a stipendiary post should be removed whilst safeguarding the priest’s right to retire at 65 thus enabling lots of clergy who give their time to the Church’s ministry in their retirement to continue in stipendiary ministry, without the need for re-housing or the Church having to raise money for pensions. This would also halt the decline in the number of full-time clergy.
All archdeacons and clergy in specialist posts must, in addition, be an incumbent of a parish.
Diocesan bishops with less than 250 parishes, should not have an Area or Suffragan Bishop, when the present ones go. Any number over two should be phased out.
The dioceses should pay for their bishops’ expenses in the interests of accountability and this should be implemented forthwith.
The Petition originally contained twelve clauses and it was agreed that those with the greatest number of signatures would be forwarded. More signatures have been received since the Petition was sent off, and those will of course be added. It is very probable that there will be General Synod members who would like to have signed but who have not heard about the Petition. Several of us tried circulating the Petition at the July General Synod, but it is not easy catching people at York. Getting people to sign a petition during August and the first part of September is also not easy because of the holiday period. A number of other General Synod members who did not sign, were nevertheless, broadly in agreement. Although the Petition was instigated by me, its composition was the work of a number of people, both clergy and lay, to whom we should be very grateful.
It is essential that the Archbishops’ Council not only listens to the request of so many General Synod members but acts promptly before it is too late.
Margaret Brown is a lay member of the General Synod for the diocese of Chichester.