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"Where do we go from here?"

One thing is clear looking at statistics, the Church of England, apart from a few encouraging signs of growth (mainly among Evangelistic congregations), with a weekly attendance of now less than a million people (of whom few are youngsters), that we shall no longer be able to claim that we are “The Church of England”, rather we shall be an ecclesiastical “side-line” that cannot speak on behalf of the nation.

However this is nothing new, for in the 1830s, people in high places were forecasting our demise, so that one thinker wrote “The Church of England is drawing her skirts around her, to die with as much dignity as she can muster”.

Yet within two decades there came a steady growth of numbers, mainly because a small number of clergy, dissatisfied with the rot within our leadership, started the Oxford Movement that sought to  bring colour, vigour and a spirit of  rebellion among their ranks, despite their condemnation by Bishops and Archbishops.

The rebels’ aim was to regain the Catholicity of our Church and not simply something that seemed to be merely part of the National Government. Rather they were to be the true successors of “One Holy, Catholic and Apostolic Church of the Saints and Martyrs”.

Despite the opposition of the Church leaders and the Government, even leading to prison sentences for priests who used candles on the Altar, and even more reprehensible (horror of horrors) used incense during services, the Movement flourished.

During the next 100 years, until after the Great War. The Victorians with a new sense of adventure meant that within that span, more churches were built than during the past 500 years.

Church Schools were built, serving almost every community in the land; Mission was paramount, both in this country and overseas and “Hymns, Ancient and Modern” became familiar to our dependencies in the Empire.

Between the wars there were fresh initiatives. Some clergy sought to align our teaching and worship practises more to answering the disillusionment and social problems left behind by two World Wars.

Parliament had a strangle hold because of the Protestant tendencies of many MPs who refused to assent to the new Prayer Books, passed by the Church in 1927 and again in 1928, as for being “Too Roman Catholic in style”.

Finally we adopted sections of the new books despite the politicians’ objections, but there was little change in Worship and Ministry nor attempts to place our Church on an “Out-looking” basis. It has spent more time talking to itself rather than to the outside world.

In the 1950s to enable Family Worship, I was quietly reprimanded by my Bishop for holding “Family Services” that didn’t rely on the 1662 Book of Common Prayer and were to be “of a temporary nature!”

With this brief history, you will realise that there must be many changes in our Church if it is to survive.

Clergy and people will need to be adventurous and soon if we are going to “Convert England” the aim of the late Archbishop Temple who unfortunately died before his great plan of Evangelism for the 1950s could be carried forward and was quietly forgotten.

Instead the Church Assembly spent 10 years discussing “Canon Law”, the rulebook of how clergy should behave!

God bless us all as we move into the 2020s and pray and work that we may move forwards, rather than backwards in the coming years!

Thank you for the beautiful cards and gifts I was given at Christmas and the kindness of offering me physical help as I need it. I am entirely dependent on others to survive on my own these days.


29 December 2019

"The threat of the baby"

You cannot think of that tiny new-born baby being a threat to anyone, yet almost immediately, King Herod saw him as a serious threat and sought to destroy Him before he could upset anything.

Old Simeon, holding the baby as He was brought to the Temple to fulfil the Mosaic laws, instinctively knew that this was a special child, who would face dangers as He grew and prove a threat to all the powers prevailing in Jewish circles, both religious and secular.

If this indeed was the long-awaited Messiah then nothing could remain the same.

There was that veiled prophecy that “a sword would pierce Mary’s soul” as the shadow of the Cross would emerge as the child grew to be a man; “This child is set for the fall and rising of many in Israel”.

Jesus indeed is a serious threat. Not only to the religious leaders, or the King and his like, but to Society and its values, not only then but even now.

It is significant that the Cross dominates St. Mark’s Gospel; even from the second chapter the opposition is clearly defined, as this man immediately breaks the sacred Laws, those regarding the Sabbath, but also those that define what company one should keep.

If we study the Old Testament prophets carefully, we will find that amid all the accounts of wars and massacres (all in the Name of God), there is a gentler and more socially minded God whom we find particularly in Deuteronomy,

This clearly shows that God (speaking through the prophets also) demands social justice, fair trading, concern for everyone, particularly the disadvantaged; He is concerned for the plight of the “strangers”, that is, “immigrants”, Gentiles from neighbouring lands.

From Genesis onwards, and as I have said, through the prophets, we see this humane God seriously concerned about the welfare, even of sinners.

Although Adam and Eve have sinned, nevertheless, God the Father is concerned for their welfare, by making clothes for them to cover the nakedness. Cain, who murdered his brother Abel, has a cloak of protection cast over him, lest people try to avenge Abel’s death by lynching Cain.

You might have expected the opposite, for this is not “an eye for an eye, and a tooth for a tooth” and this “gentle” side of God is reflected through the Old Testament, but also in Jesus’ teaching about caring for our neighbours, by supporting them when they are going through tough times.

