Tag Archives: Ruth Gledhill

Annual Church Attendance Story

The annual survey of Church attendance figures has just been published, and as usual it is an opportunity for the media to publish a load of stories highlighting the figures. The Times in particular really went for it including this article – Churchgoing on its knees as Christianity falls out of favour – which in particular plays the Muslims will outnumber Christians card, and is being disputed by the organisation who conducted the research. As the Church of England response to the survey points out it does this using a figure taken from census data and compares it with the actual Church attendance – if a similar ploy was used to calculate numbers of Christians from census data the figures would show something like twenty million active Christians in the UK.

Ruth Gledhill also backs up the main piece with a comment article which includes a number of juicy quotes:

As the Religious Trends Survey shows, an ageing generation of churchgoers is about to die out and there could be, within a generation, a God-shaped hole at the heart of our society.

and

The decline forecast for the Church of England is so severe that its position as the established church of the nation with the Queen as Supreme Governor can surely no longer be tenable.

however this point does get to the heart of the problem:

Yet, as the report notes, the decline in attendance coincides with a surge of interest in religion, reflected in the growing numbers of children opting for religious studies at GCSE and A level. There are also increasing numbers of students at theological and Bible colleges.

Somehow, the churches, despite innumerable studies, reports, synod and assembly debates, are failing to get these people into church.

The thing is that whilst as a bit of rabble rousing all the press coverage is good, it doesn’t really reflect the true picture – needless to say that is a lot more complicated. David Keen, a vicar in Yeovil, looks in more detail and points out that a significant number of diocese have already reversed the decline. Bishop Alan gets straight to the point too, highlighting a cutting from the Times in 1971 that said the same thing, and on the basis of which the church will cease to exist in a couple of years. (Amusingly to show the ‘power’ of statistics he goes on to prove that the Diocese of Oxford Reporter will have a larger circulation than The Daily Telegraph by 2050…)

The main Times article again puts forward that only the evangelical churches are growing – which from my point of view is wrong. Seriously, Ruth Gledhill should come along to Finchampstead sometime as St James is anything but evangelical. We’re a mainstream middle of the road Anglican church, and yet for the past two years our electoral roll figures have gone up by more than 10% a year, and as I mentioned back at Easter we were struggling to find seats for everybody then. Whilst it is certainly correct to say that our growth area is in the young families, as our Rural Dean pointed out at his recent inspection we manage to produce a respectable fifty to sixty or so people at our prayer book services too.

As far as I am concerned the parts of the Church are growing aren’t anything to do with their Churchmanship – churches of all denominations and types are growing – it’s about getting the basics right, and looking at what people want. In the case of the prayer book services what people are looking for is familiarity and authenticity, so those are done absolutely straight with traditional hymns, and the King James bible. On the other hand the young families, who often come in via our play-group, are looking for accessibility, which is what they get through our 9:30am Family Services. The main 11am services are a bit more of a blend of the two, so we’re relatively traditional, with organ, choir and sermon, but with more accessible elements. The biggest thing though is to be a welcoming community. It is always frustrating to hear of other churches that are spending more time turning themselves into a private club and excluding people – as far as I am concerned whilst things have changed at St James to bring about our rise in numbers, they haven’t been particularly radical, and to be honest if they were radical we’d only end up marginalising a different group. The whole basis of what we do is to be inclusive of the broad range of people in the village rather than exclusively focusing on one group. Whenever the “how do you do it?â€? question comes up though, most people at St James’ really can’t explain, as from our point of view we aren’t doing anything particularly special or out of the ordinary, and equally the area around the church from which our attendance is drawn isn’t that much different from much of the surrounding area either.

Trumpington Vicar to be Sacked

I’ve commented a number of times about the ongoing difficulties in Trumpington – we now have the results of the tribunal, a recommendation that Tom Ambrose be removed as vicar of the parish.

