Mike Keulemans argues that the CofE now has more than enough ministers within the system to reclaim the parish
Ever since 1964, when the Leslie Paul Report first identified a growing shortage of full-time clergy to staff England’s parishes, the Church of England has responded by placing ever more churches under the care of group incumbents. With the increasing age of the full-time clerical workforce and the rapid pace of retirements, this process of lumping parishes together has continued unabated – the latest manifestation being what has been termed the mission area.
In its planning for the future, the Church has signally and obstinately refused to acknowledge some altogether more optimistic statistics. Self-supporting clergy now comprise almost one third of the entire clerical workforce and there are today more than 10,000 trained lay ministers we still somewhat ridiculously term Readers. Adding together all the part-timers to the full-timers, we thus presently possess a total of around 22,000 ministers whocould adequately and acceptably care properly for every one of our 15,000 parishes. The biggest could have a staff of maybe three or four full-timers, but even the tiniest rural outpost could have a part-time minister of its own to provide regular and accessible pastoral care. A majority of parishes would have their ministry provided free of charge, releasing scarce funds for pioneering fresh expressions work in the new para-parishes of employment, education and leisure pursuits.
There is growing evidence that many churches, especially in rural areas, are not paying their diocesan contributions in full. A major factor behind many of these defaults is a rumbling dissatisfaction with paying hard-earned cash to a Church which provides fewer and fewer clergy to deliver less and less pastoral care. There seems also to be a continuing closed-shop mentality among bishops and senior churchmen, who seem to view one of their primary functions as being trade union officials for the full-time clergy, tasked to maintain their rights, privileges and status and to make sure that self-supporting clergy and Readers remain firmly at the beck and call of the professionals. Most SSMs have nowadays received as good a training as full-timers, often possessing first-class theological qualifications as well as valuable work experience in the wider world, which enables them to cope naturally with the part-time care of a parish alongside holding down a full-time job.
After over four decades of steady parochial retreat, which has so bedevilled the progress of our beloved Anglican Church in Britain, we now, by the grace of God, find ourselves with more than enough ministers within the system to reclaim the parish, give the people back proper and systematic pastoral care, educate the laity for outreach, increase income and go back to the laudable principle of providing at least one minister to lead each local church community. The worthy concept of collaborative ministry has been hijacked by the hierarchy in such a way that a constant procession of different faces sabotages any systematic pattern of effective teaching, while at the same time unhelpfully confusing
congregations and lowering morale. Genuine collaborative ministry consists of local pastors developing every talent within their worshipping communities and encouraging them to be used harmoniously to build up the People of God and help them extend the boundaries of his kingdom.
However, for Traditionalists there is a far more pressing reason for rebuilding the parish and its ministry. As parishes of very different churchmanships find themselves grouped together under clergy of wildly differing viewpoints, there is a serious risk that nobody will feel themselves satisfied with the resulting muddle. Liberal clergy will undermine the Bible-based teaching of a Conservative Evangelical tradition in one parish and devalue the Sacramental focus of the Traditional Catholic ministry in another. Because of their sheer weight of numbers, women priests will be forced on everyone. We will end up with a new version of the Middle-of-the-Road which converts nobody and confuses many, whereas those two despised wings of the Church which everywhere evidence the greatest growth in numbers will find themselves progressively eliminated.
With the coming of the large mission areas and the resulting normalization of the priest-in-charge, the rights of parochial patrons are being whittled away. When a lead priest is appointed these days, diocesan big-wigs and one or two representatives of the laity from each parish join together with the patrons in one large committee, which is therefore almost bound to appoint someone they consider will possess wide enough sympathies to encompass the whole spread of churchmanships across the group. Such an appointment will do nothing but dilute the worship and witness of Traditional Evangelical and Catholic parishes. Perhaps Forward in Faith and Reform should put up candidates to fight for the future of the parishes in the General Synod elections of 2015. This cause would almost certainly be very well received by both clergy and laity in city, suburb and countryside alike and could very well sweep the board among the lay electors. How about it? ND