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Church Commissioners

Volume 456: debated on Monday 29 January 2007

The hon. Member for Middlesbrough, representing the Church Commissioners, was asked—

Priests

21. How many (a) male and (b) female priests were ordained by the Church of England in the last year for which figures are available. (111473)

Will the hon. Gentleman meet me either here or in Church house to discuss ways in which we can improve the collection and updating of church statistics, which are a little less forthcoming than we might hope for some of the complicated debates that we have? Notwithstanding that, the figures that he gave are remarkable. They are up 100 in a decade for the Church of England and compare remarkably with other figures of ordination for Great Britain in the last year for which they are available, when only 25 priests were ordained for the Roman Catholic Church.

I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for suggesting that we meet in Church house. As he knows, it will reopen in March, and that would be a good inaugural meeting.

I think that the Church would be amenable to any suggestion that we expand the information we provide, although clearly there are resourcing implications, which will need to be worked out. I shall, however, put the hon. Gentleman in touch with the relevant colleague at the Archbishops Council and together we will see how his point can be taken forward.

As the hon. Member for Salisbury (Robert Key) observed, those are remarkable figures. What is particularly welcome is the near-parity between women and others who are ordained. Does my hon. Friend agree, however, that the future of our Church will depend increasingly on the availability of high-quality, committed non-stipendiary ministers? Of the 500 who were ordained, how many went into non-stipendiary posts and how many were to be paid clergy?

The number of ordinations rose from 493 in 2003 to, in fact, 505 in 2005. As the hon. Gentleman says, the number has increased. As for the non-stipendiary ministers, he should be aware that there are vocational events helping people to explore their calling. We hope that that will encourage people to come forward in the interests of the Church’s ministry and its administration.

Of the total number ordained, how many applied for and were recruited to rural parishes, and what is the level of recruitment generally? Does the hon. Gentleman share my concern, and the concern in rural communities, about the number of rural parishes that are having to “double up” when there is only one parish priest looking after three or four parishes?

I do not know the exact recruitment figure, but I shall be happy to relay it to the hon. Lady. I know of her concern about the ministry in rural areas, which her question reflects. The Church recognises that worshipping congregations are at the heart of rural life and it seeks to appoint a stipendiary, resident priest where possible, but as the hon. Lady knows, it is not always possible. That it why it is sometimes difficult to attract stipendiary clergy into rural areas.

Cathedrals

22. What advice is given by the commissioners to cathedral chapters on programmes to encourage non-worshippers to use cathedral spaces. (111474)

As the hon. Gentleman knows, such programmes are arranged locally, but the commissioners are aware that there are all kinds of initiatives to encourage as many people as possible to visit our cathedrals and appreciate their special significance.

My hon. Friend has been, at my invitation, to the Lichfield festival of the arts, which is held mainly in Lichfield cathedral. I know that he has also been to a number of other non-worshipping events in the cathedral. He says, rightly, that it is up to local communities to decide what they can do, but can there not be a sharing of knowledge between cathedrals and churches about what they do? Are not the Church Commissioners the ideal fountain to pool such information and disseminate it to all bodies?

I am grateful for that excellent suggestion. I agree that there ought to be a body to co-ordinate the work of the cathedral chapters, provide a benchmark and pass on information.

As the hon. Gentleman said, I have visited Lichfield. I know that it has many visitors, and that some may participate in worship and some may not. The fact that people visit at all is greatly encouraging, and if they do worship in the Christian faith, so much the better.