Thank you, Mr Speaker. Of course we must briefly pay tribute to my predecessor, who fulfilled this role with great aplomb and will be for ever remembered as enabling the legislation on women bishops.
The Church faces a great challenge in terms of its sustainability, particularly in rural areas. The Church Commissioners will be helping to support those churches that want to come back to the heart of the community by opening their doors to a wide range of uses that serve the community.
May I join you in paying tribute to my right hon. Friend and welcoming her to her new role, Mr Speaker? Brierfield Methodist church recently secured much-needed Heritage Lottery funding support for roof and masonry renovations, but Nelson United Reformed church is having to close next month, after 150 years of worship. Will my right hon. Friend set out how she will work with the Heritage Lottery Fund and other bodies to help preserve the church buildings, for which the Church Commissioners are responsible?
My hon. Friend has just mentioned the Methodist Church and I am sure you would agree that it is right that we should all record our sympathy to the Methodist Church in South Carolina, which has suffered a terrible shooting tragedy.
I intend to work very actively with the Heritage Lottery Fund, which dedicates about £25 million a year to essential repairs for all listed places of worship. Given the urgency of my hon. Friend’s specific case, I suggest we work on it together immediately.
Last winter, the church of St Mary’s in Lytchett Matravers was shut due to a lack of heating, and parish churches across Dorset struggle to meet both their parish share and to ensure that their buildings remain open. What plans does the Church Commissioner have to provide support for churches such as St Mary’s in Lytchett Matravers to ensure that they remain open, and will she meet me to discuss the matter?
A total of 250 churches have managed to install renewable energy facilities. The Church offers a church care support system to help parishes make changes and modifications to their heating systems to bring down the costs of heating. I suggest that we work closely together with this specific example and see what can be done.