UK: The men from the ministry - a look at how the Church of England is run. (3 of 4)

UK: The men from the ministry - a look at how the Church of England is run. (3 of 4) - The power structure and finances of the Church go some way towards explaining the management of its buildings. So, inevitably, does the fact that its enormous resource

Last Updated: 31 Aug 2010

The power structure and finances of the Church go some way towards explaining the management of its buildings. So, inevitably, does the fact that its enormous resources are matched by enormous liabilities. In 1989 the Church Commissioners provided block grants worth £2.1 million towards the upkeep of the cathedrals. However, as Lovelock points out: "Every cathedral in the country needs £10 million spent on it to stop it falling down." Some have been able to introduce charges for particular tourist attractions, but a large number still depend on the goodwill of visitors, too many of whom studiously ignore the collection box. The Christian belief that a house of God should be open to everyone precludes the Church from cashing in on some of its most beautiful assets.

Though the Commissioners also act as custodian trustees of the churches and parsonages, their management is largely a matter for the dioceses. Martin Cawte, secretary of the Southwark diocese, explains that centralisation of stipendiary obligations has taken place in conjunction with devolution of more day-to-day duties. Thus the diocese of Southwark contributes up to £200,000 a year towards the 314 churches and a further £1 million on providing a roof for its 500-strong clergy.

Responsibility for the maintenance of parish property, such as church halls and curates' homes, lies with the most local level of all, the parish church council. Many a PCC is also actively engaged in raising funds for the preservation and development of its church, an activity to which Dr George Carey, Dr Robert Runcie's successor as Archbishop of Canterbury, testifies in his book "The Church in the Market Place".

Over and above such day-to-day management, the Church of England has made substantial efforts in recent years to rationalise its portfolio of buildings. With the assistance of the Church Commissioners, the future of some 1,261 redundant churches has been sorted out; only a quarter suffered demolition. The money raised from the sale of such churches and sites has contributed to 391 new church buildings, and currently the Church has nearly 16,400 churches in regular use.

The 10,300 parish priests whose job it is to man these churches are thus a rather scant resource. Many are forced to double or triple parts, as if in a Brian Rix farce. Things do not look likely to improve, since recruits are hardly piling up at the door. In the most recent academic year 778 full-time students were in training for the ministry - it is a flow that will maintain present manning levels, but no more.

Of course, a good half of the population is still barred from anything but the most humble roles. The ordination of women would certainly alleviate shortages of staff. However, nothing so remotely secular will enter into the forthcoming discussion, for as the Bishop of Durham colourfully observes, it all depends on whether you see God as a "male thug" and the Church as a male authority structure.

If quantity is a problem, so, arguably, is quality. Candidates under the age of 25 are supposed to have a minimum of five O levels and two A levels; for those aged 25 and over the university of life is enough. In practice, 65% of approved candidates are graduates. The remainder train for three years at a theological college. Mention this to most clergymen and they will rightly say that spiritual development is far more important than a degree. Pointing to the isolation and emotional stresses of the parish priest, they will add something along the lines that all do a valiant job in the face of overwhelming odds.

In many instances, no doubt, it is true, but Canon Ian Hardaker, clergy appointments adviser, is refreshingly honest about the need to improve the intellectual calibre of the would-be clergy. Hardaker certainly is not suggesting that academic qualifications should supersede spiritual criteria, but he insists that intellect and leadership are also important attributes in serving God properly. It is a view which many of the younger, university-educated clergy seem to share.

Of course, no bright young thing who wants to make a quick buck would consider going into the ministry. Nevertheless, considerations such as "career development" find their way into the Church as elsewhere. Here too there are problems, often of historical provenance.

Nowadays no clergyman is entitled to a living of the sort which used to make or break his marital prospects in Jane Austen novels, but incumbents still enjoy tenure. Some can, and do, choose to stay put for many years, risking staleness and obstructing the development of other staff.

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