MPs Questions to Church Commissioners: Cathedrals, same-sex marriage, investments, mission, growth and female bishops
In Church Commissioners’ question time in the House of Commons on 27th March Sir Tony Baldry MP was asked by MPs to answer questions on cathedral repairs, same-sex marriage, investment returns, diocesan mission and church growth.
What the current estimated cost is of necessary repairs to cathedrals in England; and what steps are being taken to ensure that cathedrals remain open to the public.
The Second Church Estates Commissioner (Sir Tony Baldry): The current estimated shortfall in the cost of repairs to cathedrals is £87 million over the next five years, over and above what the cathedrals are currently spending on repairs annually.
Martin Vickers: I thank my right hon. Friend for that answer. Does he recognise the importance of keeping our cathedrals open, as they are a magnet for tourism and bring benefits to the wider community and the tourist trade in particular? Will he ensure that the Church maintains a close working relationship with other parts of the tourist industry?
Sir Tony Baldry: I entirely agree with my hon. Friend. Cathedrals are incredibly important in terms of heritage. Lincoln cathedral, which is in my hon. Friend’s constituency in the diocese of Lincoln, needed repairs to its stonework, and I am very grateful, as I am sure is the whole House, for the announcement in the Chancellor’s Budget of £20 million to help cathedrals. I hope that some of that money will be able to find its way to Lincoln cathedral.
Michael Fabricant (Lichfield) (Con): My right hon. Friend will know that Lichfield cathedral urgently requires rewiring, but it will be unable to access funds from the Heritage Lottery Fund. Will it be able to access money from the generous grant made by the Chancellor of the Exchequer so that we can repair the wiring, if not the roof, while the sun is shining?
Sir Tony Baldry: There is clearly an urgent need to rewire Lichfield cathedral; indeed, if it is not done, there is a real risk that the cathedral might close. It was exactly for that sort of purpose—repairing guttering, rewiring—that the Chancellor very generously included provision for £20 million in his Budget. I look forward to visiting Lichfield at some point when the rewiring is done.
Same-sex Marriage (Priests)
Mr Ben Bradshaw (Exeter) (Lab): What the Church of England’s policy is on priests entering a same-sex marriage; and what guidance has been given on what would happen to a priest who did so.
Sir Tony Baldry: Clergy andordinands remain free to enter into civil partnerships. The House of Bishops in its pastoral guidance distributed on 15 February said that it was not willing for those in same-sex marriages to be ordained to any of the three orders of ministry—deacon, clergy or bishops—and that
“it would not be appropriate conduct for someone in holy orders to enter into a same-sex marriage, given the need for clergy to model the Church’s teaching in their lives”.
As with any alleged instance of misconduct, each case would have to be considered individually by the local diocesan bishop.
Mr Bradshaw: In light of the recent Pilling report, does the right hon. Gentleman believe it would be sensible if a hard-working, popular priest got married with the full support of his or her parish and congregation and was then disciplined, sacked or defrocked?
Sir Tony Baldry: The situation is clear. The Church of England’s understanding of marriage remains unchanged: marriage is a lifelong union between one man and one woman, and under the canons of the Church of England marriage is defined as being between a man and a woman. The canons of the Church of England retain their legal status as part of the law of England and I would hope that no priest who has taken an oath of canonical obedience would wish to challenge canon law and the law of England.
Mr David Nuttall (Bury North) (Con): What the anticipated return is on the Church Commissioners’ investments for the current financial year.
Sir Tony Baldry: The Church Commissioners are finalising their asset valuations and anticipate the total return for 2013 to be about 15% to 16%. The continued steady return will enable the Church Commissioners to continue the level of support that they give the ministry of the Church of England.
Mr Nuttall: I am grateful to my right hon. Friend for that reply. In the light of it, can he say what support the Church Commissioners might be able to make available to fund local community projects to encourage growth in the Church at parish level?
