Monthly Archives: November 2020

What will change in the CofE actually look like?

Over the past decades the Church of England has divested itself already of all of the easy downsizing options. As I look around our area none of the churches are on their last legs (yet). All have active congregations and all are engaging in some ways with mission and outreach. And there comes the rub, some, if not many, of these churches will lose their stipendiary leadership in the near future.

We may need to close some churches entirely! We may need to close some churches as they exist today with the congregations encouraged to move to other local churches. That would then allow the buildings to be used as resources for fresh mission, outreach and evangelism.

As we move into the next season of church life we must be willing to change, because whether we like it or not change is going to happen, and to be honest it needs to happen. If we carry on as we are the church as we know it will cease to exist in the next 10 to 20 years.

That will be painful.

Let me paint an entirely hypothetical scenario.

In the coming reorganisation a large parish of the churches in the Western Wards of Fareham is created. This encompasses St John’s Locks Heath, St Mary’s Warsash, St Paul’s Sarisbury Green and Whiteley Church. Each church no longer has it’s own PCC but each has representation on a joint, new PCC for the new mega parish.

Across that parish there will be two full time stipendiary priests and one half time. The compares with the present situation of two full time, one half time and one three quarter time (yes I know it’s odd the way the CofE has done things!). One of the full time posts will be mainly focussed on growing a new church community in Whiteley. This might be supported by another church in the diocese helping to provide a strong foundation for future growth.

That leaves one full time person and one half time person to support ministry in Locks Heath, Warsash and Sarisbury. Sunday ministry will look different. There is no longer a morning service at St Paul’s on any Sunday. Morning services at St John’s and Warsash have also been reorganised with a more traditional form of worship at Warsash each Sunday and a more contemporary form of worship at St John’s.

In Sarisbury the focus is on children and families. There is now a service every Sunday afternoon. This alternates between one focussing on younger children and their families which is similar to our present Tea Service and one that focusses on older children and their families.

So much for Sunday mornings, what about the rest of the week. Across the church communities there is now a joint Open The Book team that leads Collective Worship in all the Church Primary schools on a regular basis. One of the clergy focuses on this ministry and on building links, relationships and connections with all the schools.

There is also a combined ministry for those who are retired. This has a regular lunchtime session at St Mary’s every week which combines a social time over lunch with short times of worship, a thought for the day and sometimes guest speakers on a variety of subjects.

Administration is a headache for all clergy, however as there is only one PCC this burden is significantly lessened. St John’s is the administration centre for the whole mega parish. All baptism, wedding and funeral enquires are funnelled to the admin team at St John’s. There is a pastoral team which works across the whole area which has responsibility for baptism preparation and bereavement visiting. This team also covers many of the pastoral needs across the area.

Finances are now centralised so there is now one treasurer and one set of accounts. There is a clear budget set and each person with responsibility for an area of ministry has an allocated budget to work within.

However these changes have had an impact on the giving across the new parish. Before the changes their joint income was nearly half a million pounds of which a quarter of a million pound was given to the Diocese in Parish Share. Income has dropped by 20% and the new joint parish is no longer able to contribute it’s full parish share each year. It is however hopeful that the new congregations started will within the next 5 years start to give more and help the parish to return to positive balances.

There has also been a reduction in the overall numbers of people attending services. For some the change was simply too much and they have stopped attending any church. For others the time during the pandemic has meant they have developed new patters of life and habit and again no longer attend. Still others are now attending other local churches and for some whilst they do attend it is less often.

Other things have gone. None of the churches produces a church magazine any more. None of the clergy are now ex-officio governors at our schools, that role has been taken by lay people. Whilst each congregation has a clear leader, that person is no longer necessarily ordained. There are significantly less communion services than there were before. Music is now organised across the whole of the area with one choir who has become a festival choir. There are now three music groups who rehearse together and support the services across the different centres.

I could go on …….

This is entirely hypothetical. But how would you react if something like this happened? Would you stay connected? Would you stop attending entirely? Does this excite you with new opportunities and possibilities?

The Church Is Now Irrelevant To Many In Our Society

At a recent meeting of clergy we were asked to think about how we might restructure our group of churches (the Anglican Church calls them a deanery) if we were starting from scratch. That’s a great question, the difficulty is that we aren’t starting from scratch. We have history in our buildings and our church structures that goes back for hundreds of years. We also have traditions in our church communities today that go back 50 or more years. So we can’t start from scratch. But we can’t continue as we have been.

I find this image challenging every time I see it.

It is the Choluteca Bridge in Honduras and was built so that it could withstand the worst of hurricanes. When Hurricane Mitch came in 1998 the bridge survived but the roads disappeared and the river moved. In many ways that is a deeply challenging picture of the state of much of the church in the UK. The storms of cultural change over the past 50 years or more have moved the river of culture and society but the church remains largely where it was. That has to change and maybe with the financial impact of the Coronavirus now is the time for radical, and painful, change to happen.

