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Church parishes are on the verge of being lost for good

Anyone who loves parish churches needs to stand up and be counted now. Write to your MP and stand for General Synod on the elections.

The Church of England’s General Synod meeting finished last week. Synod is the body which governs Church legislation and approves the budget – in theory. In practice, it is choreographed by a ruling group on the Archbishops’ Council.

The day before Synod, the “Save The Parish” (STP) movement held a conference reasserting the value of parish churches “in action” in local communities. Senior Church representatives joined over 100 STP supporters from around England to hear compelling speakers. Church leaders are moving from chucking brickbats at STP to dialogue and describing it as a force for good, appreciating its committed voluntary effort to analyse the CofE’s actions.

Parish churches provide spiritual and pastoral care with huge social and financial value. So why continue to pour central funding into alternative projects with dismal outcomes? STP founder Revd Marcus Walker notes Einstein’s definition of insanity: “doing the same thing over and over expecting different results”.

STP, less than two years old, unites supporters from varying traditions, ages, backgrounds and political standpoints. It has brought the future of the parish onto a Synod agenda from which its absence was conspicuous. This Synod included a debate on “revitalising the parish” and discussed the parish under several agenda items. Still, this also showcased the tokenness of support for the parish. In Monday’s revitalising parishes debate, an amendment proposed by Marcus Walker to reroute central funding from projects to poorer parishes lost.

In 2021 there were many objections to an infamous paper numbered GS2222, dubbed the “Church Closers’ Charter”. Some feared that it would fast-track the process of parish closures. Following the outcry, the CofE declared that it had listened. It asked STP for trust and help to improve this legislation anyway – and it seemed churlish to refuse. Forming a review panel provided an opportunity to rebalance the process to benefit parishes. They could have been offered advice, mediation, even travel expenses to hearings on their Church’s future. But no. Shortly before Synod, a new paper GS2315 emerged.

GS2315 sounds worse than the hated GS2222; but, sadly, it has not been stopped. If converted into legislation, it destines the CofE to the sad results of delocalisation, which it could have learned from in the Church of Scotland and the Church in Wales.

This Synod showed the Church’s hand. Protestations of love for the parishes ring hollow. Central funds are channelled to perpetuate bloated bureaucracy. Bureaucrats produce un-Anglican, upside-down schemes to reduce rooted local parish clergy. The risk is that clergy become manager-supervisors, while lay people take services: a potential safeguarding nightmare. This Dunkirk style flight is not necessary; there is the money and resources to rebuild the Church in the parishes’ purpose-built buildings.

Is the CofE listening? Sadly not. Ordination applications are bound to fall rapidly, with few feeling called to become itinerant managers. Vicars are increasingly brave about supporting STP publicly. Anyone who loves parish churches needs to stand up and be counted now. Support movements dedicated to saving the parish. Write to your MP. Stand for General Synod in the next elections. Help to determine whether the Church Commissioners can properly spend funds on schemes which now undermine parish ministry.

You can visit the Save the Parish website here

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