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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.

May God continue to bless the faithful vicars of Christ who happen to be in the Church of England (CofE).

The others, sadly, are destroying our established church in the way that John MacArthur warned about more generally in 1998.

On January 25, 2022, Dr Jim McConalogue wrote an article for Comment Central on the same topic: ‘The Church is to blame for its own decline as a moral leader’.

Dr McConalogue begins by detailing the number of church closures in recent years (emphases mine):

A recent Telegraph investigation this month into Church of England data found that more than 400 churches have closed in a decade. The data showed that 940 of its churches were shut between 1987 and 2019423 of them were closed between 2010 and 2019. Across the Church’s 42 dioceses, it marks a drop of 6 per cent fewer churches.

The flight from faith is being further marked by the number of people describing themselves as Christian falling to only just over half the population (51 per cent), the lowest level recorded. In general, of those in their twenties, 53.4 per cent say they have no religion; for those in their sixties, it is about 27.1 per cent, according to the Office for National Statistics.

Spirituality that centres on holiness has gone out the window. Socio-political causes have replaced the quest for sanctification:

Last year, a team of researchers – including myself – investigated the scale of clergy support for radical progressive activist agendas throughout the 42 dioceses, which had some remarkable findings.

Over eight in ten of the dioceses appoint clergy who advocate radical racial justice claims or express concerns for ‘institutional’ or ‘systemic’ racism. Just under 90 per cent of those racial justice activist claims – all described in our report – came within the first six months of the UK racial justice campaigns in May 2020, following the national Black Lives Matters protests in the United States. Similarly, just over seven in ten of the dioceses appoint clergy who promote climate activism and ecological warnings, including calls for the recognition of a climate emergency.

The common denominator has been a widespread acquiescence by the clergy setting aside ordinary human values and the Church’s moral message in favour of the adoption of questionable, unevidenced narratives deployed by the so-called progressive movements of the day.

The unqualified reception of unchallenged ideas is not specific to the Church even though it has a unique impact on their members – it continues to be symptomatic of what is happening throughout civil society. It depends upon telling reasonable citizens they must comply with those narratives in order to survive and thrive.

During the height of the pandemic in the summer of 2020, the CofE’s churches were closed. Zoom services took place. What were the messages given at parish level? Did they offer solace and comfort to those who were worried about coronavirus or who were grieving over their ailing or dead relatives? No. The CofE messages given during this time — I have my own email collection of them from church — were about combating racism.

McConalogue concludes:

The resolution to the Church’s moral panic may more likely be found in its own faith, in being thoughtful and less fearful – and not in the faulty mantras of identity-based progressive movements. The Church must look beyond superficially appealing to ‘slicker models of evangelistic marketing’ and instead recognis[e] the place of the faithful, as [the Revd] Giles Fraser has argued. It is those faithful people who attend church to say their prayers who are at the centre of each of the parishes.

Let us examine what happened in the CofE in 2021, still during the pandemic and when churches had reopened.

In April, an Anglican contributor to The Conservative Woman considered that the CofE had ‘cancelled’ her and others who had worshipped faithfully week after week:

Those who turn up every Sunday and other days, having voluntarily cleaned the building, arranged the flowers, rung the bells, read the lesson, served the tea and biscuits, given lifts and devised and delivered the parish mag in all weathers. Belittled and scorned for serving their community with humility and kindness, they may be forgiven for wondering what on earth they have done to deserve such a barrage of hostility and condemnation.

… Some of us have had enough. Instead of promoting this country as an open, tolerant and democratic society, the Archbishop and his colleagues are presiding over a church in its death throes. Supine before the forces of a minority of myopic and divisive far-Left activists within the Church, they have cancelled those many disaffected Anglicans, mystified by a sustained barrage of unwarranted recriminations, who have left the church they once loved and now feel they have no spiritual home.

In the summer of 2021, the CofE hierarchy and the General Synod decided to plan how to do church differently. It wasn’t the faithful who were being sidelined, but also some clergy. Furthermore, church buildings would have to go. Zoom church could continue with a few ‘hub’ churches remaining open for those who were fortunate enough to live nearby. House churches would be the place of worship for most Anglicans in England.

Part of the hierarchical narrative is that our national church, which originated in England, is somehow an ‘inherited’ church that needs to reinvent itself. Good grief:

The Synod’s goal is to close existing churches, create 10,000 home churches and get rid of ordained priests, termed as being a ‘limited factor’. The home churches would be lay-led. This might be a developing strategy for nations on other continents, but surely, the CofE’s infrastructure is already in place — and has been for centuries:

This model is not appropriate for England, already established in structure and in law.

How can a lay minister, not an Anglican norm, administer the Sacraments? Such a person would have no spiritual authority.

The Revd Peter Anthony disagrees with the plan:

The next tweet has a more detailed view of the overall plan. Egregious:

The Revd Philip Murray explains why house churches are, rightly, no longer the norm in the West:

The Revd Giles Fraser, a former Canon of St Paul’s Cathedral and current Rector at the south London church of St Mary’s, Newington, London, wrote an article for UnHerd, a publication he co-founded: ‘The Church is abandoning its flock’.

His article begins with this:

“We don’t preach morality, we plant churches. We don’t preach therapeutic care, we plant churches.” Justin Welby, July 2021

There are some forms of Christianity that exist only in order to reproduce. Christians are here to make new Christians who, in turn, are called to go out there and make even more new ones. The purpose of church life is to beget more church life. Randy for converts, these good shepherds admire the sheep in the pews principally for their reproductive qualities. And you can tell it’s these sorts of Christians that are now running the show in the Church of England, because those of us who are deemed to be infertile or firing evangelistic blanks are being slated for the knacker’s yard. The latest group to be targeted for a cull are the clergy themselves. In more senses than one, we are being directed to Genesis chapter nine, verse seven: “Go forth and multiply!”