It is now inevitable that we will have to significantly reduce the number of paid clergy posts in churches. I’ve heard estimates from 15% upwards and in some dioceses I suspect it will be significantly more. What we must avoid al all costs is the solution that the Church of England has run with for the past decades and that is to spread the jam ever more thinly. I am incredibly fortunate in that I am the vicar of a single parish. Many of my colleagues have 5, 10 or even more parishes that they are responsible for leading. The result is that they cannot truly give the time energy and vision to any of the churches to lead to growth. The side effect is stress and burnout of clergy up and down this nation. And the Coronavirus has only exacerbated the situation.

What will change look like?

That’s a tough question but it if is to be effective it must involve pretty significant change for every church, not just a few.

We have a historic structure with historic legal frameworks. Every church has their own organising committee of trustees (which we call the Parochial Church Council or PCC). Each has their own church wardens, treasurer, secretary, Safeguarding officer, gift aid person etc. etc. One of the necessary changes will be to reduce this administrative and legal framework significantly. It must also free the clergy of some of the responsibilities that have today.

But let me be honest here, many of us are control freaks! We insist on having oversight and control in most, if not all areas of church life. That must change, and that won’t be easy! Why should the vicar be the editor of the church magazine, dare we ask whether we now need a church magazine at all in these days of social media? Many of the things that clergy cherish as their responsibility will have to be passed on to others, and if no one is there to take them up – then they have to stop altogether!

Many of the regular members of our congregations have been with us for years, if not decades. The clergy have fed, watered and counselled them. In doing so we have created dependance. That also has to change. Most have been with us long enough to feed themselves and not rely on the food from the vicar in her/his weekly sermon. Indeed I would ask if the sermon as we know it is in any way an appropriate way of teaching today, when was the last time you saw a lesson school led like a lecture?

As clergy we have a problem of age. I was looking round the clergy in our deanery during a recent Zoom meeting and the higher proportion were getting on a bit! And I include myself in that description. I have led one church community for 17 years. In that time I believe we have had a significant impact on our local community. We are known, respected and and welcomed by many locally. At Christmas we have over 1500 people (except this year!) through our church building, and yet our main Sunday congregation has on average 50 adults. When I look round those Christmas services I know the majority of the people.

But I am now out of touch and of an entirely different generation from the people we are seeking to reach. What our church needs is me in the middle of my 40s not me as I now am over 60! I was also trained at a time when pioneer ministry had hardly been heard of let alone taught. Sadly, as I look back, I was being trained in a style of ministry that was already leading to the death of the church!

The church today desperately needs fresh vision, energy, enthusiasm and a style of leadership that relates to the missing generations from our churches. The Gospel will never change, but the way it is expressed and communicated has to change with successive generations. We live at a time when the pace of change in out society has been faster than ever before. Sadly to me, as hard as I have tried, I have found it incredibly difficult to understand that change and express the Gospel in a way that is accessible for younger generations.

Maybe now may well be the time for some of us lovingly and graciously to had on the baton of church leadership. That will be hard for many church communities, but every harder for the clergy and their families.

Chronic Pain Is Coming To The CofE

Is this a once in a lifetime opportunity to set the Church of England up differently for mission and growth rather than decline? It may well be but there will be a heavy cost paid by some.

The Church of England is not immune to the financial difficulties that have come from the recent pandemic. My own diocese has taken out multi million pound business continuity loan as well as receiving hundreds of thousands from central church funds. That will however only paper over the gaps for a short time. The bottom line is income to all churches and all dioceses is down significantly. With the second lockdown and no knowledge of when we will return to a semblance of ‘normality’ the institution of the Church of England has to plan now for the future.

Like most other organisations the greatest expenditure is on people. Unlike most other organisations it will not be quick to change that. The process for pastoral reorganisation that will result in redundancies is likely to take between 18 months and 2 years depending on who you speak to. So each diocese needs to look towards budgeting for 2022 and 2023 and estimating what the income will be! Not an easy task.

The bottom line is that many stipendiary clergy across the whole of the Church of England are likely to be made redundant. Think for a moment what that means and the pain that will be felt in every one of those households. It will mean not only losing the income of a stipend, but also the security of housing, as that will go as well. It means cutting themselves off from the community that they have been serving, in my case for 17 years. They will have to find new housing for themselves and their families outside of the parish where they serve. They may well apply for vacant posts, but as many are made redundant the ‘competition’ for these will become difficult. Some will not be able to find another post within the Church of England. That’s a massive ask, but it is now inevitable.

Will the pain be borne primarily be clergy and their families, or are our church communities willing to bear a share of the pain as well? If our church communities still expect their services to continue as before, if they still expect the vicar to be a governor on the board of the local church school and if they expect the same level of leadership and pastoral care as before, if there is an expectation that communion will still be the primary expression of worship then it will all have been in vain.

If we are going to go through the pain barrier it must be worthwhile. And the only way it can be that is if we reset our structures for mission, growth and evangelism rather than the maintenance of long held traditions and how things have always been done.

Are you prepared to share the pain that is coming down the road along with Vicars, Priests-In-Charge and Rectors?

I must also ask will the pain primarily be felt in the parishes? I was speaking to a friend a few weeks ago who said that since the 1950s the graph of Anglican Church attendance has been in a severe downward direction, however, he contended, at the same time the number of Bishops in the Church of England has been on an upwards curve! Will the changes impact on the senior posts in equal measure to parish posts?