Church Commissioner Questions: Parish Ministry, Coronation, Rural Clergy, and Support over the Winter

On 17th November 2022, MPs put questions in the House of Commons to the Second Church Estates Commissioner, Andrew Selous MP:

Parish Ministry

Jerome Mayhew MP (Broadlands, Con):

2. What recent discussions he has had with the Church on strengthening its parish ministry.

Sir Desmond Swayne MP (New Forest West, Con):

6. What recent discussions he has had with the Church on strengthening its parish ministry.

Andrew Selous MP: Parish ministry is at the heart of the mission of the Church. The Church Commissioners will distribute £1.2 billion between 2023 and 2025 to support our mission and ministry—a 30% increase on the current three-year period—and the lion’s share of this funding will be used to revitalise parish ministry.

Jerome Mayhew: Does my hon. Friend agree with me that the relationship between a parish priest and his or her congregation is the single most important element of outreach and service for the Church, and as such, its support should be the primary objective of Church funds?

Andrew Selous: My hon. Friend is absolutely right, which is why the Church Commissioners continue to fund increasing numbers of ordinands. In 2020, 570 new priests were ordained and there were 580 in training, with only 320 retirements. Innovative ways of attracting clergy from many backgrounds include the fantastic work of both the Peter and the Caleb streams, which I would commend to his parishes.

Sir Desmond Swayne: The Church Times is full of adverts for well-paid jobs at diocesan headquarters, yet clergy are spread ever more thinly across the parishes. It is the wrong priority, is it not?

Andrew Selous: I can tell my right hon. Friend, who I know takes a close interest in these matters, that by far the largest share of diocesan expenditure goes on parish clergy, and many diocesan secretaries are reducing central costs to support parish ministry. We should remember that hard-working diocesan staff support parishes, church schools and chaplaincies on vital issues such as safeguarding, vocations, ministry training, youth work and social action, none of which I am sure my right hon. Friend would argue with.

Jim Shannon MP (DUP): I thank the Second Church Estates Commissioner for his reply. Rural communities have been greatly disadvantaged by covid, with Zoom meetings as a method of contact, and attendance at churches has started to lessen as well, so there has to be a new method of reaching out in parish ministry. The hon. Gentleman referred to extra moneys for this process. Within that process, is there more help for those who need cars for travelling out to meet people face to face? That is perhaps how the future of parish ministry will be.

Andrew Selous: I am grateful to the hon. Member, and I really appreciate his interest in these matters. As I have said, the Church Commissioners are increasing the funding to the frontline by 30% over the next three years —£1.2 billion—and it needs to go on exactly the type of initiative that he suggests.


Coronation of King Charles III

Sir Edward Leigh (Con, Gainsborough):

3. What role the Church of England will have in the coronation of King Charles III.

Andrew Selous: A service of holy communion will be at the heart of the coronation. The Archbishop of Canterbury, the Earl Marshal and the coronation committee are planning the service, which will be a moment of great national rejoicing and deep spiritual significance.

Sir Edward Leigh: I am glad my hon. Friend has emphasised that point. By immemorial custom, the coronation is a deeply religious and spiritual event. Will he convince us that the Church of England will use its influence to ensure that it remains as such, particularly the anointing, and does not degenerate into a kind of dumbed down, wokefest celebration of so-called modern Britain?

Andrew Selous: I can reassure my right hon. Friend. The anointing of the monarch goes back to biblical times, recognising the outpouring of God’s grace on us all, and the sovereign’s covenant to give his life in service to his people and his God. That is the foundational principle underlying our constitutional settlement.


Rural Clergy

Chris Loder (Con, West Dorset):

5. What recent discussions he has had with the Church on increasing the numbers of clergy in rural parishes.

Andrew Selous: Rural clergy play a crucial role at the heart of their communities, for which I know my hon. Friend is, like me, deeply grateful. I regularly raise this issue with the Church. In his diocese of Salisbury more than £1.25 million has been invested to support rural ministry in the Renewing Hope Through Rural Ministry and Mission project.

Chris Loder: Let me say to my hon. Friend that we have a couple of vacancies in my benefice, and I hope he will feed back on that point. I would be particularly interested to understand what proportion of stipendiary clergy goes to long-established small and rural parishes, versus what proportion goes to more resourced churches, fresh expressions, and other new or novel forms of church.

Andrew Selous: I can tell my hon. Friend that 24% of the population live in rural parishes, and are supported by 38% of total stipendiary clergy. The figures he asks for are not held centrally as they are decided at diocesan level. I commend to him the Caleb stream, which often enables self-supporting clergy to serve in rural parishes, and of which many bishops are supportive.

Martin Vickers (Con, Cleethorpes): I spoke recently to a priest who serves a number of rural parishes in my constituency. He pointed out that church councils are being asked for their views on the vision for the future of the Church, and they feel that they do not have sufficient resources to do that. If they look for guidance from the centre, they fear that church closures will be the outcome. Will my hon. Friend give additional support to parishes to plan for their future?

Andrew Selous: The Church Commissioners are providing a 30% increase in funding over the next three years. It is important to remember that they provide under 20% of the total funding of the Church, most of which comes from parish giving. In a sense, therefore, it is up to all of us to support our local churches and worshipping communities.


Support Over the Winter

Danny Kruger (Devizes, Con):

10. What steps the Church is taking to support people facing hardship this winter. (902280)

Andrew Selous: The Church Commissioners have provided £15 million to help churches with their energy costs, so that they continue to act as places to worship Jesus but also stay open at other times, if they are able to, to provide practical community support, such as being a warm hub.

Danny Kruger: I thank the Government for ensuring that churches are included in the package of support that businesses receive to pay their energy bills. Will my hon. Friend join me in congratulating the churches across Wiltshire that have opened their spaces to people in the daytime, providing their traditional role as a place for fellowship, community and support? Does he agree that the churches that have found it easier to fulfil this traditional role are those that have ripped out the Victorian pews, which are such an obstacle to the traditional role of fellowship?

Andrew Selous: My hon. Friend is a powerful advocate for exactly this type of voluntary community action. The Church of England will always be at the centre of such endeavours, which can be facilitated by churches that make possible the type of activity he mentions. I am not yet aware of any warm hubs in Devizes, although I have noticed some in neighbouring towns. I am sure my hon. Friend will be encouraging his local churches to facilitate such schemes in his area.


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