Jesus earned His condemnation by the vested interests, they concerned only with profit, no matter who suffered. The turning over the tables of the money-changers is a direct challenge to the financially interested, who are concerned with profit rather morality.

Good reason for many sections of Society to want rid of this socialistic meddler, who was followed by the “common people” who “heard Him gladly” but not by those who from the beginning saw him as a threat.

I suggest if Jesus were around today, perhaps a large proportion of people would find His teaching (and The Church’s) as unacceptable as did the Pharisees, the Tradesmen and all stood around and shouted “Crucify”,


22 December 2019

May I wish all my readers a Happy Christmas and a Peaceful and Contented New Year.


"Where did all the money go?"

“I look forward to welcoming you to St. Andrew’s as Junior Curate. The stipend is £350 p.a., less Income Tax, £1.50 per week house rent and rates, then 35p per week for NHI, 35p p.w. for Pension contribution and also expenses for postages and ‘phone contribution.

If you are single, that’s sufficient for you to have bread and Jam, but if you take your jam in the person of a wife, then that’s up to you!”

So wrote my soon-to-be Training Vicar who was noted for his straightforward replies to people, realising that his curate would have a partner in the shape of Hazel, my fiancée whom I married three months before my Ordination to the Diaconate.

True I was being paid more than the then general going rate for a normal employee, but I admit it would have been a financial struggle had we not (between us) been still making and selling clergy vestments, enabling us to live reasonably comfortably. (As I had to do at College to fund my fees for 2 years).

Money was tight at St. Andrew’s, and in those days if a parish wanted (or needed) a curate it had to find the money to pay him.  The annual Summer Fair needed in one day to raise £350 for one curate’s stipend, a mammoth task for a working-class parish.

However, help was at hand. Desperate to fill a vacancy of the parish rated “the worst in the Diocese” for its disunity and other serious problems, the Bishop had offered me the post of Vicar of Holy Trinity that at that time would not normally have been offered to a priest who was only 30yrs. of age. coming to his first benefice.

At the announcement of my appointment which surprised everyone, one priest suggested that “there is much fluttering in clerical hen houses as a result”.

However, my stipend was raised immediately to £550 p.m. so that Hazel and I went and bought an Austin 7 Saloon (£35)!

Imagine our surprise when a few months later, the Diocesan Secretary rang me to tell me that without any contribution from the parish I and all like me were having our pay raised to £1,000 per year!

How? Simply that rather belatedly, the Church Commissioners (who handle all the central funds) had brought in Accountants to check over all the Church’s assets, finding that as the income from many had not been up-dated for many years, money was now flooding into their coffers, enabling them, not only to increase the stipends, but to shoulder the cost of our future pensions which would now be payable at 65 yrs. rather than the existing retirement age of 70!

To satisfy the concerns of the current clergy, they created a “hostage to fortune” in that the pensions would be tied to the clergy stipends and would be two thirds of the Minimum Stipend.

At £1,000 per year that meant a pension of £660, plus a lump sum on retirement, to enable clergy to have money to pay towards buying a retirement home.

At that same time, the parish Diocesan Quota was only £80 per annum, clergy stipends being met in full from ancient endowments.

No one seems to have for-seen the possibility of inflation on the scale that followed. If the going rate for a stipendiary priest is now some £22,000 pus house and Council Tax, much of the Endowment Income goes to fulfil the pledge to the pensioners.

That is why our Parish Share is so very high and why we cannot afford to pay as many clergy as in the past.

We need urgently to cope with our task of providing pastoral care and outreach to the parishioners. But that is where our Church’s money went, giving dwindling congregations an impossible task. Christmas theme next week continued thoughts in the New Year.


15 December 2019

Where do we go from here?

“Haven’t you anything better to do?

I was on my way from a meeting at the Cathedral returning home to Taunton in the late 1950s and on the way I thought it might be nice to call in and see a friend, Joe Stewart who was Vicar of Burrowbridge.

On that bright summer afternoon, I was surprised to see Joe sitting in a deck chair doing the “Times” crossword!

“No” he replied; “The answer to your question is ‘No’ and what better way could you spend a sunny day?”

“Well” I said “Surely there is someone you could visit in the parish?”

“Look” was the reply, “I have only 350 people within it, and if I visited them too frequently, they would say, ‘What, you again?’” (It is now part of a 3-parish group).

I saw his point and drank the offered glass of cider and settled down for a chat.

So, when I took charge of the “Six Pilgrims” Parish (described last week) with a TOTAL of 675 people in 1992, I discovered that before a previous “reorganisation” there had been 3 priests caring for them!

What on earth did they do?

The answer is, very little, despite there being 6 parish churches.

As I had told the Bishop, they could be cared for very well, with my spending 1 day a month in each parish, visiting the folk there, plus 2 services on a Sunday (as they did worship and work together) and pastoral care, but able to reach them from Glastonbury (where we lived) within 20 mins. in an emergency.

