On 1st December 2022, MPs put questions to the Second Church Estates Commissioner, Andrew Selous MP, during his monthly question time in the House of Commons.
Christmas Celebrations and Services
Bob Blackman MP (Con) asked:
1. What steps the Church of England plans to take (a) nationally and (b) in Harrow East constituency to celebrate Christmas.
Kevin Foster MP (Con) asked:
4. What steps the Church of England plans to take to encourage families and children to attend events and services at their local parish church at Christmas.
Andrew Selous MP: The Church of England’s Christmas resources usually reach around 10 million people, and we hope for the same reach for this year’s “Follow the Star” theme, details of which can be found on the A Church Near You website. Crib, Christingle and carol services will take place in most of our 16,000 parishes and 4,500 primary schools to spread the good news of Jesus’s birth.
Bob Blackman: I was at one of our churches last night, and I was thanked for giving it work to help answer the question. From the census, we know Christianity is now a minority religion. What further action can the Church take to encourage more people to come back over Christmas, on such a joyous occasion?
Andrew Selous: I thank my hon. Friend for the support he gives to all the faith communities in his constituency. The answer to his question is in the work taking place in his local parishes. I know he will join me in commending, for example, the work of Rev. Jody Stowell at St Michael and All Angels in Harrow Weald, which is offering a warm welcome space and a special service for those who lost loved ones during the pandemic, and of Rev. Matthew Stone at St John the Evangelist in Great Stanmore, which is offering a united advent service with seven churches across the denominations and a Christmas afternoon tea with children from five local schools. That sort of work shows our churches are right at the heart of our communities.
Kevin Foster: Events such as the recent Christmas fair at St Luke’s, Torquay and the forthcoming Christmas tree festival at Paignton parish church can provide lots of low-cost fun and support for families facing festive budget pressures. Can my hon. Friend assure me that the Church of England is giving appropriate effort to highlighting this side of parish life, which often leads to families becoming regular churchgoers?
Andrew Selous: Again, I commend my hon. Friend for the interest he shows in his local churches. He is absolutely right that these types of church event often attract families and children who then become regular attenders. I thank and commend Father Peter March at St Luke’s, Torquay and Rev. Neil Knox at Paignton parish church for everything they do. It is important that they both know their work is noticed and appreciated.
Jim Shannon MP (DUP): For the record to be factually correct, we should recognise that Christianity is the largest religious group in the United Kingdom, although it may not be the majority. Does the hon. Gentleman agree that it is important that children are taught the value of the Christmas message and the lesson of thanksgiving at the family events to which he refers?
Andrew Selous: Yes, I very much agree with the hon. Gentleman. This is an important part of our cultural heritage, and the Church will continue to do that work.
Church Investments: Environmental, Social and Governance Leadership
Alexander Stafford MP (Con) asked:
2. Whether the Church of England is taking steps to show environmental, social and governance leadership in its investments.
Andrew Selous: The transition pathway initiative, of which the national investing bodies of the Church of England are co-founders, has supporters representing a combined $50 trillion under management, all committed to making the transition to a low-carbon economy. The Church Commissioners also co-chair the investors policy dialogue with Indonesia on reversing deforestation.
Alexander Stafford: My hon. Friend will, of course, be aware that a report on the UK’s upcoming green taxonomy was published this morning by the all-party parliamentary group on environmental, social and governance, of which he is a valuable vice-chair. I thank him for his support and his endeavours. One of the report’s key recommendations is that the Government should consult widely with stakeholders. What discussions have the Church Commissioners had with the Government, including the Treasury, about the UK’s green taxonomy and its implications for the Church’s ESG policy and investments?
Andrew Selous: I thank my hon. Friend for his brilliant work of chairing the all-party parliamentary group on environmental, social and governance, which are so important. I am pleased that Olga Hancock, of the Church Commissioners, chairs the policy committee of the UK Sustainable Investment and Finance Association, which is a member of the Government’s green technical advisory group, so I can reassure my hon. Friend that the Church is right at the heart of this important work.
Historic Cathedrals: Maintenance Costs
Michael Fabricant MP (Con) asked:
6. Whether he has held recent discussions with the chair of the Association of English Cathedrals on the maintenance costs of historic cathedrals.
Andrew Selous: My hon. Friend continues to be an exemplary advocate for Lichfield cathedral, and I gently encourage other colleagues with cathedrals and major churches in their constituencies to stick up for them in the way that he does. I have spoken at the annual general meeting of the Association of English Cathedrals and I have also asked the Government to respond to the independent review of the sustainability of church buildings, published by Bernard Taylor. This matters for many reasons, not least the £55 billion of social value—calculated using Treasury Green Book guidance—generated by cathedrals and churches in the UK, according to the “House of Good” report by the National Churches Trust.
Michael Fabricant: I am grateful to my hon. Friend, particularly for his kind words about me, which were very decent of him. He will know that the chair of the Association of English Cathedrals was the Dean of Lichfield cathedral, Adrian Dorber. Sadly for the community in Lichfield, he is going to retire in March, after 17 and a half years’ service. Not only does he have theological skills, but he has raised millions of pounds, and his organisational and management skills are wonderful—many deans have those, but Adrian particularly does. Does my hon. Friend think that the Church of England could make more use of people when they retire and that they should not just disappear along with all their skills?
Andrew Selous: I, too, thank Adrian Dorber very much for everything he has done as a highly effective Dean of Lichfield, not just for Lichfield cathedral, but for the city and the wider Church. His chairmanship of the AEC has been outstanding. If he wants to continue to serve the Church after his retirement in March, I am sure that his wisdom will continue to be very much appreciated.
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