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Church News

Archbishops defend CofE's response during pandemic, rebuts claim that parishes are being disbanded

by Will Maule

The Archbishop of Canterbury Justin Welby has responded to the recent criticism of the Church of England's response to the Covid-19 pandemic.

Writing in the Spectator alongside the Archbishop of York Stephen Cottrell, the senior leaders offered a rebuttal to those who believe the Church of England has remained dormant or has perhaps even regressed, during this crisis period. 

"‘Where is the C of E?’" the pair asked. "Let us offer an answer. We have been burying the dead, comforting the bereaved, feeding the hungry and praying for our nation. We have been doing this not as superheroes, but as human beings living through the same crisis as everyone else: grieving, home-schooling, worrying, getting sick, shielding, isolating, weeping." 

The duo appeared to be responding to a recent cover story at the Spectator, titled 'Holy relic: what will be left of the Church of England after the pandemic?', in which the writer, Emma Thompson, suggested that the reaction of senior Church of England to the Covid crisis "had been supine" and that the CofE "now faces an existential crisis" leading to the heartless shuttering of parish churches. 

The claims were strongly rebutted by Welby and Cottrell in their joint piece, titled 'A defence of the Church of England'. 

"You can imagine our shock, then, when we read in the media about what is supposedly happening to our beloved church," they wrote. "That the parish system, with its beautiful vision of serving every inch of the country and every person in it, is being systematically dismantled. That clergy are being made redundant. That there are plans to somehow centralise everything and for services, even beyond Covid, to be online rather than in person.

"So let us try to set the record straight. There are no plans to dismantle the parish network. We are committed to our calling to be a Christian presence in every community." 

They added that "the suggestion that all we do is cut back clergy numbers is not only untrue and unhelpful, it creates unnecessary anxiety" and insisted that record numbers of clergy have been coming forward to meet the needs of local church communities.

"This year, we have seen the biggest rise in ordained and lay vocations for a quarter of a century," they said. 

The leaders did admit that there are "hard decisions currently being made across many dioceses" and that "some stipendiary posts will be lost" due to the financial fallout of the Covid-19 pandemic.

"But that isn’t the same as making clergy redundant," they added. "The aim is to make each parish and each Christian community sustainable. If that doesn’t happen, there really will be no Church of England. And to do it requires generosity and sacrifice." 

The duo concluded by saying that there have always been "rascally voices around who want to undermine the church" and insisted that there was no "central plan" or desire to invoke executive decision-making with regards to local CofE parishes and their future.

"How could there be?" they asked. "Each diocese is its own legal and charitable entity and makes its own decisions."

The central and local vision of the CofE, they concluded "is to be centred on Jesus Christ and flowing from that to encourage the Church of England to embrace new ways of serving the nation — not to dismantle what we have inherited, but to build upon its proud and treasured foundations".

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