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GS2222: A Proposal Disenfranchising Parish Clergy and People

Commentary

by Emma Thompson

A lovely book on the mediaeval parish, Katherine L French’s ‘The People of the Parish’, tells us of communities’ pride in their churches.  Those of us who are ‘somewhere people’ use these holy, beautiful, historic places as past generations have done for 1,000 years.  However, in January, a Church of England document sent to its 42 diocesan secretaries, called Money, People and Buildings, was leaked.  It contained this line: ‘Many diocesan leaders believe that the financial challenges being exposed by the pandemic mean this is the moment to embark on radical changes to re-shape existing resource patterns and ministry structures.’   This looks like management consultancy speak for selling churches and sacking vicars.   

Both head and heart suggest this is illogical, spiritually and financially.  The pandemic illustrated the value of local communities.  A recent University of York report shows that, post-pandemic, even 75% of non-churchgoers want churches open as places of quiet reflection and comfort.  Vicars are catalysts for parish donations, which fund the dioceses.  Sacking vicars and amalgamating parishes into groups under one vicar (then selling ‘surplus’ parish-owned buildings, with the dioceses pocketing the proceeds) is like ‘selling the family silver’: unsustainable.  The Church’s own official growth policy, ‘From Anecdote to Evidence’, shows that amalgamations doom those churches to decline.

On 3rd August, a group of parish clergy and laity gathered in a London church for the inaugural meeting of ‘Save The Parish’.  We aim to preserve our parish network for future generations by making parishes top priority for Church funding, above diocesan bureaucracy and new initiatives.  

STP’s mission statement is ‘Front line first’.  Please visit savetheparish.com and view our speakers’ talks.  

STP has two urgent short-term goals.  1) STP supporters will stand for General Synod, the Church’s Parliament (nominations close on 8th September).  2) To stop an iniquitous legislative proposal (numbered ‘GS2222’) for amendments to the Mission and Pastoral Measure 2011 (consultation closes on 30th September).   

Please vigorously oppose GS2222.  If passed, it would make it easier, and quicker, for  dioceses to sack parish vicars, close churches and sell them.

If you Google GS2222, page 14 shows the church closure rate as 20-25 per year (or 125 in five years). Page 17 suggests that, over the next 2-5 years, this figure could rise to 356 (nearly treble the number).  Diocesan heads of church closing whose workload is about to treble might well wish to ‘simplify’ the process.  However, who else wants churches which have been in use for 1,000 years suddenly closed and sold?   

Please write an email objecting, on any grounds, possibly including these:

Heritage/ownership: Church of England volunteers and donors valuably maintain many listed church buildings. These important symbols of our continuing history belong to clergy and people, not the dioceses.  Wherever possible, they should continue as community resources.   

Consultation: The only people consulted in advance were remote diocesan managers, who cannot judge what is best for a parish.  Not clergy (whose jobs and homes are at stake), parishioners, heritage societies, congregations or ‘unseen’ church users (such as bellringing groups).  There is evidence that their longstanding rights already require better safeguarding: e.g. people are not seeing notices of reorganisation schemes placed on church doors. 

Purpose: GS2222’s objectives are expressed as ‘simplification’ and ‘furtherance of mission’ (implying that parish assets may be sold to fund unproven new projects).  Changing the procedures, before a costed mission strategy has been debated and sanctioned by General Synod, attempts to railroad the parishes into releasing their property rights without proper discussion.  Simplification which benefits the grassroots (such as overhauling the burdensome ‘Faculty’ planning permissions system) seems much more important.  Mission could be done within the parish structure, catching the trend for localism.  

Timing: Given the scale of reorganisations (350+ closures), simplification should not be conflated with speed.  This contradicts another national trend: for more care, more consultation and increasing powers and use of judicial review (the Home Secretary’s arrangements for housing refugees and the A303 at Stonehenge being recent, high-profile examples).  Appeal processes by their nature take time. 

Appeals: Existing church closure appeal processes are to independent bodies.  However, GS2222 proposes substituting a circular ‘right’ of appeal to the diocese – contravening the legal principle that no one can be judge in his own cause.  That existing appeal processes are little-used is irrelevant.  People will not embark on appeal processes lightly.  

We hope you will write to object.  The official consultation questionnaire is tedious, with rather loaded questions.  We suggest objecting by email, as the final page of GS2222 shows is possible to:  mpm2011review@churchofengland.org

It urgently needs as many objections as possible.  The deadline is 30th September.   Please copy your objection to your MP, requesting that they write to the Second Estates Commissioner, Andrew Selous MP, asking for the Church’s legislative proposal GS2222, which will make it easier for dioceses to sack vicars and close churches at speed, to be dropped urgently.  Please complain that it is being pushed through by the Church of England’s diocese in their own interests and for their own convenience, without proper and timely advance consultation with clergy, parishioners, or groups such as bellringers who use church buildings.

And please sign up to join us, at savetheparish.com

 

In addition to being part of the Save the Parish Campaign, Emma Thompson’s journalism work appears in The Spectator, Telegraph, Times, and Church Times.

 

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