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Church Commissioners

Volume 705: debated on Thursday 9 December 2021

The hon. Member for South West Bedfordshire, representing the Church Commissioners was asked—

Parish Ministry

At last month’s General Synod, the Archbishop of York spoke about the revitalisation of the parish in order that parish churches can reach and serve everyone in their community. I can tell my hon. Friend that since 2017, the Church Commissioners have given £130 million to support ministry in deprived parishes.

I thank my hon. Friend for that answer. I quickly pay tribute to the Bishop of Ramsbury in my constituency, Andrew Rumsey, who has been appointed by the Church to review the use of church buildings across our country. The bishop is England’s foremost expert on the parish, and I know that my hon. Friend will want to save the parish as much as the rest of us. The Church of England’s vision for future ministry includes the line:

“a Christian presence in every community”.

What is the Church of England doing to ensure that every community has a locally based, theologically trained and well-resourced cleric?

I am delighted to welcome my hon. Friend’s new bishop to his post. I can tell my hon. Friend that the Church of England remains committed to providing a Christian presence in every community. Last year, 591 people were recommended for ordained ministry, the highest number for 13 years. Ordinations to stipendiary ministry have increased by 43% since 2013. I also warmly commend the work of the Church Revitalisation Trust and its Peter and Caleb streams, which are increasing the number of clergy from diverse or working-class backgrounds and those in later life.

Notwithstanding what my hon. Friend has just said, he will know that there is considerable concern in parishes up and down the country about the recent consultation, which many fear could result in a weakening of the ministry, rather than a strengthening. What can my hon. Friend say to reassure people?

I understand my hon. Friend’s concern and that of many of our constituents up and down the country. I can only repeat that the Church of England remains committed to a Christian presence in every community up and down the country, and the work that the Church of England is doing at the moment is focused on making sure that that remains the case.

I understand that the Government have set moneys aside for the restoration and maintenance of churches. Can the hon. Gentleman tell me and this House whether the same amount of money will be set aside for the UK? Will Northern Ireland be a participant and a recipient of those moneys?

The hon. Gentleman, whom I call my friend, asks a question slightly beyond the remit of my responsibilities as the Second Church Estates Commissioner, but I will make inquiries on his behalf and write to him. I speak for the Church of England.

Cathedrals: Sustainable Incomes

8. What discussions the Church Commissioners have had with the deans of English cathedrals on methodologies to generate sustainable incomes. (904639)

Being a new Member, my hon. Friend is still learning the ropes. I can tell him that the commissioners recently allocated £20 million to the cathedral sustainability fund, and grants have been made for more than 120 new posts in cathedrals to support fundraising, engagement and financial stability. Deans and staff from our 42 cathedrals also recently met to learn from each other and share best practice.

Take two, Mr Speaker. My hon. Friend said earlier in answer to a previous question that according to the Treasury, £50 billion is generated for the economy by our lovely English cathedrals, including, of course, the 800-year-old cathedral in Lichfield. Cathedrals are not just places for worship; they are used as vaccination centres and concert halls, and even for political hustings and debates. They cost several million pounds each year to maintain, so could he say a bit more about what regular funding can be provided?

I am happy to do that. Indeed, £50 billion is the contribution to national wellbeing that the Treasury calculated through its Green Book methodology. My hon. Friend is one of Lichfield cathedral’s most steadfast and vocal supporters, and rightly so, because the cathedral is not just a centre of worship; it plays a vital role in the local community and economy by serving, for example, as a vaccination centre recently, as he said.

Although we are hugely grateful for the £29.4 million for cathedrals from the Government’s culture recovery fund, £140 million is needed for cathedral repairs and maintenance over the next five years. If we want our cathedrals to continue to be at the heart of our national life, we will all have to put our hands in our pockets to keep them in good repair, because we cannot let 800 years of worship and service fail on our watch.

Loneliness

9. What steps the Church of England is taking to connect with people who are isolated and lonely in their communities. (904641)

Our parish clergy and lay workers try really hard to reach out to the isolated and lonely day in, day out. In addition, the free DailyHope telephone line—0800 804 8044—from the Church of England has been described as a “spiritual lifeline” for many isolated and vulnerable people. More than 620,000 people have listened to its prayers, hymns and services. It was recently described by one listener as,

“Something of a raft on which to hang on for dear life on occasions.”

Churches have loci in every community. Across our country, a staggering 9 million people experience loneliness frequently or occasionally. As a result, in the coming Christmas season, many people will be isolated. They might be a new mum, somebody who has lost someone dear to them or somebody who has been left lonely because of the twists and turns of life. Churches could develop a loneliness strategy to address that issue across our communities and to provide friendship, love and hope to people. This season gives real impetus to the opportunity to do that. Will the hon. Gentleman ensure that the Church has a proper loneliness strategy, not just on the phone but in person, to support people across our communities?

I am very grateful to the hon. Lady for raising this incredibly important point, and at this time of year as well, when it is even more significant for many people. She is right that Christmas can be an especially lonely time, which is why I am pleased, for example, that churches such as St Michael le Belfrey in York are running the Love Christmas campaign as part of a national project to provide 1 million bags of kindness across the country. For some people, that Christmas gift will be the only one they receive, and there have been wonderful stories of people joining local churches after that type of outreach. I would say to her that a lively worshipping, outward-looking church, which looks to speak to the issue of loneliness, at the heart of our community is one of the best antidotes to the loneliness she speaks about.