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?