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PA Ben Birchall
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PA Ben Birchall
UK News

Church of England dioceses might see a reduction in paid clergy, leaked document reveals

There are reports that the Church of England dioceses are considering reducing the numbers of paid clergy by 10 to 20 per cent. 

A leaked document, seen by The Sunday Times, has revealed that most dioceses intend to "prune" staff numbers as it is feared a fifth of worshippers might not return to in-person services once the coronavirus pandemic is over.

But for Revd Alderton-Ford, vicar of Christ Church Moreton Hall and a Member of the General Synod, cuts in staff numbers are not a consequence of the coronavirus crisis. Speaking to Premier he said the pandemic has only "brought long-term problems into sharp focus".

"The issue about dropping attendance and whether they're going to watch on television is one thing, clergy cuts and everything else is another one, although the two are obviously linked," he said. 

Revd Jonathan explained cuts will not be made on a national basis as each diocese gets to decide on the number of clergy they hire.

"Some dioceses are fantastically wealthy, so the cuts will be less in those areas. Those dioceses, which are less wealthy, will have seen more cuts.

"For example, Birmingham has already cut 25 per cent of posts. Chelmsford has already taken a huge cut, and it's going to cut further, it varies from diocese to diocese."

After the first national lockdown, research suggested there were between 100,000 and 200,000 people who estimated they may not return to in-person services. However, a Church of England spokesperson told Premier this number is expected to be offset by new worshipers who have started attending online services. 

The report suggests a way to reduce financial costs would be by recruiting more self-sustained ministers (SMS) which would join the already 2,870 existent ones, 7,370 retired clergy who continue to officiate and 7,830 lay readers.

Revd Jonathan said it's a recruitment issue. 

"We've under-recruited full-time clergy, and for decades, and we've been filling them already with lots of self-supporting ministers. 

"Just taking Suffolk as a whole, we have 100 full-time clergy, we have nearly 150 SMS´ house for duty and other posts. And we've got 437 buildings. Now we don't need 437 buildings. I'm not saying we should close all of them. But certainly, there's an argument for saying, well how many outlets do we actually need with a workforce of that size?" Revd Jonathan said. 

The document also revealed that 12,000 parishes are under review with at least 5,000 churches that might see its financial support cut as it questions their viability. 

The Church of England currently has a network of 16,000 churches and 42 cathedrals. 

A church of England spokesperson told Premier: "The findings, based on research during the first lockdown last year, are incomplete in the context of a developing situation. 
"The Church of England will continue to assess ongoing research and analysis to understand how the pandemic may shape the church in the future."

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