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My post of January 26 discussed the parlous state of the Church of England (CofE) today, covering events from the summer of 2021.

The CofE hierarchy and General Synod are looking for a way to ‘do church’ differently by seeking to close down our beautiful church buildings, some of which have been in existence since Norman times, i.e. the 11th century.

The plan is called Myriad.

Many clergy are just as angry as the laity. The laity put together a network called Save the Parish. My post last week left off at that point, which was July 2021.

I have a few more tweets to share from that month.

The Revd Marcus Walker from St Bartholomew’s in London pointed out that, once the clergy and the church buildings have been sold, there isn’t much left to the Church of England. In any event, this is OUR church, not the hierarchy’s or the General Synod’s:

Furthermore, it is wrong for priests to think like businessmen, viewing those in the pews as consumers:

On July 13, The Telegraph‘s Alison Pearson wrote, ‘It’s time to rebel — the Church of England is abandoning its flock’. Excerpts follow, emphases mine:

Lately, the Church of England has been hellbent on a course which is almost designed to cause distress to traditionally-minded vicars and parishioners: the lowly footsoldiers who do the flowers, run the choir and generally keep their beloved old church going while raising money to send a “Parish Offer” to fund the dioceses with their cloth-eared management jargon, their painfully woke initiatives and proliferating job titles like Mission Enablers and Director of Justice, Peace and Integrity of Creation, with hefty salaries to match.

Some of us were under the impression that the Director of Creation job was filled rather successfully over two thousand years ago. Having lost faith in the eternal verities, the CofE now makes stipendiary clergy redundant – some rural benefices of 10 churches have to share one vicar! – while lunging for relevance with lectures like the one immortally entitled The Church and the Clitoris. Er, it’s been a while since I was a Sunday school teacher but isn’t the G in “G-spot” supposed to stand for God?

In a nutshell, the things which most Britons still value about the CofE are about to be destroyed by the very people who are meant to be its custodians. Parish priests and regular worshippers are up in arms over the “Vision and Strategy” plan which was unveiled by the Archbishop of York at the General Synod at the weekend. The new “growth strategy” is called Myriad. It means getting rid of the clergy with their tedious theological knowledge about, you know, the Bible

This is not a joke. Canon John McGinley explained: “Lay-led churches release the church from key limiting factors. When you don’t need a building and a stipend and long, costly, college-based training for every leader of the church… then we can release new people to lead and new churches to form.”

As a church warden, one of many to write movingly on this topic to the Telegraph’s Letters Page, said: “Our incumbent vicar will be retiring soon. He will not be replaced. In return, for our generous Parish Offer, a church with a 1,400-year history will expect to have a clergy-delivered act of worship once every six weeks. I fear the end of worship is nigh. I will become a steward of an empty, soulless medieval building, haunted by the echoes and shadows of past congregations. What has the Church of England come to?”

Good question. Some vicars may be frightened into complicit silence, but they are deeply offended at being called “key limiting factors”, while their loyal parishioners are sneered at as “passengers”. Increasingly, prominent clergy like Marcus Walker and Giles Fraser are speaking out against the idiocy of pretending you can simply “plant” 10,000 lay churches without any proper structure or safeguarding measures. Let alone the worry of allowing over 12,500 listed buildings to fall into disuse while potentially permitting untrained shysters to instruct vulnerable people in the faith in their sitting rooms.

This is particularly important, as it relates to the cowardly closure of our churches during the first coronavirus lockdown in 2020:

What the hell are the Archbishop and bishops playing at? It is a bitter irony that those who have presided over the decline of the faith now indulge in this sort of displacement activity to distract attention from their own ineptitude and extravagance, indulging in empire-building while allowing the vast practical good done by the parishes to wither on the vine. During the pandemic, millions craved a place of reassurance, a slender handrail of belief to cling on to. Churches were the ideal refuge, but the Archbishop didn’t fight to keep them open. A vital opportunity for spreading Jesus’s teaching was lost.

I couldn’t agree more.

Alison Pearson advises concerned parishoners what to do, mentioning Save the Parish:

What can we do? The clergy and the people do have a say and this is the moment for rebellion. We need to assist the parishes to withstand the assault from the dioceses which are better described as the “key limiting factors”. You can go to savetheparish.com, which offers a number of ways to help. Write to your MP. Parochial Church Council consent is needed for the closure of churches – don’t give it. The church building belongs to the parish, so does the vicarage, if they haven’t sold it yet.

You can ringfence your parish assets and put them in a trust out of reach of the diocese. The Parish Share is voluntary – a “free-will offering” – so you definitely don’t have to give it to a hierarchy that wants to starve your parish and its wonderful church of resources so that Ray and Brenda can host Holy Communion in their hot tub.

