The ongoing preoccupation and concern about how Anglican parishes will survive, especially in rural England, might be resolved soon.

On June 26, 2022, The Sunday Telegraph reported that wealthier parishes could be allowed to give more to poorer ones. The plan will be debated at the upcoming General Synod meeting in July (emphases mine):

Wealthy church dioceses will be allowed to share funds with their poorer neighbours under plans to be voted on by the Church of England.

The proposals, which have been submitted before the General Synod, the Church of England’s legislative body, will mean that for the first time cash can be more evenly distributed.

The move would remove some barriers to dioceses sharing resources and comes amid concern about the viability of smaller, poorer and more rural parishes.

Why did that not happen sooner? It’s common sense. In Paul’s epistles, we read of his collection for the poor church in Jerusalem. The other churches he planted in Asia Minor and Macedonia gave generously, and he succeeded in presenting the donation to the struggling congregation in Jerusalem.

It will be left to the dioceses to decide if they wish to participate. Hmm. Based on previous diocesan splurging of money on rather useless ‘initiatives’, I do hope they will be generous towards their poorer congregations:

In papers published last week and submitted to the Synod for its conference in July, David White, deputy director of finance for National Church Institutions, said that his amendment would “in effect, enable a Diocesan Board of Finance to grant funds from its income account for use by other dioceses in the Church of England if it wished to do so” …

In May the archbishops admitted that they “got it wrong” by not prioritising rural parishes over city churches, as they announced funding worth £3.6 billion.

We shall see.

On June 23, Andrew Selous MP, the Second Church Estates Commissioner, answered a question from Labour MP Ben Bradshaw on putting more clergy into neglected parishes. I agree with the Revd Giles Fraser of St Anne, Kew, that Selous’s response was far from reassuring:

Churches are struggling to obtain curates, as obtaining more clergy is not in their direct control:

The Save the Parish network will be meeting before the Synod members get together. I wish them all the very best. They have two champions in the Revds Giles Fraser and Marcus Walker, rector of St Bartholomew the Great in London:

Giles Fraser is enjoying his new assignment at the Parish Church of St Anne in southwest London:

He is out and about meeting fellow residents:

On a serious note, Fraser warns of the Lords Spiritual — serving Church of England bishops in the House of Lords — becoming irrelevant if the parish system breaks down:

In his recent article in UnHerd, he says:

the bishops draw their moral authority from the fact that the Church of England operates a universal service provision. We serve in all communities, from the richest to the poorest, from cities to rural areas. The bishops are in fact well suited to the Lords because they connect it to every parish in the country — well, in England at least. And if there is a current threat to bishops in the Lords it comes not from the fact that they sometimes irritate the government with moral pronouncements — ‘twas ever thus — but rather because the bishops are dismantling the source of their own authority. Armed with half-arsed MBAs, they want the Church to be run with increasingly centralised efficiency; inefficient parishes are being closed. As a result, the connection between the bishops and the parishes is being severed, and with it the source of their authority to sit in the legislature.

Fraser warns that this plays into secularists’ hands:

The role of the bishops is to represent the whole country spiritually. On the whole, other faiths are glad of this particular role held by the Church of England. The National Secular Society and other troublemakers are keen to sow division among people of faith in order to argue that no one church should have legislative priority over another. But this is simply a ruse to dislodge religion from the public sphere. The Church of England is not a special interest group, it exists for all. Even, heaven help us, for secularists.

On that note, the Revd Stephen Heard is concerned about the single-minded political leanings of C of E clergy, starting with the archbishops. Their constant political pronouncements could be alienating the laity — and potential converts:

He cites an article from The Critic, ‘The closing of the Episcopal mind’, which provides bishops’ opinions dating back to the 19th century, and concludes:

Given this deep uncertainty and debate as to the political implications of Christianity, total political consensus among its leadership makes me very uneasy. It alienates large swathes of lay Anglicans who, in perfectly good faith, come to conclusions that differ from the liberal-left consensus, and makes our mission as a broad national church harder. It belies a real lack of intellectual vibrancy and curiosity, and implies, by some curious happenstance, that the political spirit of a restless and secular age has magically aligned itself with the truths of the Christian religionWhat providential perfection! And what an unlikely state of affairs all round.

Political causes have even entered into baptismal and confirmation vows in the Diocese of Oxford, which now requires a promise to uphold God’s creation.

Marcus Walker rightly points out that this places Christ, the Person to whom we pledge our faithful allegiance, in second position:

He wrote an article about it for The Telegraph:

In it, he says:

Baptism and Confirmation are two of the most important steps a human being can make. I say this, I concede, as a clergyman, but what happens at these sacraments is not just a significant religious service, but an event that transforms a person’s life, temporal and eternal.

This is why it’s really important that the Church avoids putting barriers up that would discourage people from encountering this grace. It is difficult enough for the Church to persuade people that the Christian message is true (we’ve all seen the stats). Pushing away those who don’t hold to the ideologies of the current bench of bishops is foolish in the extreme.

This week, the Bishop of Oxford has decided to add to the service of Baptism and Confirmation a new little exchange: “Will you strive to sustain the integrity of creation, and sustain and renew the life of the earth?” “With the help of God, I will.” It is important to note that this is not a change to the actual baptismal vows. It’s part of a rather naff “commissioning” that the new prayer book, Common Worship, allows at the end of these services. Nobody knows what happens if a candidate says “no”, mostly because none of the other questions are controversial so this issue has not come up before.

At this point you might be saying, “but there’s nothing controversial here either”, and, if speaking entirely for myself, I would agree. You might also say that this seems pretty consonant with long-standing mainstream Christian and Anglican theology and this would be true.

But the question of how we engage with environmental concerns has become a major political issue recently, one controversial enough to have even caused long standing conservatives to reconsider their loyalty to the Crown in anger at the way some members of the Royal Family proselytise about “The Environment”.

This is the only part of the service which engages directly with a live political discourse. We are not asked to pledge anything to do with poverty, international relations, race, or even loyalty to the Supreme Governor of the Church of England …

Walker acknowledges that the 1662 Book of Common Prayer (BCP) requires confirmands to pledge loyalty to the monarch and says that it is no longer used in today’s confirmation ceremonies:

to use it now would turn away any republican. It would cause those who don’t think this country should have a monarch to have second thoughts about finding God. High Tory though I am, I would not want to stand before the Throne of Judgment and have held against me the souls I had turned away because of my politics.

Which means my advice to the Bishop of Oxford is not to mess with this liturgy; to those cheerleading the move to ask yourself what if the boot were on the other foot and you were being forced to assent to a political position you dissent from as a condition of baptism; to the Church to be grateful for anyone willing to commit themselves to Christ and to welcome them with open arms.

In closing, this guidance on sermon writing from 2017 is worthwhile reading. It could apply to any essay. Parts of it remind me of the Expository Writing course I took at university many moons ago.

This is called ‘Good to Great: Turning a Decent Sermon into a Wonderful One’:

It’s excellent advice — and difficult to achieve, therefore, all the more worthwhile in the pursuit of ‘good to great’.