Skip to main content

Church Commissioners

Volume 635: debated on Thursday 25 January 2018

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

Religious Vocations

4. To ask the right hon. Member for Meriden, representing the Church Commissioners, what recent assessment the Church of England has made of trends in the number of its religious vocations. (903527)

I know that my right hon. Friend has a great interest in this subject because he asked me about the training of ordinands in April last year. I am pleased to be able to tell the House that an additional 44 candidates have presented for training as ordained ministers, making a total of 544 in training. That means that we are well on our way to our target of 750 a year by 2020.

As so many clerks retire, what will be the future age profile of my right hon. Friend’s holy orders?

Like a lot of institutions, we face the prospect of large numbers of older clergy retiring at the same time as a result of previous pushes to increase the number of people being ordained and entering ministry. I am delighted to say, however, that the number of younger ordinands in the under-32 age group rose by nearly two fifths and now accounts for almost a third of the total.

I was disappointed to hear recently from the head of Uber that only 5% of Uber drivers are women. What is the gender balance among the ordinands the right hon. Lady mentioned in the statement she just made?

The hon. Gentleman has always been assiduous in asking about gender balance. I am delighted to be able to say that the intake of female ordinands has seen an increase of 19% compared with last year. Although women make up only a third of the fully ordained clergy in place at the moment, we are moving, like other professions, towards 50:50.

In the diocese of Gloucester it would seem that as soon as we fill one vacancy, another arises. Bishop Rachel is working very hard, but the situation can be sorted only if we bring more people forward for training. What is the Church of England doing to enable that to happen?

We celebrated the introduction of Bishop Rachel as the first female bishop following the change in the law. We now have a female bishop for Newcastle sitting in the Lords, and very recently a female bishop for London was appointed. There is clear evidence of progress, and there is a method of positive discrimination whereby dioceses eligible to be represented in the Lords are encouraged to appoint a woman so that the Lords moves towards better representation of female bishops.

Gay Conversion Therapy

5. To ask the right hon. Member for Meriden, representing the Church Commissioners, what discussions the Church of England has had with the Government as a result of the General Synod’s call to ban gay conversion therapy. (903528)

Following all meetings of the General Synod, it is standard practice for the clerk to the General Synod to inform the appropriate Department. That was done on 21 July following the vote at the Synod to ban conversion therapy. A response was received from the relevant Minister on 24 August.

It would be helpful if we knew a little more about what that response actually said. As the right hon. Lady will know, this so-called therapy does dreadful damage to young people emotionally and psychologically; its ban is long overdue. The sponsor of the excellent motion in the General Synod has asked for a meeting with the relevant Minister, but that has been refused. I hope that the right hon. Lady will intervene on her behalf.

I am obviously not responsible for the Government’s decision, but the General Synod voted clearly and unequivocally to ban gay conversion therapy. I can share some of the contents of the letter that the Minister wrote to me. The Government are strongly against the practice of so-called reparative or conversion therapy. They have no current plans to ban or restrict it through legislation, because existing voluntary registers already provide safeguards for the public, but I will certainly assist in the way that the right hon. Gentleman suggests by writing to the Minister.

More widely, in some parishes anti-gay prejudice masquerades as theology. What further action can be taken to tackle that?

The leadership of the Church of England could not be clearer on this point. Archbishop Justin managed to secure a commitment to stamp out homophobia throughout the Anglican communion, when all the bishops were convened here in London. It has been established unequivocally, from the top of the Church all the way down, that homophobia has no place in the Anglian communion.

Christians: Middle East

6. To ask the right hon. Member for Meriden, representing the Church Commissioners, what support the Church of England is giving to Christian communities in the middle east as a result of attacks on those communities during Christmas 2017. (903530)

8. To ask the right hon. Member for Meriden, representing the Church Commissioners, what support the Church of England is giving to Christian communities in the middle east as a result of attacks on those communities during Christmas 2017. (903532)

The Church of England is in regular contact with the diocese of Jerusalem and the diocese of Egypt with North Africa and the Horn of Africa. I am pleased to report that the news from the region was comparatively positive over Christmas, especially when compared with that of only a few months ago.

Yesterday, I had a not only interesting but humbling experience when I visited the Holocaust Survivors Centre in my constituency. Many of the people there were actually survivors of the holocaust—the Shoah. Does my right hon. Friend accept that those people are not only concerned about attacks in other countries on the basis of religion, but feel that we need to do more to help the Egyptian Government to prevent such attacks, which are, effectively, a form of genocide?

The proximity of Holocaust Memorial Day reminds all of us that, sadly, such atrocities are ongoing in our world, and that people are persecuted for their faith. Egypt was relatively quiet over Christmas—quieter than in recent months—but it is the ancient Coptic Church in that country for which we, as fellow Christians, fear. It is a fact that Egypt has moved from 21st to 17th on the world watch list of countries about which we should be concerned, not least because of the rise of Daesh there.

There is growing concern about the level and extent of the persecution of Christians throughout the middle east and north Africa. What representations is the Church of England making to the Government and the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees about the disproportionately low number of Christians who are identified for resettlement to western countries?

We are in regular contact with both the Government and the UNHCR about the plight of persecuted Christians. We wanted to get to the bottom of why the percentage of Christians in refugee camps in a number of these countries is so low. In fact, the Christian diaspora is extensive, and Christians living in other countries where they can help to provide safe havens often enable their relatives to travel over. It is significant that, for example, 30% of Syrian refugees in America are Christian. Christians frequently choose to save themselves in such ways.

I am in no doubt about the spiritual and pastoral support that the Church of England offers fellow Christians throughout the world, but will the right hon. Lady outline some of the financial or monetary contributions that are made to programmes for those most directly affected?

Because the Anglican communion has a network of churches throughout the world, it can often provide food and resources, clothing and shelter for persecuted communities who are otherwise very hard to reach. Only yesterday, I met the Bishop of Goma, from the Democratic Republic of the Congo, who bravely puts his own life on the line to provide essential humanitarian assistance, at his own expense, for the Christians who suffer in his country. That is one of the strengths that the Anglican Church has to offer.


7. To ask the right hon. Member for Meriden, representing the Church Commissioners, what counter-terrorism measures are in place to protect Church of England premises; and if she will make a statement. (903531)

Six cathedrals have received money from the programme launched in July 2016 as the places of worship security funding scheme, which became, in 2017, the vulnerable faith institutions scheme. To get funding, a place of worship has to show evidence that it is vulnerable, and cathedrals have been given up to £45,000 to assist with measures that they need to undertake.

I thank the right hon. Lady for the interest she has shown in the counter-terrorism measures that York Minster is trying to put in place. However, the funding for its specific work and the planning regulations are inadequate. Will she work with me to try to ensure that worshippers at York Minster are safe?

Unfortunately, I do not think it is possible retrospectively to reimburse the Minster for the measures it has taken, which I believe are in any event temporary at the moment, but may I share the good practice of the House of Commons, the parliamentary estate, Westminster Abbey and Westminster City Council, which work together to try to make these public spaces safer after the terrible events of last year? I will do everything I can to assist the hon. Lady in getting that kind of good partnership working around York.

Given that the Church of England is responsible for some iconic sites, the attention given to this work is welcome, but will my right hon. Friend reassure me that those wishing to meet the living God will not find a palisade fence separating them from His house?

My hon. Friend is right: as Parliament does not wish to turn itself into a fortress because that would cut against what democracy stands for, no more does the Church want so to provide security measures that it becomes a less accessible place to meet with God. That balance has to be struck.