She concludes by quoting one of my favourite hymns, Dear Lord and Father of Mankind:

Dear Lord and Father of mankind, forgive their foolish ways. Reclothe us in our rightful mind, in purer lives thy service find, in deeper reverence, praise.

In August, George Carey, the former Archbishop of Canterbury, joined the revolt.

The Revd Peter Anthony directed disgruntled and disaffected Anglicans to an article by the Revd Giles Fraser, co-founder of UnHerd and former Canon of St Paul’s Cathedral in London. Pictured below is the current Archbishop of Canterbury, Justin Welby:

Giles Fraser wrote:

A quiet but unmistakable rebellion is taking place within the Church of England, a groundswell of anger bubbling up from that most British of institutions: the Parish Church. And support for it shows no sign of waning.

“The current trajectory of our church is a huge mistake and the leadership is out of touch with ordinary churchgoers,” George Carey, the former Archbishop of Canterbury, wrote yesterday. “It is time to rally the troops.”

He was writing in support of the newly formed Save the Parish movement — a group I have been plotting with from its creation. And yes, that is a staggering thing for a former Archbishop to say about the current leadership.

Fraser outlines the problem which has pitted the laity and local vicars against the CofE Establishment — the plan to replace existing churches with home churches, thereby getting rid of clergy:

It is ordinary churchgoers and faithful church wardens who have looked after their churches for years, as well as clergy padding about in their parish, visiting the sick, burying the dead and administering the sacraments, who are most angry about this betrayal. It feels like we are in the middle of an aggressive corporate takeover.

If you flick through the jobs section of the Church Times, you can see this effect almost straight away. It used to be full of jobs for the Rector of This and the Vicar of That. But such vacancies have increasingly been replaced by people with unrecognisable and convoluted job descriptions. Now they advertise areas of responsibility that have little to do with parish ministry, answerable directly to a line manager somewhere in Church House.

Jobs that began as a way of supporting the mission of the parish are now being regarded as its cheaper replacement. The parish clergy are “limiting factors” and the people in the pews merely “passengers”, as one senior Anglican clergyman put it last month.

No need for priests, or expensive theological education and the like. 10,000 new churches are imagined, led by lay people, not clergy. Many will not have a building, just a website. Many will meet on Zoom. It’s not really what most of us would call a church. But if “the church is the people not the building”, as goes the oft-heard mantra, then why not? There is certainly no need to worry about a leaky roof when you’re only online …

the idea that we would be more entrepreneurial and light of foot if we were to hand the keys over to the National Trust is an absolute fantasy.

“Pioneers” is what the Church’s Head of Evangelism, Canon Dave Male, wants more of. Pioneers must be “freed up”, he says. But the problem here is that the weight of parish commitments, even the building, is what keeps us from floating off into some abstract theological space. The parish is grounded, rooted in place and time.

Yes, the pandemic has left the church feeling the pinch financially — and there is much need for belt-tightening. But we have far too many Bishops for the number of churchgoers that we now have. Probably far too many Dioceses as well, each with its own set of managers and advisors. Save the Parish believes that in times when finances are hard, it is the front-line parishes that should be supported as a priority rather than directing funds away towards another new top-down initiative.

Too right.

The rot started as long ago as 1976! This is unbelievable:

In 1976, the central Church decided that the parish was an inefficient way of running things and brought the ownership of parish assets under the control of the Diocese, introducing a whole new layer of management to look after the parish’s assets. From here on in, the Diocese began to have its own ideas about how best to spend a parish’s assets. Vicarages were sold off. The clergy were paid from a central pot. And power shifted from the parishes to the Diocesan structures.

This is the result:

Last week, we gathered as Save the Parish for the first time in the ancient St Bartholomew’s church in Smithfield. Alison Millbank, Canon Theologian from Southwell Cathedral, put the matter plainly: “the Church of England has totally capitulated to market values and managerialism… There has been a tendency to view the parish like some inherited embarrassing knick-knack from a great-aunt that you wish were in the attic.”

The fightback, it’s safe to say, has started. At the end of the event, Fr Marcus Walker, the Rector of St Bartholomew’s, described Save the Parish as “the last chance to save the system that has defined Christianity in this country for 1000 years”. He may not have been exaggerating.

Wow.

Fraser’s article appeared on August 11.

On August 12, UnHerd generously, in my opinion, published a response by the Revd James Mumford, ‘What the “Save the Parish” campaign doesn’t understand’.

Mumford wants the Church to become more secular, something that I also posted about last week, with warnings from John MacArthur.

Mumford says, erroneously:

What is frustrating about the traditionalists is that they don’t seem to be willing to make room for secular 21st century Brits. Father Marcus Walker, Rector of St. Bartholomew’s in London, at the launch of Save the Parish dismissed ‘a style of church set up in a cinema or bar or converted Chinese takeaway,’ but this has the whiff of snobbery about it. It seems to suggest that people exist for the sake of the church, not the church for the sake of people. Jonah felt the same way about the Ninevites. He, not they, were engorged by the obliging whale.

