Church Commissioner Questions: digital connectivity, ordination of women, Easter

On 28th March 2019 the Second Church Estates Commissioner, Rt Hon Dame Caroline Spelman MP, answered questions from MPs on digital connectivity, the 25th anniversary of the ordination of women, and Easter church attendance.

Church Commissioners

The right hon. Member for Meriden, representing the Church Commissioners, was asked—

Church Land and Buildings: Digital Connectivity

Mrs Sheryll Murray (South East Cornwall) (Con): To ask the right hon. Member for Meriden, representing the Church Commissioners, what progress has been made on implementing the joint accord between the Government and the Church of England on the use of Church land and buildings to support digital connectivity. [910102]

Scott Mann (North Cornwall) (Con): To ask the right hon. Member for Meriden, representing the Church Commissioners, what recent discussions the Church of England has had with the Secretary of State for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport on using church spires to facilitate the provision of broadband in rural areas. [910103]

The Second Church Estates Commissioner (Dame Caroline Spelman): It gives me very special pleasure to respond to my hon. Friend the Member for South East Cornwall (Mrs Murray) because it allows me to extend to her my very best wishes for her wedding on Saturday. I am sure the House joins me in that.

The Church of England is working with stakeholders to produce guidance for churches to be published in May. The guidance should assist churches in making the best use of the joint accord between the Government and the Church to support digital connectivity. Two hundred churches have taken up the opportunity of the new technology, adding to the existing 300 that had already done so.

Mrs Murray: I thank my right hon. Friend for her good wishes. Is she aware of any specific problems that discourage parishes from taking up the opportunity to improve connectivity in rural areas such as South East Cornwall, and at the same time increasing parish income? If so, can the Government do anything to help?

Dame Caroline Spelman: It is largely about awareness or perceived barriers—some people think it is impossible to be a candidate, but I reassure my hon. Friend that it is perfectly possible to install digital technology infrastructure even in listed buildings. I encourage her to raise awareness locally. Two churches in the Truro diocese were granted facility in 2017, but two is not many in the whole diocese. Anything that can be done to encourage other churches to look at the opportunity to improve broadband coverage in their area would be gratefully received.

Scott Mann: It is a pleasure to be coupled with my hon. Friend the Member for South East Cornwall (Mrs Murray). I wish her the very best in her coupling this weekend—a proper Cornish wedding in Westminster.

After discussions with the Church Commissioners officer, I am aware that there are no reasons why church spires cannot be used for boosting broadband signals in rural areas. I recently had a good meeting with Cornwall Broadband, a local provider, which would like to open a dialogue with the churches in Cornwall to utilise their spires. Would the Church Commissioners be interested in that dialogue, and what advice can the right hon. Lady offer to facilitate those discussions?

Dame Caroline Spelman: The Church Commissioners would be interested, but the initiative comes very much from the diocese; I encourage them to make contact through the diocesan office. Some diocese have progressed faster with this opportunity, particularly in East Anglia—almost 300 churches in Norfolk, Suffolk and Essex alone have installed this digital technology, for example. One of the key barriers is not knowing where the notspots for mobile and broadband signals are. All colleagues can get involved: if there is a tall church building in the vicinity of a notspot, perhaps this technology is for them.


Ordination of Women: Priesthood

Mark Menzies (Fylde) (Con): To ask the right hon. Member for Meriden, representing the Church Commissioners, what steps the Church of England is taking to mark the 25th anniversary of women’s ordination to the priesthood. [910105]

The Second Church Estates Commissioner (Dame Caroline Spelman): There are a number of significant anniversaries this year. It is the 25th anniversary of women’s ordination as priests, the 50th anniversary of women being made readers and the fifth anniversary of women being consecrated as bishops. The Archbishop of Canterbury has held a special service at Lambeth Palace to celebrate the anniversary, and events have also been taking place in diocese.

Mark Menzies: Throughout 2018, celebrations were rightly held in honour of the centenary of the women’s vote. What plans does the commission have to carry on in that vein for the 25th anniversary of women’s ordination to the priesthood?

Dame Caroline Spelman: Our plans are to pursue our determination to encourage more women into the priesthood. For the record, I share with the House the fact that the number of female clergy is now at a record high: women now make up nearly a third of the 20,000 active clergy. More importantly, there are those in the pipeline: more than half those entering training for the priesthood in 2018 were women.


Easter Church Attendance

Kevin Foster (Torbay) (Con): To ask the right hon. Member for Meriden, representing the Church Commissioners, what plans the Church of England has to encourage more families to attend church this Easter. [910107]

The Second Church Estates Commissioner (Dame Caroline Spelman): Parish churches will be welcoming parents and families especially back to church this weekend for Mothering Sunday. What better year to record with grateful thanks all of those involved in making it possible for mothers to have their names on marriage certificates? Even though Mothering Sunday takes place during Lent, it is a feast day. In preparation for Lent, the Church has developed a free Lent pilgrim app and emails, and the campaign material is also available on Alexa.

Kevin Foster: I thank my right hon. Friend for her answer. As she knows, Easter is a special time for us Christians as it represents the absolute core of our faith. There is something unique and special about spending it in church, so can she outline what work the Church of England is doing to reach out via social media and the internet to families who may not normally be church attenders to come and share that special joy with us?

Dame Caroline Spelman: The Church has been winning awards for the range of innovative resources it uses to develop support for local churches and encourage their communities to use them. For example, there is achurchnearyou.com, a finder website that has more than 10 million visitors a year and has seen a big increase in the number of people using the site and spending time on it.

Hard copies of the Church’s materials are also available. Should the rigours of Brexit be too much, it is not too late for Members to avail themselves of the “Pilgrim Journeys” book of daily readings to get us through to Easter.

via Parliament.uk