Church Commissioner Questions: Christian Persecution, Church Schools, Religious Freedom, Net Zero, Ukraine, Russia, Institutional Racism

On June 23rd 2022 MPs put questions in the House of Commons to the Second Church Estates Commissioner, Andrew Selous MP:

Persecution of Christians Overseas

Jim Shannon (Strangford) (DUP)

  1. What steps the Church is taking to support the implementation of recommendations in the final report of the Bishop of Truro’s review on persecution of Christians overseas. (900659)

The Second Church Estates Commissioner (Andrew Selous): The murder of 50 Catholics in church this month in Ondo state in Nigeria and the ongoing murders for alleged blasphemy are a stark reminder of why the Church of England stands foursquare behind the implementation of the Bishop of Truro’s review.

Jim Shannon: I welcome the hon. Gentleman’s response but the independent review of progress on Truro is due now, as required by recommendation 22. Will he join me in pressing for that? Does he agree that, whatever it says, there will be more work to do on the Truro recommendations and that that must continue as the problem of persecution across the world is getting worse? This year’s Open Doors world watch list indicates that 20 million more Christians than a year ago will be highly persecuted and that across the world a Christian is killed every two hours for their faith.

Andrew Selous: That is absolutely right, and the situation does indeed continue to get worse, not better, with over 4,000 Christians murdered for their faith last year. To end the work of the Truro review now would be unthinkable. Recommendation 6 calls for the establishment of the special envoy role permanently and in perpetuity, as for example in the United States of America, and the Church of England supports the full and ongoing implementation of recommendation 6.

Church Schools

Dr Neil Hudson (Penrith and The Border) (Con)

  1. What recent assessment the Church has made of the contribution of its schools to education (a) in Penrith and The Border constituency and (b) across England. (900661)

The Second Church Estates Commissioner (Andrew Selous): The Church of England educates over 1 million children in its community schools across England, including nearly half of the primary schools in the Penrith and The Border constituency. These schools are generally very popular with parents of all faiths and none, and have a vision to be deeply Christian, to serve the common good and to foster a thirst for knowledge across a broad curriculum.

Dr Hudson: I thank my hon. Friend for that answer. Unfortunately, the educational attainment of children across the country, including in rural areas, can all too often be impacted by poverty and isolation, including food and energy poverty. Would my hon. Friend join me in thanking the Church of England, including its schools in Cumbria and across the country, for supporting those vulnerable families, particularly in the challenging times of the pandemic and the cost of living crisis? Will the Church commit to continue to provide that vital support?

Andrew Selous: I am grateful for my hon. Friend’s thanks, and I can reassure him that the Church of England will continue to support vulnerable families wherever possible—for example, by buying school uniforms, providing breakfast clubs for free and paying for school trips. In the village of Shankhill in his constituency, the Church school supports the whole community by acting as a village hall for gatherings, lunches and intergenerational activities.

Mr Ben Bradshaw (Exeter) (Lab): What assessment has the Church of England made of the impact, particularly on rural Church of England schools, of the dramatic reduction in the number of priests in some dioceses? Does the hon. Member share my concern that money generated by parishes is being increasingly sucked into diocesan administration and projects, meaning that an impossibly small number of priests serve huge numbers of parishes? That threatens the very future of English parish life, including the role of rural Church schools.

Andrew Selous: I totally understand the point the right hon. Gentleman is making. He will know that the Church of England absolutely holds to its vision to have a Church of England presence in every community. Of course, he is right that if there are not so many incumbents, it can be difficult for them to go in and do assemblies in Church schools and so on, but the Church is really focused on the frontline and putting the parish first.

Danny Kruger (Devizes) (Con): Church education is quite rightly a priority for our Church, particularly for its leadership, but can my hon. Friend assure me that significant appointments to the Church, particularly to the House of Bishops, demonstrate that the Church of England is actively seeking to represent the breadth of opinion among its members, particularly those of a more conservative theological disposition?

Mr Speaker: Order. Sorry, but that is not a relevant question. [Interruption.] I know that the hon. Gentleman is shaking his head at me, but I cannot allow open supplementary questions on a closed question.

Freedom of Religious Belief: International Ministerial Conference

Bob Blackman (Harrow East) (Con)

  1. What role the Church will play in supporting the UK-hosted international ministerial conference on freedom of religion or belief in July 2022. (900664)

Andrew Selous: The Church of England is working closely with the Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office to support the international ministerial conference on freedom of religion or belief taking place in London the week after next, and very much wants the conference to make a difference. The Archbishop of Canterbury will address the conference.

Bob Blackman: Christian minorities across the world are clearly under threat of forced conversion or potentially death. What more can the Church do to ensure that minorities are protected across the world, starting with this conference?

Andrew Selous: My hon. Friend is right. Christians are the most persecuted faith, and the Church of England will always stand up for all people who are being persecuted. He is also right that the Church needs to show global leadership by building relationships with the leaders of other faiths and with Governments so that there can be truthful conversations about what change needs to happen. The Anglican communion has great expertise in inter-faith relations, and we will focus on that in the Lambeth conference this summer. He is also right that that needs to be a priority, given that persecution is getting worse.

Places of Worship: Net Zero Target

Nick Fletcher (Don Valley) (Con)

  1. What contribution the Church has made towards achieving the Government’s net zero target in relation to its places of worship. (900666)

The Second Church Estates Commissioner (Andrew Selous): The Church of England is trying to achieve net zero by 2030. Examples include solar panels on the roofs of Gloucester and Salisbury cathedrals, heat pumps and underfloor heating in Newcastle cathedral and Bath abbey using natural hot spring water. I even have a vicar coming to see me shortly about a tidal power proposition for his church.

