Sunday, October 24, 2021
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Who needs churches anyway? Not Welby & Co

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BISHOPS have been presented with a new wheeze for increasing congregations: knock down the ancient parish churches.

The Rev David Keighley says it is ‘absolutely essential’ for the Church of England to sell off its ‘virtually empty’ church buildings to provide for those who are struggling to find affordable housing. 

Far from ‘killing the Church’, the retired vicar insists that selling buildings should be the Church’s response ‘to the needs of the 21st-century Christian community and will lead to church funds being administered in a more practical, and fundamentally Christian way’.

What a brilliant idea! So imaginative that I am determined to copy it by burning down my house to make life delightful for my wife and family. I can just hear the pleasure of the grandchildren: ‘Granddad, you are so clever. You must be magic!’ I will smile indulgently and say, ‘Easy! I did it so that when you come here you can meet grandma and me outside in the street.’

David ‘Genius’ Keighley added, ‘The vast majority of churches in England have been little more than museums for some time, and the cost of their upkeep cannot be justified when considering the minimal level of use. The wastefulness of the Church in this respect could almost be considered sinful. 

‘The only rational and Christian thing for the Church to do, given the ongoing decline in church attendance, is to sell off churches that are, literally, a waste of space.’

Why didn’t I think of that? Here I am a parish priest fifty years in my dog collar and all that time I persisted in the idiotic idea that ‘the only rational and Christian thing to do’ was to build up my congregation and put a stop to the decline. 

I know what you’re thinking – that Keighley’s proposal is just a wacky idea from a bonkers cleric. But it isn’t. It’s backed by the top brass. The Archbishops’ Commission on Housing, Church and Community has spent two years researching the housing crisis in England and concluded that approximately eight million people live in ‘overcrowded, unaffordable, or unsuitable homes, while those in poverty bear the brunt of this injustice’. The Commission said the Church should use its land assets, up to 6,000 acres, to ‘promote more truly affordable homes’.

The Archbishop of Canterbury, Justin Welby, welcomed the report’s ‘challenge to the Church’ which, he said, was ‘uniquely placed to work to build not just more houses but truly affordable houses and stronger communities’.

I love it! I can just hear the Archbishops’ new and thoroughly secularised Jesus saying, ‘It is written, “My house shall be the house of prayer” but ye have turned it into a waste of space.’

Tell you what, guys: flog off Canterbury Cathedral and York Minster. That would free space for whole estates of ‘affordable housing’ – perhaps for the LGBT+ ‘community’.

In truth, what is being suggested is only a repeat of what the bishops and Synod did fifty years ago when they confiscated the land owned by the parishes for hundreds of years and used the money to finance their ever-enlarging bureaucracy. They also nicked the old vicarages and sold them off, not to ‘those in poverty’, but to prosperous professionals.

You want numbers? In 1836, when eight times as many people attended church as today, there were 26 bishops. In 2021 there are 116. There are teeming hordes of Archdeacons and Assistant Archdeacons, Advisers, Consultants, Specialists, Officers and Clerks.

When I was ordained to a Yorkshire parish in 1970, the diocese was administered by Squadron Leader Driver and his assistant Elsie. When, a few years ago, I retired from the Rectorship of St Michael’s, Cornhill, the Diocese of London employed more than 100 secular bureaucrats.

I have a better suggestion: surely the only ‘rational and Christian’ thing to do is to sack the bureaucrats, send the Archbishops and Bishops to the knacker’s yard, leave the parish churches alone to get on with the job – and bring back Elsie. 

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Peter Mullen
Peter Mullen is a Church of England clergyman, writer and broadcaster

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