New thinking is necessary. But the cash-strapped Anglican hierarchy must tread carefully as it rethinks the role of the traditional parish
“What would you be, you wide East Anglian sky / Without church towers to recognise you by?” Even when Sir John Betjeman spoke these lines during his 1974 BBC documentary A Passion for Churches, they struck an elegiac note. Traditional religious practice in the Church of England was already in significant decline. Half a century on, Anglicans find themselves at a historic crossroads – obliged by dire financial circumstance and sparse congregations to rethink what the church is for, and where it should be.
There are growing fears that at next month’s General Synod, measures will be taken to make it easier to close hundreds of parish churches, drastically reduce numbers of “vicars on the beat” and sell off assets to raise funds. Moving away from the traditional vision of providing for “the cure of souls” in every parish – with a Sunday service at the local church its focal point – the Anglican hierarchy envisions a future mixed ecology in which a variety of venues host groups of believers, some of which will be lay-led.