Church Commissioner Questions: parishes, freedom of religion, housing, Channel crossings, marriage, new clergy, arts and culture

On 28th April 2022 MPs asked Andrew Selous MP, representing the Church Commissioners, about parish ministry, freedom of religion & belief, affordable and sustainable housing, illegal migrant crossings in the Channel, families parenting and marriage, candidates entering Holy Orders, and supporting arts and culture. A transcript is below.

Parish Ministry

Robin Millar (Aberconwy) (Con)

1. To ask the hon. Member for South West Bedfordshire, representing the Church Commissioners, what steps the Church of England is taking to strengthen its parish ministry. (906628)

The Second Church Estates Commissioner (Andrew Selous): The Church of England is distributing £160 million between 2020 and 2022 through our lowest income communities fund and our strategic development funding. That funding sustains the Church’s ministry in many low-income communities and that footprint, across the whole country, is incredibly precious to us and we do not want to lose it.

Robin Millar: The Church plays a key part in many communities in Aberconwy, never more so than during the pandemic. The Church in Wales is encouraging its lay members to use their skills, time and resources to serve their communities. Will my hon. Friend give an assurance that lay workers will benefit from the levelling-up fund to aid that ministry of service to their communities?

Andrew Selous: I know that my hon. Friend and many of his constituents hugely appreciate the key role that the Church plays in communities across Aberconwy. My colleagues in the Church of England are always glad for opportunities to exchange ideas for and experiences of strengthening parish ministry with the Church in Wales, with which we have a very warm relationship.

Mr Barry Sheerman (Huddersfield) (Lab/Co-op): Will the hon. Gentleman give some attention to what the Church of England is doing to stimulate the ministry up and down the country by giving far more incentives to get involved in sustainability issues and green issues? At the church at which I worship, it is a breath of fresh air that gives focus to the community. Can we have more of it encouraged in the Church?

Andrew Selous: The hon. Gentleman is absolutely right. He will know that many churches are now eco-churches and there is a methodology to ensure that they are doing it properly. I can also tell him that the Church Commissioners have embarked on a major regenerative agriculture programme. He is absolutely right that we need to talk more about the subject to encourage young people in particular into the Church.

Freedom of Religion and Belief

Fiona Bruce (Congleton) (Con)

2. To ask the hon. Member for South West Bedfordshire, representing the Church Commissioners, what steps the Church of England is taking to promote the freedom of religion and belief globally. (906629)

Andrew Selous: In addition to the involvement that the Church will have with the international ministerial conference on freedom of religion and belief that my hon. Friend is helping to organise in July, we will equip bishops from across the world to respond as effectively as possible to violations of freedom of religion at the Lambeth conference later that month. The Church also continues to work with the Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office on the implementation of the Truro review.

Fiona Bruce: Does my hon. Friend agree that people may not be aware that freedom of religion or belief is one of the fundamental rights for which people in Ukraine are fighting? In areas of Ukraine such as Luhansk, where pro-Russian separatists have taken areas in the past few years, churches are now required to register to meet. All the Baptist, Seventh-day Adventist, Pentecostal and other Protestant churches have been refused registration, so they meet in a climate of fear.

Andrew Selous: My hon. Friend has done the House a great service in putting the matter on the record, because I do not think that it was widely known that in the areas that Russia had previously occupied in Ukraine, freedom of religion had been restricted in such a serious way. I am sure that she agrees with the Archbishop of York, who wrote in The Yorkshire Post on Good Friday that we

“must all rise up to make sure Putin does not win”,

so that what she is talking about does not continue.

Jim Shannon (Strangford) (DUP): Has discussion been raised with the global bishops to ascertain how the thriving Anglican Church in Africa can further be instrumental in promoting the treasured freedom of religious belief?

Andrew Selous: The hon. Gentleman is quite right to raise the issue. Unfortunately, there are serious abuses of freedom of religion and belief across large parts of Africa. The subject will be a major issue for discussion at the Lambeth conference, and we are working with the Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office to make improvements in the area.

