The Church is grateful to the Government for not imposing another national closure of religious buildings. It is right that parishes take local decisions on what to offer. There were nearly 36 million viewings of the Church’s Christmas “Comfort and Joy” series. For those who prefer the telephone, the DailyHope worship has received 350,000 free calls.
It is very encouraging to hear that. It is a matter of deep regret that churches were closed during the lockdowns last year. I very much appreciate that they are allowed to conduct services this time. Obviously we hope that we will all be out of restrictions soon, but there is always a danger of further restrictions. We worry a lot about the provision of online teaching in schools. Does my hon. Friend agree that the delivery of online live church services is enormously important, and—we must be frank—that this is not a skill that might come naturally to many vicars? Does he agree that the Church of England should make an absolute priority the provision of online resources, and the training of vicars and church teams to deliver them?
Indeed I do. Over 7,000 people have now attended the Church’s digital training, equipping parishes across the country to stream services on a variety of different platforms. My own rector has now been commended for her YouTube skills by eight-year-olds in her benefice.
Many churches in Rother Valley have adapted during these times by holding online services, such as the many wonderful services at the Wales parish church and St Joseph’s, Dinnington. However, Rother Valley’s churches have lost a great deal of income from the in-person offertory collections and fundraising events, putting church maintenance and repairs at risk, including the much-needed repairs to St Simon and St Jude church in Thurcroft. Does my hon. Friend share my concern regarding the black hole in local churches’ budgets and potential delays to repairs, and will he work with churches to ensure that they have what they need to survive?
My hon. Friend raises a really important point. I draw his attention to the Parish Giving Scheme, which people can do by direct debit, and to various online giving options. Of course, the commissioners have provided tens of millions of pounds to help churches. I would also say that perhaps people who are not paying for a season ticket might want to pay a little bit more to their local church, given that they have made a saving in that area.