The Church of England has issued a strong rebuttal to a piece published in political magazine The Spectator which claimed that local parish clergy were being "discarded" and rural churches were being systematically abandoned by the denomination's central governing powers.
The writer of the cover story, rural parish volunteer Emma Thompson, insisted that the Church of England was imposing radical funding cuts on local parishes and employing highly-paid, centrally employed 'managers' to oversee large swathes of parish territory - a move she claimed would soon result in local church operations crumbling altogether. She cited the recent cuts across the Chelmsford Diocese, which she said ended in the redundancy of "61 parish clergy posts".
"This month the C of E’s elected governing body, the General Synod, will hear the Archbishop of York’s plans to impose a management system on its parishes nationally, rolling out Chelmsford-style cuts on parish clergy and selling assets owned by the parishes, to fund yet more managers," Thompson wrote. "Retained parish clergy would be stretched over larger areas in a managerial role."
Thompson said that this action "would effectively end the C of E as we know it, converting a precious network of parish churches into a remote institution which controls everything centrally".
The Secretary General of the Archbishops’ Council, William Nye, who noted that he was "a longstanding and loyal reader of the Spectator", rebutted the assertions with a lengthy and robust statement.
"I was amazed to read the ludicrous claim that the parish system is being dissolved like the monasteries, repeated without even a cursory check on whether this could possibly be true," Nye wrote. "We read of a supposed central take-over of independent dioceses and an imaginary national plan to roll out cuts and sell assets to fund more managers."
Nye complained that "no one from the Spectator called the Church of England to ask whether any of these things were true".
"This matters because truth matters," he continued. "It matters because this kind of misinformation is damaging and demoralising to clergy and laity in every corner of England who have been worshipping God and serving their neighbours in extraordinary new ways, despite the restrictions we have all faced during this pandemic."
Nye further confirmed that there was "no national plan to roll out cuts to clergy or to buildings".
"We need our clergy and our lay volunteers - all are part of the people of God - and we need our church buildings, which are a precious resource for the whole nation," he said.
He admitted some dioceses are having to "adjust the balance of stipendiary (paid) clergy and other ministers; and to shift where clergy are deployed, following movements in the population".
"Yet we rejoice that we have seen an increase in the number of people coming forward to be trained and ordained as clergy. This year the number of people being ordained into stipendiary ministry will be 43% higher than eight years ago."
Nye added that there was no "national drive to close churches" but that a "small number of church buildings do close every year after a complex process in which alternatives are carefully explored".
"Yet we rejoice that we have also been reopening churches, and planting new congregations," he added. "In the last five years, we have planted or reopened or revived over a hundred churches – in towns and cities across England, in places such as Blackpool, Preston, Rotherham, Wigan, Dudley, Goole, Stockton-on-Tees, Mansfield, Swindon, Hastings, and Plymouth."
In these challenging times, Nye concluded that "facts and perspective are important".
"The Church of England has been worshipping God and serving our neighbours for many generations," he said. "I am confident that we will continue to do so, bringing the Gospel of Christ to every community for many generations to come."