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Use of Church Buildings

Volume 599: debated on Thursday 10 September 2015

3. What steps the Church Commissioners are taking to encourage churches to use their buildings to offer more services to the community beyond worship. (901258)

The Church of England’s Cathedral and Church Buildings Division developed the open and sustainable churches initiative five years ago, and now 80% of churches provide a function beyond purely worship, with 54% of Anglican parishes running at least one organised activity to address social need.

I thank my right hon. Friend for her answer. What is the Church of England doing in ethnically diverse areas, where large numbers of people are not of the Anglican faith, to open up the buildings so that they are used regularly by the whole community, rather than just by those of that faith?

I can reassure my hon. Friend that we are opening up churches to the social needs of the community and using them for a wide range of purposes. For example, churches are being used as citizens advice bureaux, post offices, shops, night shelters and food banks. Let me give the example of two churches in his area of Harrow: St Paul’s has a job club open to people of all backgrounds; and All Saints’ Harrow Weald provides not only an art exhibition facility but a forest school. These facilities are open to all.

Does my right hon. Friend agree that this is precisely the sort of issue where local leadership in the Church can make a difference? She might therefore understand the confusion in the Oxford diocese, where it has been many months since we had a bishop and it could be a year before one begins his or her new role.

I am aware of the circumstances in the Oxford diocese. The Crown Nominations Commission did convene on 11 and 12 May but was unable to discern who the right candidate for the Bishop of Oxford should be. A number of bishop appointments need to take place in sequence, so the next time the commission convenes will be on 4 February. We all hope that in short order the right candidate will be found, but Bishop Colin, the acting bishop, is doing a splendid job and he is confident, as are his senior staff, that the needs of the diocese will be fully met.

My right hon. Friend made a good point about the use of churches for community activities. Last Friday, I helped launch one such activity that was taking place at St Simon’s, and I would be grateful if she would come to Plymouth to see for herself how very good that is—perhaps she would come to a breakfast meeting.

What a splendid invitation—how could I refuse? The example that my hon. Friend gives might prompt all Members here to look at the Church’s website, where there is a toolkit to help any church wishing to broaden its use in the ways we have described to find out how that can be done and to share best practice.