The new growth strategy from head office is code named Myriad, Greek for ten thousand. The idea is to have 10,000 new churches by 2030, creating a million new disciples. Don’t worry about the figures too much, they are nothing more than fantasy numbers plucked from the sky. As a general rule, church growth is inversely proportional to the big talk coming from head office. Of course, we are all supposed to nod along, as if this is some fabulous, exciting initiative. As Martyn Percy, the Dean of the Cathedral in Oxford, explained, it’s becoming a bit like one of those Stalinist 10-year plans, something we are all obliged to cheer, yet one that is totally disconnected to reality.

The latest Great Leap Forward for the C of E looks like this. Get rid of all those crumbling churches. Get rid of the clergy. Do away with all that expensive theological education. These are all “limiting factors”. Instead, focus relentlessly on young people. Growth, Young People, Forwards. Purge the church of all those clapped-out clergy pottering about in their parishes. Forget the Eucharist, or at least, put those who administer it on some sort of zero hours contract. Sell their vicarages. This is what our new shepherds want in their prize sheep: to be young, dumb, and full of evangelistic… zeal.

Fraser goes on to discuss other disastrous CofE projects, including the Decade of Evangelism during the 1990s:

It was an embarrassing disaster.

He correctly tells us where this plan came from — the Archbishop of Canterbury consecrating the Sacrament in his own kitchen on Easter Sunday 2020, saying that we do not need church buildings:

Covid has finally given its proponents the opportunity they need. When the Archbishop of Canterbury decided to celebrate and broadcast the Eucharist on Easter Day 2020 from his kitchen, rather than popping down a few stairs to Lambeth Palace’s fine 13th-century chapel, he was clearly making a point: all those old stones are holding us back, they are unnecessary. It’s called “a new way of being church”. Our new churches will meet in people’s homes, not in churches. Around 20-30 will gather in the living rooms of the wealthiest people in the parish — who else has a living room that can sit this many people?

Fraser says that some CofE dioceses are actively culling clergy, preferring administrators instead:

Parish churches are being stripped of their clergy. The Diocese of Chelmsford is culling 61 posts by 2021 with a further 49 under threat by 2026. Others are following suit. But as these “limiting factor” clergy are being culled, central funds are being directed towards new evangelistic initiatives through what is called Strategic Development Funding from the £9 billion piggy bank held by the fabulously wealthy Church Commissioners. Dioceses can now apply for money from a £45-million pot set aside to support this new look C of E. And many of the new jobs that are being funded are not for parish-based clergy, but for a whole new level of managers with new-fangled titles like assistant archdeacon and mission enablers. This is the mechanism by which the church is being transformed. Even those Bishops that want to resist this dismantling of traditional structures are being out manoeuvred.

Not surprisingly, some clergy are clearly unhappy:

If you are not a part of the great push forward, you are just so much baggage. Little wonder there is now a white-hot anger within the rank and file of the priesthood. Consider this from the former Dear of Exeter Cathedral, Jonathan Draper.

“It is ironic, of course, that these proposals are being pushed by those who have both presided over the church’s decline and had the long and expensive theological education which they would jettison. There is nothing from the leadership of the church that reflects on their own part in decline, their own ineptitude, bullying, sense of entitlement, and in the failure to connect with the very people they would like to see fill the houses of the sufficiently wealthy in this brave new ecclesial world.”

I have never seen this level of fury from within the church during my 25 years as a priest.

Fraser says that the CofE must return to its roots in faith and not be ashamed about why it exists:

The Church feels like a gauche teenage boy going out to the pub deliberately to find a girlfriend, covering himself with cheap aftershave and rehearsing his unconvincing chat-up lines. It’s all so cringeworthy and needy. The way you make yourself attractive to others is by being fully yourself, and having confidence in what you are – even if that is a little strange and different. It’s when you stop obsessing about attracting others that you become more attractive to them.

But also, the church is not called to be successful. It is called to be faithful. I would prefer for us to die with dignity, being faithful to our calling, rather than to turn ourselves inside out trying to be superficially attractive, thus abandoning the faith as we have understood it. Indeed, the Bible is full of stores of the faithful remnant. In Biblical theology, the remnant are those faithful people that survive some catastrophe. Today, these are the people who come to church, faithfully to say their prayers — people of devotion and not necessarily of evangelistic vim and vigour. They are the beating heart of the parish. Eleanor Rigby, Father McKenzie: these are my heroes. And long term, these are our most effective evangelists. I am deeply offended that they are now called passengers.

He concludes:

We won’t be saved by panicky spread-sheet evangelists, Indeed, we must be more of what we have been called to be – more thoughtful, more prayerful, less fearful, more obedient to God’s call. We are resurrection people after all. Institutional death should hold out no terror for the faithful. And it will only be this lack of fear that can make us attractive once again.

Tremendous — and true!

Meanwhile, other concerned clergy teamed up with the laity to mount a resistance: stand for the General Synod.

The Revd Marcus Walker encouraged the opposition movement, called the Save the Parish network:

Not surprisingly, by August 2021, the CofE and certain media outlets tried to smear Save the Parish:

I will have more on this next week, all being well.

For now, this is just an introduction to what is happening in the home of Anglicanism. May the good Lord graciously help the faithful oppose the hierarchy.

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