Affordable and Sustainable Housing

Selaine Saxby (North Devon) (Con)

4. To ask the hon. Member for South West Bedfordshire, representing the Church Commissioners, what steps the Church of England is taking to help create affordable and sustainable housing on its lands. (906632)

Andrew Selous: The Church Commissioners are supporting the Church of England’s vision to put its land and resources to good use, as outlined in the “Coming Home” report last year. From our portfolio of development land, we aim to deliver 29,000 new homes, more than 30% of which will be classed as affordable. They range from small edge-of-village schemes to major masterplanned new developments. We aim to respect the planet in the way we build homes where people will thrive.

Selaine Saxby: In my North Devon constituency, we have an acute affordable housing crisis, which was debated only yesterday in Westminster Hall. Will my hon. Friend provide further detail on what the Church might be able to do to assist?

Andrew Selous: I know how hard my hon. Friend works to ensure affordable housing across her constituency. I can tell her that we are always on the lookout to do more in Devon; in the village of Thorverton, we have built 20 new homes, 10 of which are affordable, and the site has won “best rural development” at the Devon rural housing awards. Of course, we will seek every opportunity to do more to help my hon. Friend’s constituents.

Illegal Migrant Crossings in the Channel

Chris Loder (West Dorset) (Con)

5. To ask the hon. Member for South West Bedfordshire, representing the Church Commissioners, what recent discussions the Archbishop of Canterbury has had with his French counterparts on illegal migrant crossings in the Channel. (906633)

The Second Church Estates Commissioner (Andrew Selous): The Church of England is part of the World Council of Churches, the Conference of European Churches and the Churches’ Commission for Migrants in Europe, and works in all those bodies to respond to the challenges of the largest movement of people since the end of the second world war.

Chris Loder: In Dorset we are taking care of 20 orphaned children who have lost their trafficked parents in illegal but also fatal crossings of the English channel. Now that the Church of England bishops are making co-ordinated political statements, can my hon. Friend tell me what advice the Archbishop of Canterbury is offering to prevent such situations from happening in the first place so that no more children are orphaned during illegal channel crossings?

Andrew Selous: Let me first thank all those in Dorset who are caring for the children who lost their parents while they were being trafficked across the English channel. Our hearts go out to them, and we must do everything possible to prevent further such fatalities.

I can tell my hon. Friend that the bishops in the House of Lords have called for more safe routes for allowing asylum seekers to apply at UK embassies, and for better co-operation with the French on the processing of applications across the channel.

Rachael Maskell (York Central) (Lab/Co-op): The Archbishops of both Canterbury and York have, rightly, been outspoken about the plight of refugees. Does the hon. Gentleman agree that church leaders have an important role to play in contributing a prophetic voice, a voice of conscience, as part of the process of providing the nation with checks and balances, advocacy and accountability, in respect of refugees and other vulnerable groups?

Andrew Selous: The Archbishop of Canterbury published what I thought was a very balanced article about these issues in The Daily Telegraph yesterday. The hon. Lady has made a valid point: while the Church will cause discomfort to all Governments and, if I remember rightly, did so to her party just before the last general election, I would far rather live in a country where that is the case than in Russia, where the Church is unstintingly supporting an illegal and barbaric invasion.

Dr Neil Hudson (Penrith and The Border) (Con): I was recently humbled to be able to attend a vigil for peace organised by the Penrith and Eden Refugee Network and local churches. Will my hon. Friend join me in thanking churches, faith groups and community groups in my constituency and across the country for all that they are doing to support the people of Ukraine and refugees through prayer groups, vigils, and donations of supplies and financial aid?

Mr Speaker: Order. I am sorry, but the question is not relevant. Unfortunately, questions must be linked to the main question. Refugees: go on, Andrew, have a go at it.

Andrew Selous: I thank my hon. Friend for raising an important point. The Church is partnering the Government in hosting many of the Ukrainian refugees for whom his constituents are quite properly caring.

