Where next for parishes in the Church of England?

Do the Archbishops have plans to merge or remove these bodies?

I was reading a Twitter thread from Heather Cracknell this morning about the mounting concerns for the future of the Church of England parish system, how the cost of buildings and employees may be a burden the church could do without, rather than being a benefit for the organisation. This continued a discussion in various blogs and publications, including the Church Times on ‘Limiting Factors’ and a paper for the General Synod GS 2223 on Vision & Strategy which includes:

To bring simplicity and coherence to our governance structures so that the Church of England can join up the work that is currently carried by several different bodies; can enable us to make better decisions and be better able to implement them across the whole church. At the moment we are led in one way or another by a plurality of different overlapping bodies — the offices of the Archbishop of Canterbury and Archbishop of York; the General Synod; the Church Commissioners; the House of Bishops; the Diocesan Bishops; and the Archbishops’ Council. And all this serves 42 independent dioceses, innumerable chaplaincies and fresh expressions, and 16,000 parishes. All this needs to be simplified. Although this process is not finance led, it may well lead to financial saving.

The note in the thread was trying to be reassuring, that the new lay led groups would work alongside the existing parishes but the arguments did not seem particularly convincing. It also didn’t seem to reflect a statement made by the Archbishops Council on the future of the parish, in a consultation on Excepted Charities.

Excepted Charities are a specific group of charitable organisations that while being large enough to need to register with the Charities Commission are excused from doing so. The majority of them are religious groups associated with named national church organisations, the largest being (as you would expect) the Church of England. Each parish with annual revenue below £100,000 is currently ‘Excepted’, but that status is supposed to be time limited. The primary legislation to set up the Excepted Charities gave a timescale for when religious charities should be expected to register, but secondary legislation allowed this timescale to be repeatedly slipped, a topic I have commented on before.

The end date had been 2021 but the DCMS has just extended this again for a further 10 years, the longest delay yet. To try and understand why I used a Freedom of Information request to ask for the consultation paperwork, where the DCMS asks each national body covered by the law if they’d like to extend again or if they’d like the law to stop so the charities can all register immediately. All national bodies asked to extend but either didn’t state for how long or urged that the time period be kept short, for example the Free Churches Group requested:

The Church of England was the odd one out, asking for the full ten years (which was duly granted). Is this because they have so many charities and need more time to prepare? They did indeed reference 10,000 PCCs:

and also that current registrations are extremely slow:

But the specific reason given was not what I was expecting:

“Little point in an extension of … 5 years …. But after a period of ten years the position might be substantially different”

Who did this statement come from? The individual is redacted but the organisation is clear:

The issue of charities in the Church of England was raised in another paper for the Synod, General Synod GS 2224 : Transforming Effectiveness — An Introduction and Update, which states:

Humbler and Simpler — additional areas to be addressed with other bodies

.. The burden of “being a charity” e.g., GDPR, compliance admin, church officers etc., is increasing. It is viewed as already unsustainable in many locations, and becoming so in many others. Investigate alternative models.

While this paper is positioned as a work in progress, the response to the DCMS does seem to indicate minds are already made up.

The conclusion I come to, given known problems with CoE governance and challenges of a shrinking chirch is that the PCC structure for the church will be gone within 10 years.

From a separate source of information this change is already underway in the Church of Wales, as explained to me recently:

“Until recently we had around 900 parishes, which would be registered charities if annual income over 100k and excepted charities otherwise. Each Diocese is currently in the process of moving from a ‘parish’ model to a ‘mission/ministry area’ model, which tends to involve the merging of parishes. This is an ongoing process, but we believe it will eventually result in 900 parishes becoming 200–300.”

Does anyone have any other ideas to explain these statements? I’m open to ideas.

Father, husband, work in technology, dabble in secularism.