Scott Anderson: End of the parish?


Kendall Harmon has posted a provocative essay by Scott Anderson asking if it may be time for the Church of England to re-think its parochial ministry:

“The Church of England has too many – far too many – churches and many of its congregations are too small to be viable. England has changed from a country in which the Christian population needs pastoring, to a country where the pagan population needs evangelizing. So we must ask whether the parish system is a suitable structure for re-evangelizing England.”

The problem isn’t all that different here in the states. We have small towns in which few people live today (especially in the rust belt) that had 2 or 3 different parishes founded in them back when the town had a larger population. On the other hand we have city parishes that are now undergoing a resurgence as a result of re-urbanization trends we’re seeing.

But either way, as parochial costs climb, it may soon be time for all the churches to rethink our sense of what a “normal” parish looks like.

Read the rest here: Scott Anderson: End of the parish?

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Episcopal bishop, dad, astronomer, erstwhile dancer...


  1. Chris Sugden’s proposed ‘Covenant for the Church of England’ met with such widespread rejection that clearly there is a need for a different approach – ‘Slowly slowly catchee monkey’.
    I find it rather interesting that the ‘anglo-catholics’ get particular mention here, addicted as they are to the ‘parson’s freehold’ – as if redundant churches weren’t broad church or low church. That should cause bells to start ringing. A good many English dioceses have changed the way ministry is provided – opting for Team Rectors or some form of incumbency other than that of a rector having ‘freehold’.
    I suppose we can expect further essays gradually moving us toward the real object of all of this which is a ‘mission minded church’ free of obedience to local bishops and lacking the historical breadth of the Church of England. Get out the overhead screens!

  2. I think you are right to start a conversation about this, Fr. Nick.
    I obviously don’t know what the situation is in Europe, but in my area at least (New York metro), there are literally hundreds of Episcopal Churches, many of which are old and are becoming a drain on resources in terms of upkeep. Some of them, like this one, have been empty for a generation, although they are beautiful structures and probably worthy of preservation.
    I’d think there could be some sort of arrangement made with the local governments in terms of preservation – but I wonder sometimes if it wouldn’t be better to simply start fresh.
    Another thought occurred to me recently, Fr. Nick. Fr. Chris, a visitor to my blog, made me aware of the Independent Catholic Church, which seems to me in many ways – especially in their ecclesiology – to be very compatible with TEC; most of their congregations, as far as I can tell, do not have their own parishes, but meet in spaces donated to them. Why couldn’t TEC start working on getting into “full Communion” with this group and others like it?

  3. Thanks bls and Raspberry – actually this is something I’ve been thinking about for years. There’s more pain coming given the decline in parish revenue and increasing costs.
    I’m working on an essay that tries to layout some of the ideas I’ve had based on what I’ve seen work and not work in the dioceses I’ve served in the NorthEast US. (Things are different here in Arizona – the biggest issue here is actually managing the explosive population growth.)
    What I’ve not seen people thinking about yet is the coming critical shortage of clergy – which is happening at the same time that seminary education costs are rising to the point that lots of people who feel called can’t afford the training…

  4. Now that’s something I’ve never heard – a shortage of clergy?
    I’d always heard that there were many more Episcopal priests than could fill the positions available. That’s not true?
    Again, though, I bring up the Independent Catholics. Most are not paid, although some are; couldn’t there be something like half-time priests – people who do other work part of the time? And maybe the training period could be cut down some? I know it’s a very long process.
    I look forward, anyway, to reading your article.

  5. I moved to the UK from Canada three years ago. I’m in the Scottish Episcopal Church and have never worked in the C of E. Maybe we’re a ‘blip’ here in Edinburgh but the number of churches in frank decline is really not that many. Every year at Synod we go over the stats for the year and there seems to be steady growth or at least ‘holding the line’ in most of the churches listed. There are ups and downs but giving generally seems to keep up over the years. Edinburgh Diocese is a mixture of city/town/village churches. I can’t believe we’re that different from English cities/towns/villages. I wouldn’t say that our clergy are ‘exemplary’ – we’re ordinary folks. We aren’t as partisan as many of the English – we’ve been allowed to get on with it without being over regulated by archdeacons and dioceses eager to collapse everything into teams. That sort of thing would be anathema to us and we tend to get a little cheeky when canonical changes are proposed which seem needless and intrusive. It’s far from given that the church is ‘declining’ far and wide. In this quite ordinary place we’re doing relatively well thank you very much.

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