Family Relationships, Parenting and Marriage

Mr Philip Hollobone (Kettering) (Con)

6. To ask the hon. Member for South West Bedfordshire, representing the Church Commissioners, what steps the Church of England is taking to support family relationships, parenting and marriage. (906634)

Andrew Selous: It is precisely because the Church of England recognises the profound importance of families, parents and marriage that the archbishops have set up a commission on families and households, which will make recommendations to both the Church and wider society on how we can strengthen these vital relationships.

Mr Hollobone: According to a recent report from the Centre for Social Justice,

“Marriage has become a middle-class secret. Among high income couples…83% have tied the knot; among low-income parents…only 55% are married. This ‘marriage gap’ is a social justice issue”.

Is the Church of England concerned about that, and if so, what is it going to do about it?

Andrew Selous: I thank my hon. Friend for raising an extremely important social justice issue. The Church is indeed concerned about it, which is why the archbishops established the commission. Evidence shows that 50% of unmarried men cite cost as a reason for not marrying. I think we can learn from the churches that have often provided not only a service full of love and meaning but free, individually tailored wedding dresses, with the congregation helping with food, drink and flowers. Actions like these can ensure that the joys of marriage are shared equally across every income group. However, the current situation should concern us all.

Holy Orders: Candidates

Sir Desmond Swayne (New Forest West) (Con)

7. To ask the hon. Member for South West Bedfordshire, representing the Church Commissioners, what steps the Church of England is taking to increase the number of candidates entering Holy Orders. (906635)

Andrew Selous: In 2020, we saw the largest number of people presenting for ordination in a decade, following a sustained commitment by the church to increase vocations, especially from global majority heritage candidates and women. There was a 14% increase in 2020, compared with 2019, and although the pandemic has caused a temporary reduction, we believe that the numbers will soon return to pre-pandemic levels.

Sir Desmond Swayne: What do clergy say is the most rewarding aspect of their ministry, and might that be used to encourage others to take Holy Orders?

Andrew Selous: Clergy deserve our thanks for all they do to promote spiritual and material wellbeing and especially for what they did during the pandemic, which massively increased demands on them. To answer my right hon. Friend’s question, many would say that the opportunity to share the good news of Jesus in teaching worship and in service to others inspires them, and what a privilege it is to be present at the most significant moments of a family’s life, whether that be baptism, marriage, comforting the dying or a funeral. If I may, I should like to pass on my particular thanks to the Rev. Chris Lawton for the exemplary way in which he took my mother-in-law’s funeral last Friday.

Mr Speaker: I am very sad to hear that.

Support for Arts and Culture

Michael Fabricant (Lichfield) (Con)

10. What recent steps the Church of England has taken to support arts and culture; and if he will make a statement. (906638)

Andrew Selous: The Church Commissioners, alongside the Cathedral Music Trust, supported cathedral choirs in 2020. Funding was also provided to support the heritage skills of stonemasons, glaziers and others. The culture recovery fund provided more than £60 million for 580 churches and cathedrals, and a partnership with the Wolfson Foundation, the Pilgrim Trust and the National Churches Trust has provided grants to pay for the care of historic interiors and collections.

Michael Fabricant: I am grateful for that answer. I do not always praise the Church of England, but I praise it for these initiatives. My hon. Friend will know what a beautiful city Lichfield is, as I hope you may find out soon, Mr Speaker—I will say no more on that. The cathedral is beautiful, too, and it is not only used for worship; it is also used for the wonderful Lichfield festival. May I invite my hon. Friend to come to the Lichfield festival to see and hear for himself what goes on in that beautiful cathedral?

Mr Speaker: I believe the Second Church Estates Commissioner will be put up in a house nearby, too.

Andrew Selous: Thank you very much, Mr Speaker. I am pleased to learn that Lichfield cathedral is the main venue for the Lichfield festival. Having seen pictures of the stunning light displays, I would very much like to visit. I pay tribute again to my hon. Friend the Member for Lichfield (Michael Fabricant) for being such a champion for his cathedral, as well as all things Lichfield. I encourage the Members of Parliament for the other 41 cathedrals to follow his example and champion their cathedrals in the way he champions his.


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