Church of England set to lose a tenth of its clergy in five years

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The Church of England is facing the loss of as many as one in ten paid clergy in the next five years and internal documents seen by The Times admit that the traditional model of a vicar in every parish is over.

The credit crunch and a pension funding crisis have left dioceses facing massive restructuring programmes. Church statistics show that between 2000 and 2013 stipendiary or paid clergy numbers will have fallen by nearly a quarter.

According to figures on the Church of England website, there will be an 8.3 per cent decrease in paid clergy in the next four years, from 8,400 this year to 7,700 in to 2013. This represents a 22.5 per cent decrease since 2000. If this trend continues in just over 50 years there will be no full-time paid clergy left in Britain’s 13,000 parishes serving 16,000 churches.

Jobs will instead be filled by unpaid part-timers, giving rise to fears about the quality of parish ministry. Combined with a big reduction in churchgoing, the figures will add weight to the campaign for disestablishment.

Nine meetings with bishops, diocesan and cathedral staff were held in London this summer to discuss the crisis. A Church report on the meetings released yesterday to The Times describes the traditional model of a stipendiary vicar in every parish as “broken in much of the country”.

This week the Archbishops’ Council approved a plan to make Anglican clergy work until the age of 68 to help to save the Church from its multimillion-pound pensions shortfall.

Increased life expectancy, combined with greater regulation and the credit crunch, has left the Church’s pension scheme with liabilities of £813 million, almost double the £461 million market value of its assets.

The scheme, created in 1998 and partly funded by churchgoers who are being asked to put more in the collection pot than ever before, has been especially hard hit because all of its investments were placed in the stock market at the end of the 1990s.

One diocese that is particularly struggling is Winchester, where a meeting of the diocesan synod this morning will discuss proposals to cut clergy posts to save £1 million.

In Littlebourne, in the Arcbhishop of Canterbury’s diocese in Canterbury, a benefice that contributes more than £50,000 is protesting at being told that it can have only an unpaid, part-time priest.In a new pattern of ministry mirrored throughout the country the benefice is to be placed in a “cluster” with a neighbouring benefice and will share the neighbour’s stipendiary priest.

A spokesperson for the Diocese of Oxford told The Times: “We have been reducing the number of clergy for a number of years. We are a big diocese and don’t want to take more than our fair share — that’s happening right across the church.”

Even in the wealthy diocese of Salisbury, where there is a projected budget increase of 1.8 per cent, the 214 full-time stipendiary clergy in 2008 are to be cut to 203 by 2016.

The Rev David Houlding, the chairman of clergy in the London diocese, said: “The bottom line is that the money which pays for the Church comes from people in the pew. The income of the Church of England is seriously threatened at the moment because people do not have the money because of the credit crunch.”

About one in sixty people worships with the Church of England on an average Sunday. This is projected to drop to less than one in 600 by 2050. The average age of a British Anglican worshipper was 37 in 1980, but is expected to rise to 67 by 2050.

Terry Sanderson, of the National Secular Society, said: “Such numbers remove the last vestige of justification for the Church’s establishment. It is no longer representative of the nation and will become progressively less able to fulfil its claimed nationwide service.

“Establishment gives bishops significant power and this is simply illegitimate and undemocratic. It is quite clear that the Church of England is, to all extents and purposes, finished.” continues here

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