Not surprisingly this has provoked some discussion. Dave Walker has posted an item about it, including a quote from the comment section of Ruth Gledhill’s posting on the subject, which although it seems to have gone vaguely tabloid in the title, is a good read, especially when you get to a couple of the witness statements.

The more you read about the result though, the more it seems incredibly unfair to Tom Ambrose. The disagreement is with a small group on the PCC, and outside of this, the parish seems to have been getting on pretty well. We will have to wait to see the full ruling, but it is interesting to note the wording of the statement that has been published. The tribunal states that they are:

“united in being satisfied beyond reasonable doubt that serious pastoral breakdown has occurred in Trumpington parish�

and that:

“We do not consider that the serious pastoral breakdown in Trumpington parish can be remedied if Dr Ambrose remains as the vicar there.�

Note that nowhere does it make any statements about various of the accusations – the tribunal has merely agreed that a pastoral breakdown has occurred. To resolve that, either the PCC members that are causing the trouble have to go, or Dr Ambrose – and the tribunal is rightly or wrongly recommending Tom Ambrose is being sacked, rather than the removal of the PCC members.

When I read the statements on Ruth Gledhill’s posting, there were several things that stood out. Firstly that the previous incumbent had problems from the same group of PCC members. Then there was this statement:

As a result I have stopped going to the PCC meetings since I was always in a minority surrounded by the majority of harridans.

This hostile group controlling the PCC does not reflect in any sense the congregation of Trumpington Church. Many people tell me as a member of the PCC, when they learn of the difficulties being caused for Tom and Gill that the PCC no longer represents them.

Considering this statement, you need to bear in mind that all of the PCC members are elected by the congregation – if they aren’t representative, who has been electing them? I’m reminded of this quote:

The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing.

It seems to me that this is largely what has happened. The rest of the congregation, rather than using their voting powers at the APCM to get rid of the group on the PCC, have stuck their heads in the sand and ignored what has been going on, and those that have been elected to the PCC haven’t fought for their vicar – as a result, they’re now facing his removal.

However much he wanted to fight for his position, I do think that Tom Ambrose should have just resigned from the post, as I can’t see how the Church can resolve the pastoral breakdown in any other way than to remove him – it’s a lot easier to remove one priest, who lest we not forget lives in a house that comes with the job, than multiple PCC members who will all still be living in the parish anyway – leaving the remains of the problem still there, even if those involved no longer have any power.

After this, I’d be amazed if anyone in their right mind applies for the vacancy in Trumpington when it comes up now. Effectively that one group on the PCC has now made their parish a no-go zone – the growth that has come in spite of their efforts will most surely die when Ambrose is removed, and with nobody willing to take on the parish, the remains will struggle to survive too. Ultimately it’s a pyrrhic victory, nobody will really come out as the winner, and the biggest losers will be the people of Trumpington themselves.

Choir Going Cheap

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Hat tip to Ruth Gledhill for highlighting this, but the choir of St Stephen’s Church in Bristol are selling themselves on eBay – at the time of writing bidding is currently running at £16.

Not surprisingly this seems to be another example of a church struggling with change – something I wrote about a few months ago with regards to the goings on in Cambridgeshire and Devon. (I’ve avoided any more comment on the Cambridgeshire case in particular until the dust has settled as it is currently going through the legal process.)

Based on their repertoire, and the list of places where they have previously sung in the eBay listing, you get the impression that the choir of St Stephen’s is pretty good. It is even more interesting when you use Google to dig past the somewhat bland website to the details of the musical tradition and browsing around what is left see how much the choir features – take a look at the page of music and events.

Aside from Ruth Gledhill I have yet to find out exactly why the choir is up for sale, and what the changes are that are causing it to want to sell itself on eBay – Ruth mentions trying to talk to the clergy and choir members, but as yet no further information.

Is This a Good Use of £500,000?

Reading through “Of Course I Could Be Wrong…” I came across this story taken from the Cambridge Evening News about the parish of St Mary and St Michael in Trumpington who are trying to take their vicar, Rev Tom Ambrose to an Ecclesiastical Tribunal claiming that there has been a pastoral breakdown in the parish.

