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Last Updated: Wednesday, 8 June, 2005, 11:37 GMT 12:37 UK
Buildings 'holding back' Church
Inside of a church
Maintaining the Church's grade-one listed buildings costs 250m a year
Maintaining the Church of England's historic buildings is holding back dioceses financially, a report says.

The large number of small parishes - about 50% have fewer than 50 people attending weekly - was also a concern for the Church.

One of the report's authors said some parishioners could meet in houses during winter when it is difficult to heat churches.

The interim report was prepared ahead of a General Synod meeting next month.

It called for much more focus on gaining "new money" - rather than just struggling to re-allocate existing funding.

Problems stem from the 250m-a-year maintenance costs of the Church's thousands of grade-one listed buildings and falling parishioner numbers.

'Blessed'

"The reality is that the Church of England is blessed with substantial resources compared with the Christian Church in many parts of the world.

"Yet, in many places, it has difficulty affording its existing ministry, whether because of low levels of personal income and/or giving and/or low membership," the report said.

The document, produced by a group chaired by the Bishop of Bath and Wells, the Right Rev Peter Price, reveals many dioceses cannot afford their current costs without outside support.

It had been asked by archbishops to identify ways that financial and other resources might be best deployed in an equitable distribution and to facilitate local objectives.

The suggestions put forward include training more laity to perform unpaid duties and the closure of un-viable churches.

Bishop Price told the BBC that the savings would provide more funding for mission work.

He said sometimes it would be more comfortable for parishioners to meet in their own homes in the winter months, when it is more difficult to heat churches.

"(The) Church of England is looking at the whole question of pioneer mission leaders, experimenting with different patterns of church in different localities.

"Some of those will meet in people's homes, some of those will meet in churches."

The report also called for better-resourced cathedrals to voluntarily forgo the national funding they receive, to support cathedrals with less resources.

Attendance

The report, which is posted on the Church of England website, states: "Having such a large number of small churches poses some serious mission and financial questions for the Church as it seeks to sustain and develop its witness to the nation.

"We note that a number of dioceses have made or are in the process of making systematic assessments of their parishes' viability."

It goes on: "A common point made in our submissions from dioceses was that the number, cost and inflexibility of the Church's buildings were hindering its mission."

And, recognising that half of the 16,000 parishes register fewer than 50 worshippers, the study says the Church needs to seek a new engagement with the public.

The report included a summary of responses to its questionnaire sent out in November.

Asked about implications of the strategy for clergy numbers, the largest planned reduction was by an un-named diocese which was going to cut a third over 10 years.

A spokesman dismissed reports that such a reduction would be extended across the whole Church.

The General Synod is set to discuss the content of the document when it meets in York in the autumn.

"The reality is that the Church of England is blessed with substantial resources compared with the Christian Church in many parts of the world.

"Yet, in many places, it has diffcult affording its existing ministry, whether because of low levels of personal income and/or giving and/or low membership."




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