ENGLAND: Synod rejects cuts for 'top heavy' church

July 12, 2009

Despite falling congregations, a 352 million British pound pensions deficit (US$570 million), and declining assets, the Church of England's General Synod has rejected suggestions to consider cutting the number of bishops and dioceses.

The suggestions followed complaints from some clergy, who said that the Anglican church was too top heavy and out of step with the times. The church's two most senior clerics, Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams, Archbishop of York John Sentamu, put the ideas for reductions before the synod.

Still, in throwing out the ideas, the General Synod meeting in York, northern England, proposed that the archbishops of Canterbury and York should examine ways and means of re-organizing the church's 44 dioceses and their bishops, in order to help weather a financial storm and the accusation that the Church of England is out of step with the times.

"We are looking for a kind of revolution in the structure of the church," the Rev. John Hartley, vicar of St. Luke's Church at Eccleshill in Bradford, northern England, was quoted as saying on the BBC. "We do not think the answer is having fewer people for the same job. What we are really asking for is a new way of working the church."

Debate at the synod, the governing body of the Church of England, focused mainly on a paper prepared by the Diocese of Bradford, which noted that despite a "large decline" in church membership and full-time paid clergy, little consideration had been given to reducing the number of senior posts and structures around them.

The number of deans and canons of cathedrals, as well as archdeacons, bishops and other senior positions has remained unchanged for half a century. Over the same time, the number of junior clergy has fallen, and this has led to the merging of parishes.

Supporters of a motion to cut the number of bishops told the synod that the 21.8 million pounds ($35.33 million) spent on bishops' houses, staff, offices and expenses was equivalent to more than 400 clergy stipends.

The synod defeated the motion to reduce the number of bishops, and also stopped a plan by Williams and Sentamu to abolish church bodies responsible for education, mission and finance, and for the powers of the church's main boards and councils to be passed to the sees of Canterbury and York.

The religion correspondent of the London newspaper, The Times, Ruth Gledhill, reported on July 13: "Opponents said that the changes would turn government of the church into a 'Muslim style theocracy.'" Gledhill commented that the General Synod "asserted its representative authority," and that it "rightly resisted the call from the archbishops of Canterbury and York and their advisers to place these responsibilities in the hands of a few powerful (representatives)."

In 1960, the electoral roll of the Church of England contained 2.86 million names. In 2007, the number had fallen to 1.17 million. Full time stipendiary (paid) clergy in 1959 numbered 14 380, and had fallen to 8304 by 2007. The number of non-stipendiary clergy rose from 6958 in 1960 to 11201 in 2007.

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