Nick Fletcher: I recently attended a wonderful service at St Mary’s church in Tickhill; it is a beautiful 12th century church and the pride of Tickhill. However, it is struggling to raise finance to replace its dated heating system. If that was to be replaced with a ground-source heat pump, that would cost in excess of £750,000. What can my hon. Friend suggest to help the church? Many of my other churches will face the same issue, including those in Hatfield, Rossington, Bawtry and Thorne, among others.

Andrew Selous: I absolutely get the scale of the challenge as I have similar churches in my constituency, and I know that the churches that my hon. Friend mentioned in Hatfield, Rossington, Bawtry and Thorne will be looking at the issue carefully. In the first instance, I suggest that they look at the diocese of Sheffield’s green energy audit scheme and the “funding net zero” section of the Church of England website. Emissions savings can be made by, for example, switching from oil to under-pew heating from renewable electricity.

Ukrainian Refugees

Dame Andrea Leadsom (South Northamptonshire) (Con)

  1. What steps the Church is taking to support Ukrainian refugees. (900667)

Andrew Selous: Four bishops and hundreds of clergy currently have Ukrainian evacuees living with them. The Church is also using vacant vicarages for Ukrainian families. The Church continues to encourage its members to open their homes and to support those who have.

Dame Andrea Leadsom: I am grateful to my hon. Friend for his answer. Certainly, I have seen lots of activities in churches in my own constituency. We have a lot of mums with children arriving in the United Kingdom and in South Northamptonshire. Lots of them either want to work or are working, but with the summer holidays fast approaching there will be the need for childcare. Can my hon. Friend give us an idea of what the Church can do to provide summer playgroups, so that Ukrainian children can keep learning English and making new friends?

Andrew Selous: I am very grateful to my right hon. Friend, who is typically too modest to mention that she is herself host to a Ukrainian family. I thank her, on behalf of the Church of England, for what she is doing.

The point my right hon. Friend makes about summer holiday clubs for children is extremely important. I can tell her that most parishes are now operating such clubs, although we are not quite back to where we were before the pandemic, due to a shortage of volunteers. I will ask the Diocese of Peterborough to let her know the details of all our clubs operating in her area.

Andrew Gwynne (Denton and Reddish) (Lab): May I take this opportunity to pay tribute to June Partington and others at the parish of Christ Church and St George’s in Denton? June and the parish have organised, on behalf of churches across Tameside in Greater Manchester, the Homes for Ukraine scheme. Is that not precisely what the Church of England, having parishes in every community, is about?

Andrew Selous: The hon. Gentleman is absolutely right: the strength of the Church is in its parish life. I am very happy to pay considerable tribute, and give thanks, to June and all the parishes in Tameside who are clearly doing such good and important work.

Russian Orthodox Church: Ukraine

Felicity Buchan (Kensington) (Con)

  1. What discussions representatives of the Church have had with their counterparts in the Russian Orthodox Church on the conflict in Ukraine. (900668)

Andrew Selous: The Archbishop of Canterbury has spoken frankly with Patriarch Kirill during the invasion. The Church of England has chaplaincies in both Russia and Ukraine, and will continue to foster dialogue in the pursuit of peace.

Felicity Buchan: Last week, the Foreign Office sanctioned the Patriarch of the Russian Orthodox Church. What steps can the Church of England take to try to persuade the Russian Orthodox Church that it is wrong to back Putin and this barbarous war?

Andrew Selous: The Church Commissioners and our pensions board were some of the first institutions to take all practical steps to withdraw from their direct investments in Russia. The Church of England remains committed to a ministry of reconciliation based on love and truth, and will continue to reach out—for example, through the chaplain of St Andrew’s Anglican Church in Moscow, who is the Archbishop of Canterbury’s representative to the Patriarch of Moscow and all Russia.

Fiona Bruce (Congleton) (Con): The conflict in Ukraine has highlighted the importance of many freedoms, including the freedom of religion or belief. I am very pleased that Ukraine will be represented at the conference on freedom of religion or belief here in July. What, in my hon. Friend’s opinion, would be a successful outcome to the conference for delegates such as those from Ukraine and elsewhere, where freedom of religion or belief is being violated or denied?

Andrew Selous: It is a really important question. The bottom line must be a reduction in global persecution, which is going up, not down. Presidents and Prime Ministers need to prioritise this issue. We need better co-ordination with civil society. We need freedom of religion or belief in education and we want young freedom of religion or belief ambassadors.

Institutional Racism

Sir Desmond Swayne (New Forest West) (Con)

  1. To ask the hon. Member for South West Bedfordshire, representing the Church Commissioners, what steps the Church is taking to tackle institutional racism. (900670)

Andrew Selous: Parts of the Church of England behaved appallingly in turning away Caribbean worshippers after the war. The Church has paid a heavy price in losing the spirit-filled vitality of those worshippers to spread the good news of Jesus. Work by Lord Boateng and the inspirational Peter Stream, which is drawing ordinands from a wide variety of races and backgrounds, is starting to redress that shameful episode.

Sir Desmond Swayne: The decision to refuse to ordain Calvin Robinson was a missed opportunity, but my hon. Friend is both a fair-minded and God-fearing person. I hope I can rely on him to ask the bishops to pray, reflect and reconsider.

Andrew Selous: I must say to my right hon. Friend that it would not be appropriate for me to comment specifically on an individual candidate for ordination. The period of initial formation for candidates is part of the discernment process, and not every candidate who starts training finishes it or is judged ready for ordination at the end of it. I am informed that, as with all applications for the ministry, this candidate was considered irrespective of Church tradition, political views or race.

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