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Historic churches win a reprieve

Andrew Brown reports on the debate over the future pattern of worship in the City
The outgoing Bishop of London, the Rt Rev David Hope, has rejected proposals in a report he commissioned to "mothball" churches in the City of London and to appoint a dean to run the remainder.

Dr Hope still wishes to cut the number of active churches in the City from 36 to 12, as recommended in a report by a commisson led by the law lord Lord Templeman. But he now believes it will be possible to find alternative uses for all the 24 churches rendered unnecessary in the Templeman scheme.

Dr Hope becomes Archbishop of York this autumn, so a final decision will have to be taken by his successor, not yet chosen. But his statement will be seen as a victory for conservationists, who had campaigned vigorously against proposals to mothball any of the churches.

There are 36 churches in the City of London serving a resident population of 5,000, of whom all but 400 live in the Barbican parish. Lord Templeman recommended last year that they be amalgamated into four parishes, and that these parishes be placed under the control of a City dean, who would co-ordinate their activities.

The remaining churches should be rented out to voluntary organisations or similar good causes. If this proved impossible, then reluctantly they should be mothballed, Lord Templeman argued. The suggestion that churches might be closed drew attacks from conservation organisations and some affected priests.

Dr Hope has not dissented from Lord Templeman's suggestion that the number of paid clergy be cut from 22 to 12. "We will end up with the same number of churches and fewer clergy," said the Rev Victor Stock, rector of one of the reprieved churches, St Mary le Bow.