Unfortunately the article is rather one sided, as nobody in the parish who is backing the tribunal calls would talk to the newspaper. However Rev Ambrose and his backers don’t seem to think they have done anything radical. He was appointed to modernise and update the Church, something he had done elsewhere. From what he has described he seems to be trying to welcome in more families, so he moved the Harvest Supper to a Saturday evening from a Friday, removed four pews from the back of the Church to provide space for coffee to be served after the service, and the move that apparently provoked massive outrage – proposed to put toilets in the Church!

When you realise that the legal fees alone for the proposed tribunal would cost £150,000, with the full cost after appeals heading towards £500,000 it all seems like a stunning waste of money, and quite why the situation has been allowed to get this far I really don’t know. Certainly taking a browse around their church website the only real indication that there is anything amiss is the fact that one of the Churchwardens also resides at the Vicarage.

Really, with the volume of adverse publicity that this is generating, somebody needs to do something. There have been articles on the BBC News, in the Daily Mail, the Telegraph and a classic bit of Ruth Gledhill drama in the Times:

For more than 700 years the parishioners of Trumpington have worshipped in their church while the great crises of the Christian faith have blown about them.

The Crusades claimed the life of one lord of the manor while the building was damaged by reforming zealots during the Reformation.

Nothing in their long history however has frightened the parishioners like the arrival at St Mary and St Michael of a modernising vicar.

In eight years of disturbing radicalism, the Rev Tom Ambrose has moved the harvest festival supper back a day and removed four pews to clear a space for coffee meetings.

When he suggested adding new lavatories for the ageing congregation, the guardians of tradition snapped.

The feedback section after the article also includes a number of comments backing Rev Ambrose, and certainly with the other messages of support locally the people backing the tribunal unwilling to discuss their grievances – citing sub-judice as their reason – it is seemingly like they are proposing to waste a vast amount of money over what appears to be an argument over toilets. Worse than that the Diocese of Ely seems quite happy to back them in this, rather than calling for restraint and trying to get those involved to resolve matters locally. If there are serious accusations to be addressed, then the case should continue – but if it is only about the Harvest Supper, removing pews, and toilets, seriously there are better things to be doing…

Seriously, I thought it was April 1st…

I’m quite amazed to hear that Jeffrey Archer, who had such a spectacular fall from grace when he was convicted for perjury and perverting the course of justice in 2001 after lying in a libel trial, has co-written “The Gospel According to Judas: By Benjamin Iscariotâ€?. However Reuters ran the story last month, Ruth Gledhill has blogged about it today (she said she couldn’t have made it up), and the book is available on Amazon! But then maybe there is something about former Tory ministers jailed for perjury that breeds religious conversions

Which Way Will It Go?

Before the fall out from the convention has even settled, it looks like the election of a new Bishop of Newark, a post previously held by John Shelby Spong, is going to cause more arguments, as one of the four candidates is gay. The diocese have said that the committee deliberately avoided discriminating against candidates on the grounds of sexual orientation. Essentially, they have handed the decision to the members of the congregations in the Newark diocese, and as with the recent election in California it will be their choice of Bishop that will ultimately trigger, or avoid more arguments.

In the UK, Ruth Gledhill’s article in the Times yesterday that assumed that any Anglican covenant would be defined in terms of the conservative position has produced a swift response from Colin Slee, pointing out firstly that no covenant has been defined, and also floating the question as to whether many congregations in the wider Church of England, such as his own in Southwark, would sign up to it either. This offers the possibility that the Church of England as a whole may find itself theologically closer to the liberal provinces that include Scotland and New Zealand as well as the US and Canadian churches than the conservative provinces in Africa and Asia, and drafting a much more liberal covenant than the conservative churches could stomach. This of course raises the possibility that ultimately it may be these conservative provinces that will find themselves excluded, rather than the liberal wing.