By John HowardA CLERGYMAN fears the Church of England could be entering survival mode as priests have to cope running ever more parishes.The Rev Dr Graham Blyth also believed it may be time to consider the hugely emotive issue of selling off churches that cost thousands of pounds to maintain, converting them into community centres or highly-desirable homes.
By John Howard
Religious Affairs Correspondent
A CLERGYMAN fears the Church of England could be entering survival mode as priests have to cope running ever more parishes.
The Rev Dr Graham Blyth also believed it may be time to consider the hugely emotive issue of selling off churches that cost thousands of pounds to maintain, converting them into community centres or highly-desirable homes.
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Mr Blyth, parish priest in Danbury and the East Anglian representative for the faith workers' union division of Amicus, feared clergy were being put under real pressure by taking on more churches.
“This is the spectre of things to come and I think it will be a problem in the future. Paid priests are becoming increasingly like managers. Paid clergy are a dying breed, they are becoming more like middle managers,” he said.
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“When priests run up to 15 churches, a lot of time will be spent on administration and rotas enabling them to get from place to place.
“Having to provide pastoral care for that whole range of ministries can be very challenging. Some people will find it very fulfilling, but the question is whether it is reasonable to ask people to run huge numbers of churches.
“What is the Church really saying by maintaining all those churches, without some form of rationalisation? It's an odd way of using churches.”
Mr Blyth added: “The Church of England has repeatedly failed to bite the bullet from the 1960s onwards. It is emotive closing churches, but if all you do is shoring up the edifice, it's survival mode.
“Some ministries are not really sustainable. A clergyman may also get worn down and there is a duty of care that an employer has to its staff.
“My views are very old school, some younger clergy could be very enthused by the changes. But there is a very real anxiety about what kinds of working conditions clergy will face in the future.”
Mr Blyth's comments came after the East Anglian Daily Times revealed team rector Father Eoin Buchanan had a round trip of 40 miles to cover 15 churches in Essex as he worked with colleagues covering the North Hinckford team ministry, thought to be one of the largest in the country.
The Ven Geoffrey Arrand, Archdeacon of Suffolk, admitted in some areas worshippers must felt like they were in survival mode, struggling and going nowhere.
But he said in other parts of the diocese there were real success stories with parishes growing.
Mr Arrand said clergy now tended to work as part of teams, with support from other ministers, youth workers, elders and readers, and the job had changed from 50 years ago when a clergyman would have a couple of parishes to care for.
He added legally a decision to close a building has to come from the parishes and community themselves, and cannot be imposed by senior clerics.