The Church Commissioners have now announced that they are consulting on proposals to streamline the Mission and Pastoral Measure, said to be “unwieldy” by the Archbishops’ Council’s Legislative Reform Committee.
The existing Measure has a number of built-in safeguards to protect parishes and historic buildings, including crucially:
 the Church Buildings Council, a body of serious experts prepares a detailed report on a church suggested for closure; such reports are serious works of scholarship – we always start if asked to consider taking a church by seeking to see the CBC report on it. Many of the churches on which the CBC reports in the event are not closed.
 the Statutory Advisory Body, which consists equally of state appointees and church members provides expert advice. It is absolutely right that the state has a say because taxpayers money funds 70% of the CCCT, the body to which the highest quality redundant churches are supposed to go
 rights of consultation and appeal, including ultimately to the Judicial Committee of the privy Council
Now all this is said to be “unwieldy”. Thus the proposals are to do away with CBC Reports, the advice of the Statutory Advisory Committee and to curtail rights to object and appeal.
It is quite apparent all this is driven by a desire to close more churches much more easily.
The Consultation explains that from a survey of the diocese “12 dioceses were planning a light number of closures (fewer than 5), 9 were planning a medium level (6-12), but 5 dioceses were planning a much larger number of closures (up to 40) within the next 2-5 years”.
That adds up to between 314 and 368 closures in the next 2 to 5 years. I read in this week’s Church Times: “A Church House spokesperson : “The 368 figure comes by aggregating a worst-case scenario based on the indications we were given”. Yes, but 314 is still horrific and it is the Commissioners’ own figure.
There is an even more depressing story in yesterday’s Times and Daily Telegraph : last weekend Leicester Diocesan Synod voted to combine 234 parishes into 20 to 25 minster communities and 1 in 5 full time stipendiary clergy will disappear. An alternative proposal to cut Leicester’s Diocesan costs by 10% was rejected. That diocese is reported to have spent between 2017-2020 £248M on “renewal and reform” projects that have failed to increase church attendance.
That there is considerable scepticism as to the size and expense of diocesan administration and as to mission projects is hardly surprising. Even the Consultation document itself, cites a 2014 church report which concluded that very small churches mainly in rural areas are more likely to grow than other churches albeit by small amounts; that single church benefices seemed to perform better than amalgamations, and the more churches that are combined together the more they decline
We believe that the Commissioners are seriously wrong in seeking to make it faster and easier to close churches, to dispense with expert advice bodies, the Church Buildings Council and the Statutory Advisory Committee, and to limit the rights of the public to object to closure or particular reuse schemes. Minimising consultation about closure with the congregation and community will reduce rather than increase the likelihood of a satisfactory outcome; and dispensing with expert advice on the building’s architectural and historic value will lead to poor decisions about the future of these churches – both about whether to close them and what to do with them.
We believe advice from the Church Buildings Council and Statutory Advisory Committee must not be dispensed with under any circumstances.
Despite stating at the beginning of the consultation paper that the “Church understands itself to be called to serve all the people of the nation and not just its own committed members”, the Commissioners are proposing that representation rights are afforded only to its active members. This is not the activity of an established church offering its services to the whole nation.
Parish churches are public buildings, originally built and endowed locally and all the Queen’s subjects, whether practising Anglicans or not, are entitled to be heard and considered properly.
Throughout the paper, there seems to be a failure to appreciate the important relationship the Church has with the State, in particular in terms of the vast sums of public money it has received over the past forty years to repair its buildings and the responsibilities that brings.
The Pastoral Measure has always been generous in its democracy. The proposals in this paper would cumulatively diminish the democracy underlying the processes of the existing Measure, and reduce the accountability of the Church at both Commissioners' and diocesan levels.
The Consultation opened in mid-July, with a deadline for responses on 15 September. This was then changed to 30 September, and then to 31 October.
We believe the right response is a firm NO! Please respond; we have already done so; you now still have time. You can do so by email: email@example.com
Many of our fellow countrymen, as ourselves, feel deeply about preserving our heritage of historic buildings.
Unless the Church Commissioners change their mind, the time has come to put more pressure upon them.
We call on the Church Commissioners to make a commitment not to sell any Grade I listed church for domestic conversion or private use – in line with the recommendations from Historic England, and in effect, DCMS. The Church Commissioners should have a presumption against converting Grade II* churches for domestic conversion. Domestic conversion almost always destroys the aesthetic value of the building and removes it from the public realm.
The time is approaching to press Parliament to impose new legal duties upon the Church Commissioners and dioceses to preserve heritage. The Church of England is the custodian of the heritage buildings it owns for the nation, not for its active members, and should be prevented from selling off the nations’ heritage and should have specific legal obligations to make expenditure on maintaining what it holds as the first obligation upon all of its assets held by the Church Commissioners, dioceses and parishes.