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Geoff Crawford
Philip North - Church of Englag.png
Geoff Crawford
World News

Church of England accused of overlooking the gifts and talents of working-class people

by Kelly Valencia

The Bishop of Blackburn has told Premier that middle-class churches often don't see the “gifts and skills of working-class people” as he reflected on the Church of England’s re-commitment to redouble efforts of having a church in every significant estate across the country.

Rt Rev Philip North brought a motion to the General Synod, the church’s legislative body, to encourage more work in this area and call for fresh investment in training and nurturing clergy and lay ministers from working-class backgrounds.

“We heard the need to form leaders from working-class backgrounds. I present Bishop Lynn Collins as a bit of a barking who's a very rare thing. A bishop from an estate from a working-class background; we need to see that kind of story becoming a norm,” Bishop Philip said.

“But so often, a middle-class church doesn't see these gifts and skills of working-class people, [or] perhaps people with less formal education. So we need to be much better at calling discerning and forming supporting people from working-class or less educated backgrounds.”

According to Church of England figures, only 25 per cent of candidates for ordination in 2022-23 hailed from working-class backgrounds, while it is 39 per cent of the broader population.

A church report published in October last year said the church had “a culture of privilege amongst many of its ordained representatives, who often benefit from elite educations and come from highly respected professions prior to their ordination. Clergy identifying as working-class", it says, "often find themselves socially and culturally at odds with the church environment”.

Following a debate on Bishop Philip’s proposals, members also backed moves to double the number of young active Christians on housing estates and ensure that young people from estates and low-income communities are trained as children’s and youth leaders, among other forms of ministry.

Financial inequalities between dioceses were also raised during the debate. Bishop Philip told Premier the church is not doing “nearly enough” to address this issue and needs a “major rethink” in the way its economy works.

“I think we've got two levels of problem. The first is extraordinary wealth disparities between rich dioceses and poor dioceses. And the second is the lack of really joined up thinking in terms of how the central Church supports its poor areas signified, for me, by a real term threes and what we call lowest income communities funding. So the church has wealth in various places, but it's not coming to the poorest areas.”

He concluded: “’Where did Jesus go to?’ He went to the marginalised, he went to the poor, he went to the edges. And from the doing, he began a movement that transformed the whole meaning of being human. And it's got to be the same for us. If we're going to see renewal in this land, it's going to begin in the areas of income deprivation; it's going to begin on our estates. So that's where we need to be pushing the resources. That's where we need our best leaders.”

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