Holy Smoke

Can C of E parishes stop bureaucrats wasting their money?

31 min listen

In This Episode

If you belong to or care about the Church of England, you may be shocked by some of the things you learn in this episode of Holy Smoke.

I’m not referring to the familiar evidence that the Established Church, in common with all mainstream Christian denominations in Britain, is watching its congregations shrink at a humiliating rate. In 2019, an average of only 690,000 people attended Church of England services on Sundays – 50,000 fewer than in 2016. And that was before Covid. This is what people mean when they talk about churchgoing falling off a cliff, and it’s a desperate problem for a church facing the impossible challenge of maintaining 16,000 buildings, many of them Grade I listed.

What shocked me was what my guest, the Rev Marcus Walker, Rector of St Bartholomew the Great in the City of London, revealed about the horrors of the C of E’s insatiably greedy and tediously right-on bureaucracy. An ever-growing army of administrators and busybodies – he describes their numbers as ‘astronomical’ – is raiding the collection plates of local parishes so that they can force-feed churchgoers with their drivel.

Marcus is one of the best-connected priests in the Church of England – and one of the bravest. In our interview he talks candidly about the ‘despoiling’ of parishes by the managerial culture promoted by the bishops, which has thrown away more than £240 million on doomed projects to attract new worshippers. These schemes are mostly cack-handed attempts to foist the charismatic evangelical model of ‘church plants’ on ordinary parishes. (For an idea of just how badly this can go wrong, read the under-reported story of the resignation of the Bishop of Winchester, Tim Dakin, a hardline evangelical whose obsession with mega-churches and alleged harassment of vicars led Winchester to be dubbed ‘the diocese of North Korea’).

It was a barking mad scheme to create 10,000 ‘lay-led churches’ that prompted Marcus Walker, writing in The Spectator in July, to launch a ‘Save the parish’ campaign that, among other things, encourages parish priests and their congregations to lock away their money so that the power-crazed mediocrities who control the church can’t get their hands on it.

Trust me: you don’t want to miss what the Rector of the oldest parish church in the City of London has to say. And, once you’ve listened to him, I don’t think you’ll be surprised that St Bartholomew’s is absolutely thriving under his stewardship.

(Note to Catholic listeners: I couldn’t resist asking Marcus, former deputy director of the Anglican Centre in Rome, what he makes of Pope Francis’s campaign to suppress the traditional Latin Mass…)


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