Then there’s the criticism that any ecclesial attempts to innovate, to do things differently, to experiment is, as academic Alison Milbank puts it, ‘a capitulation to market values.’ This, again, simply isn’t true. The church is merely trying to reach as many souls as it can.

Jesus of Nazareth clearly saw his mission as a desacralizing one. Instead of hallowing one particular place in which to worship, Christ tells the Samaritan woman in John 4, ‘a time is coming and has now come when the true worshippers will worship the Father in the Spirit and in truth, for they are the kind of worshipers the Father seeks.’ It wasn’t about stones any more, he taught, it was about people.

Jesus meant that it wasn’t about the temple in Jerusalem anymore, because it had become a den of vipers. He never called for local synagogues to be closed. In fact, He preached in them (e.g. Nazareth, Capernaum).

The Revd Marcus Walker responded to Mumford’s article, explaining his objection to the Church’s purchase of a Chinese takeaway in Rochdale, Lancashire, for £5 million when there is a perfectly serviceable church nearby:

This will cost far more than £5 million. The Church will have to pay a lay team to run it:

He concludes:

Now I’m sure that Janie Cronin is wonderful & will make a great success of the Nelson Street Church. I know that there are wonderful examples of plants revitalising parishes gloriously. But I hope

will concede that my concerns are about this allocation of resources

A priest responded to the thread in just the right way:

Woah! Excuse me, the church exists for the sake of Jesus Christ! ‘The church exists for the sake of people’, no it exists for the glory of God. The proposed reforms are essentially a mix of humanism and marketing. #SaveTheParish

Giles Fraser picked up on the thread:

Sure enough, a priest did challenge Marcus Walker:

Returning to the former Archbishop of Canterbury, George Carey, a few people blamed him for the current shift away from parish churches. Here is one of them:

Now, on to the present day. Churchgoers are deeply unhappy with the current Archbishop of Canterbury and the plan for fewer parish churches. This theologian has a way with words:

On August 19, Giles Fraser told The Telegraph‘s Planet Normal hosts, Alison Pearson and Tim Stanley, that the parish church takes in everyone who wants to attend, regardless of their personal or political persuasions, even though Brexit can be problematic at times:

As if things couldn’t get any worse, on Thursday, October 14, an editorial appeared in The Times: ‘Thanks to Church of England accounting, parishes are disappearing’.

It begins with this:

Last Saturday was a sad day for the Church of England. In Leicester diocese, the governing body voted in favour of a plan to fold 234 parishes into the embrace of 20 to 25 huge groups, called minster communities, by 2026. One in five local vicars will disappear, creating what sounds like a clerical car pool. “Thank you for calling the minster community help line. Press 1 for help with a very sick relative or friend. Press 2 for help with bereavement. Press 3 to arrange a funeral.” This could be the future for the people of Leicester’s historic parishes.

Those closures didn’t necessarily need to happen:

An alternative option, to cut Leicester’s diocesan administrative costs by 10 per cent, was rejected. The C of E behaves like a socialist republic: demanding increasing “tax” (parish share) from dwindling numbers of churchgoers, then spending too much of it on its own bureaucracy. Moreover, as The Times reported last month, in 2017-2020 it spent £248 million on “renewal and reform” projects that failed to increase church attendance.

The editorial says that only one person guarantees large donations — a priest:

Bureaucracy and waste deter donors. Yet Leicester hopes to increase giving by 2 per cent — how? The church’s own studies show that donations correlate to numbers of paid clergy. The one identifiable Christian in the community is a priest in a dog collar. Grouping parishes empowers dioceses to sell parish-owned assets, incontinently using the capital to pay their own running costs, but it disincentivises donors. A 1,000-year-old system of independent parishes could be collapsed by short-term panic thinking and inadequate projections.

Furthermore:

The church’s growth policy report, From Anecdote to Evidence, confirms what rural parishioners like me witness: that parish amalgamations and building sales establish a spiral of decline. Selling a parsonage signals “game over” and leaves a community unlikely to have a vicar again.

Ironically, Justin Welby said not so long ago that he supports the traditional parish model:

The Archbishop of Canterbury has said, “I am passionate that the parish is essential.” In the Archbishop of York’s current General Synod update GS2223 he calls for “priest and people working together”. These exhortations from our spiritual leaders, the trend towards localism and the church’s own empirical evidence are all being ignored.

Words and actions are two entirely different things. I despair.

Meanwhile, there is always the Save the Parish Network. May the grace of God be with them:

I hope to have more on this situation at a future date.

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