Archbishop of Canterbury Justin Welby is determined to continue opposing the government’s Illegal Migration Bill but for how much longer will Anglican bishops be allowed a platform in Parliament?
MPs’ disillusion with the Church of England’s leadership, it seems, is being fuelled not so much by political disagreements but by the creation of mega-parishes depriving local communities of their vicars.
The Save the Parish network has posted on its website a recent BBC Politics South West broadcast in which two regular church-going MPs, one Conservative and one Labour, were fiercely critical of the CofE hierarchy, particularly in Cornwall’s Truro diocese where the cost-cutting strategy of amalgamating parishes is being rolled out.
Filmed playing the organ in a parish church and then in the lobby of the House of Commons, Chris Loder, Conservative MP for Dorset West, said: “One of the things I’ve valued so much in my life is being able to know who the parish priest is and to be able to have a relationship with them and that’s very, very important. That’s something that is becoming more and more difficult I think, particularly in the diocese of Truro.”
He then called on the CofE bishops in the House of Lords to put their own house in order before presuming to “pontificate” about political issues: “I know that when people see here in the Houses of Parliament bishops having very strong opinions – you could say pontificating on legislation here in Parliament – rather than focussing on the health and well-being of the Church of which they are leaders, it understandably is causing great concern.”
Labour MP for Exeter Ben Bradshaw joined Loder in criticising frontline clergy cuts. He said: “The Church of England is an extremely rich institution. It is one of our country’s major land owners. There are certain dioceses, and Truro is one of these, where there are real concerns that there’s money in the pot that’s not being used to support and appoint clergy.
“Parishes are losing their clergy or getting these huge mega-parishes which are unmanageable and people, particularly in rural areas, are not being served.”
Controversy is now raging over the formation of mega-parishes, called Minster Communities, in Leicester diocese after the first one was launched on April 30. The Launde Minster Community brings together 35 churches in 24 parishes under one “Oversight Minister”, Canon Jonathan Dowman.
In a letter to the Church Times on May 26, Leicester’s diocesan secretary, Jonathan Kerry, responded to an article by Canon Angela Tilby which was critical of the scheme. He wrote: “It is incorrect to state that minster communities are an attempt to merge or abolish parishes. Rather, they seek to put them on a footing that is sustainable for mission and ministry in the 21st century and is financially self-sustaining.”
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