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Church Commissioners

Volume 559: debated on Thursday 7 March 2013

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

Archbishop of Canterbury

6. What discussions the Church Commissioners have had with the Archbishop of Canterbury on his priorities during the early stages of his ministry. (146570)

I am sure the House will wish Archbishop Justin well as he starts out on his public ministry to the nation. Early indications as to his priorities can be seen in a number of ways such as the appointment of new staff at Lambeth, the first ever woman chaplain to an Archbishop of Canterbury and a director of reconciliation. Other priorities clearly include his concerns for public spiritual renewal, peace building and reconciliation, as well as tackling economic deprivation and support for marginalised communities.

I join the hon. Gentleman in wishing the new archbishop very well indeed. Have any discussions led us to understand that under his new tenure of office the Church will continue to speak out for the poor, the marginalised, the deprived and minorities, which the gospel made the clear and principal mission of the Church?

I am sure that Archbishop Justin will remember the words of Archbishop Temple who observed that the Church of England is an organisation that exists for people other than for itself. Given the work done by Archbishop Justin when he was Bishop of Durham on credit unions and food banks, and his concern about issues such as payday loans, I have no doubt that he will be at the forefront of pursuing concerns about economic deprivation and supporting marginalised communities.

Kettering Street Pastors

The Church of England provides national financial support to a number of street pastor groups around the country through the church and community funds. As many Members will know, the street pastors initiative is an independent and ecumenical initiative with some 200 groups across the country.

Kettering is the nightclub capital of north Northamptonshire. Into that fray, every Saturday night and Sunday morning, between the hours of 11 pm and 3 am, the Kettering street pastors, led by their inspirational co-ordinator, Fiona de Boltz, send out six to 10 volunteers to offer faith-based reassurance, comfort and guidance, as well as practical assistance to vulnerable young people. Will my hon. Friend agree to visit Kettering to see the good work they do?

It goes without saying that I would be extremely happy to go with my hon. Friend one Saturday night and see the work of the Kettering street pastors. Street pastors across the country do invaluable work in helping, caring and listening, and making our streets safer at nights and weekends.

It is an outrageous slur from my hon. Friend the Member for Kettering (Mr Hollobone) to say that Kettering is the nightclub capital of north Northamptonshire when everybody knows it is Wellingborough and Rushden. Street pastors in my area do a tremendous job, in particular the Full Gospel church in Rushden, which has led the way with a homeless shelter. Does my hon. Friend the Second Church Estates Commissioner agree?

On my way to Kettering, I promise and undertake to call on my hon. Friend’s constituency and witness the work of the street pastors there as well.

Charitable Work

8. What assessment the Church Commissioners have made of the steps taken by the Government to support the role of churches and faith groups in their charitable work since May 2010. (146572)

The charitable and voluntary work of the Church at local and national levels is so diverse and varied that it is difficult to generalise about the impact of recent Government policy on it. One positive development has been funding from the Department for Communities and Local Government for the Near Neighbours programme. That is managed by the Church of England through the Church Urban Fund and does much to promote understanding between people of different faith communities in different parts of the country.

Will my hon. Friend use his good offices to lobby the Government to review the public benefit test in terms of its application by the Charity Commission to religious groups, so that we may avoid the situation ever again in which the Christian Brethren are discriminated against but pagan religions are given charitable status?

The previous Parliament decided that there should be a public benefit test for religious groups. If it is felt that the Charity Commission is applying the public benefit test incorrectly, I suspect that that is a matter for judicial review.

Pilgrimage of Prayer (Canterbury)

9. What reports the Church Commissioners have received of the Archbishop of Canterbury’s plan for a pilgrimage of prayer around the province of Canterbury. (146573)

Prior to the formal commencement of his public ministry and enthronement in Canterbury cathedral on 21 March, Archbishop Justin intends to tour parts of the province of Canterbury to meet its people and visit its diverse communities. From 14 March to 19 March, he will visit five cities and six cathedrals. Everyone is welcome to join in the journey of prayer at any point during the pilgrimage.

I thank my hon. Friend for that reply. May I urge him to encourage the new Archbishop to include the deanery of Bury in his pilgrimage and, in particular, St Anne’s parish church, where I have the honour of serving as church warden?

The Archbishop of Canterbury is visiting cities in the province of Canterbury and my hon. Friend’s constituency is of course in the province of York. I have no doubt that in due course the Archbishop of Canterbury will visit the province of York and I will draw to his attention my hon. Friend’s request.

Women Bishops

10. What assessment the Church Commissioners have made of the proposals contained in the General Synod document “Women in the episcopate: a new way forward”. (146574)

As I am sure the hon. Lady is aware, there have been several developments since I last updated the House. The initial facilitator discussions have been completed and the consultation stage on a new document has just closed. The working group met earlier this week to consider 376 submissions and will meet again later this month. The intention, as I have mentioned to the House on occasions too numerous to particularise, is to have the House of Bishops give consideration to the results from the working party when it next meets in May.

“Women in the episcopate: a new way forward” could have been written by Sir Humphrey Appleby. It shows little urgency and, with both sides further apart, even less prospect of progress in July. Is it not time that the House took a stand and supported my ten-minute rule Bill next Wednesday on allowing women bishops?

There are two serious points there. First, I promise the hon. Lady that the Church of England is moving as fast as humanly possible on this, and I can assure her that everyone from Archbishop Justin to every member of General Synod wishes to have this matter resolved as speedily as possible. Secondly, the House needs to be cautious about wanting to go back to the position prior to 1919, when matters of doctrine and worship of the Church of England were settled by Parliament. In 1919, Parliament decided that those were matters for the Church Assembly—now the General Synod—and I am not sure that Parliament would wish to go back to that pre-1919 position without giving it some serious thought.