Sir Tony Baldry: I hope that during the course of this coming year the Church Commissioners will be able to make about £90 million available to support local community projects—projects in the diocese of Manchester and throughout the country—and to help serve the whole community of the country, making it clear that the Church of England is a national Church.
Tim Loughton (East Worthing and Shoreham) (Con): Does my right hon. Friend share my concern that Church Commissioners’ investments might be being added to by the increasing trend for high charges for access to cathedrals and important Church establishments, led by Westminster abbey, which people need to take out a mortgage to access these days? Does he agree that the practice of other countries’ giving a discounted rate to local people or seasonal rates for access so that local people can access their churches would be appropriate?
Sir Tony Baldry: My hon. Friend will find that in other countries the system is different. For example, in Germany the state supports all the cathedrals and churches, whereas the Church of England has to fund all our cathedrals and all our churches itself. We have the stewardship of more grade I listed buildings than any other entity. If my hon. Friend wants to go to worship in the cathedral, he can always do that for free, but I do not think anyone would object to tourists who want to see the heritage of a cathedral having to pay a modest amount to see that and support it.
Miss Anne McIntosh (Thirsk and Malton) (Con):
How much money the Church Commissioners anticipate they will be able to distribute to dioceses across England to support their mission in 2014.
Sir Tony Baldry: The Church Commissioners support the mission of each diocese depending on its need. Each diocese generally receives between £1 million and over £3 million, but that covers only a small proportion of the cost of running the Church. We must never underestimate the importance of the generous giving of church congregations, which accounts for most of the rest.
Miss McIntosh: The village church is at the heart of rural life, and I am delighted to say that the Bishop of Knaresborough is joining us for a celebration of the countryside on Saturday. What is the split between rural and urban pay from the diocesan contribution? I ask because the costs of running rural parishes are extremely high.
Sir Tony Baldry: My hon. Friend is right to say that the parish church is invariably at the heart of English village life. It is difficult distinguishing between urban and rural dioceses, as many dioceses are very mixed. Her diocese of York receives between £2.5 million and £3 million each year. The dioceses with the greatest deprivation, Durham and Manchester, receive more than £3 million. We are trying to ensure that adequate financial support is provided by the Church Commissioners and the Church as a whole both to parishes in inner-city areas and to rural parishes serving important villages in her constituency, because the Church of England is a national Church which must reach every part of England.
Church Growth Research Programme
Andrew Selous (South West Bedfordshire) (Con): What steps are being taken to help dioceses and parishes engage and take action with reference to the Church growth research programme.
Sir Tony Baldry: The findings from the Church growth research programme have been disseminated widely within the Church, and are informing diocesan strategies and practices at parish level. Further practical online resources are being developed and events are being planned to help dioceses and parishes to engage with the research and take action.
Andrew Selous: Does my right hon. Friend agree that many examples of good practice are available, where church congregations have increased significantly, often through using the Alpha course or courses such as Christianity Explored? Does he also agree that church planting could be looked at, too?
Sir Tony Baldry:My hon. Friend will know that the most significant growth in the Church of England has been identified in fresh expressions of church, church planting and midweek attendance at cathedrals. I am sure he will be pleased to know that only this week the Archbishop of Canterbury chaired the first meeting of an evangelism task group, because growing the Church of England is, obviously, an extremely important challenge for the Church of England.
Written Question, answered by the Second Church Estates Commission on 27th March, 2014:
Charlie Elphicke: To ask the right hon. Member for Banbury, representing the Church Commissioners, what estimate he has made of when it will be possible for women to be bishops in the Church of England. Sir Tony Baldry: 20 of the 44 dioceses of the Church of England have currently voted in favour of the new measure to enable women to become bishops. The majority of the dioceses will have voted by 22 May with the exception of the Diocese of Europe which will enable the measure to be considered at the July meeting of the General Synod in York.
The General Synod will need to obtain a two thirds majority in each of the three Houses of the Synod for this measure to pass. If General Synod pass the necessary measure in July it would be possible to complete the passage of the measure in time for the canon to be promulged and the first woman to be eligible for nomination before the end of this year.