Couldn’t you have ordained a Reader or have a retired priest to cope with the worship with some of the pastoral work done naturally by the congregation?” I asked the Archdeacon.

“No” he said; “We have no policy for that kind of Ministry”. My reply of “It’s about time that we did” was not welcome.

The last of the 3 reports on ministry issued since 1950 suggested that to cope with falling clergy numbers driven by financial concerns, could not acceptable lay people (especially licensed readers) be ordained solely for the purpose of enabling Sunday worship?

They would be called ‘Local Ordained Ministers’ having a ministry restricted only to their own parish.

I know that the Bishop of Salisbury approved of this, but there was resistance by many of the full-time clergy.

You may not realise it, that until the late 1950s, only Free Church ministers were paid by their congregations; the Church of England clergy were paid almost entirely by endowments; some from as early as the 11th century (as at Wootton when I first moved there in 1969). The dead paid our stipends!

Inflation soon put paid to that, so the stipend now has kept pace, plus the cost of housing, expenses, etc. generally, more than twenty times as much as then!

In addition, because of financial errors in the 1950s, we pensioners receive two-thirds of that figure, costing more than £18,000,000. That is why I never ask for a fee for any duties I undertake, for much of the funds meant to pay working clergy stipends are now being diverted to pay pensioners. You will see that only by cutting somewhere can the books be balanced.

As a result a question mark hangs over us “How, as inflation continues and congregations diminish are we to provide worship and pastoral care for the whole of England?”

The preferred option is to reduce the number of stipendiary clergy, but is that the right way forward? Is it wise?

When I was working at Swanmore from 2011-2013, the essential outgoings were no less than £1,080 per month.

The real weekly income was barely sufficient to pay the Parish Share of £112 per week! Insurance, heating and sundries meant that a legacy was raided just to pay their running costs.

“Where do we go from here?”


8 December 2019

Learning from the Methodists

The Bishop sighed as we discussed the probable fate of six tiny Somerset parishes that had refused to be “reorganised” involving breaking up the tiny group that had only recently been “reorganised”.

The authorities tend to think they have control over such things, expecting parishes to fall into line with their wishes; the truth is that none of this can really be carried out, unless the parishes agree. The only people who can “close” a parish church are the Churchwardens if they feel they no longer have a viable set-up.

Discovering that they felt (there were only a total of 675 people (with six parish churches to maintain), as one Churchwarden said, that “they had been abandoned because they wouldn’t agree to this scheme!” and left priest-less.

Taking a service in the interregnum I was very angry at the rural Dean’s comment that “We will leave them to stew” leading to my writing a letter (2 sides of A4) to the Bishop that I thought this attitude was unacceptable, especially in that the parishes had said that all they wanted was a priest to conduct and possibly lead them, and they would run themselves.

Because of depression caused by the work load at Wootton in trying to bring a parish from the Victorian era into the present day, I was exhausted in that like so many clergy, they hated to delegate even the simplest of tasks, so had I, to the detriment of my physical and mental health.

Not receiving a reply to my original letter, I sent another copy to the Palace, “assuming that my first letter didn’t reach you as  I have received no reply”, receiving a quick postcard saying that my first letter had been received and would receive a reply.

That came in a summons to “wait upon the Bishop” at the Palace to discuss the matter, which I duly did.

I don’t know what to do with the “Six Pilgrims” said the  Bishop, “would you consider going there and try and solve the problems, we will meet all your expenses”?

Although I lived at Glastonbury, 10 miles (20 mins.) away I thought it would be possible and so arranged to meet the Churchwardens (12 of them!).

Like the Methodists who largely run their own chapels, leaving the Minister to conduct the worship and provide pastoral care, I presented the gathered worthies with the proposal that we would draw up a contract; they would take on all the day-to-day problems and anything that didn’t need a clerical collar, and I would provide leadership, pastoral care and the conduct of services. The rest was their responsibility.

So I relinquished all those unnecessary jobs that clergy take on and glory be (!) because I wasn’t formally licensed there were no clergy meetings that I was obliged to attend!

They were as good as their word, and my approach was to model our partnership on Methodist lines, which meant that at least I had the opportunity to be a real parish priest with time to visit and meet the people.

They had agreed that to make it work properly with 6 parishes, they would need to “work and worship together”; so with the slogan “One Church with 6 churches”, happily moving around and sharing everything (including fund-raising) as far as possible, and leaving me to be a priest and pastor.

I had agreed to be there for a year, not the 6 months the Bishop had suggested, for I expected there to be some teething troubles, but there were few of these, and Hazel and I had the happiest Ministry a priest and his wife could enjoy.

As I said to an astonished Archdeacon “I’m not being paid to do all this work as I have a pension and don’t need the money, instead if I had to, I would willingly pay for the privilege of serving such a united and supportive family of people”!

We need to seek to change from “going to Church” to “Being the Church” with all that entails.


1 December 2019

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