Two-thirds of churches in City 'should close': Templeman report is welcomed by clergy. Andrew Brown reports

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The Independent Online
TWO-THIRDS of the churches in the City of London should be closed, according to a commission chaired by Lord Templeman, a law lord.

The commission, whose conclusions were greeted with applause when unveiled to the City's clergy, is the fifth attempt this century to solve the problems which arise when 36 churches serve one square mile, with a permanent population of 5,000 of whom all but 400 live in the Barbican.

Asked why he thought this attempt to rationalise would succeed when all previous ones had failed, Lord Templeman said: 'It's a different age; a different bishop; and I think the tide has changed. The City clergy themselves are beginning to think that life isn't only about having a service at 11am every day for four-and-a- half people.'

However, Lord Templeman made it clear that churches should not be demolished for lack of a congregation. 'The buildings are magnificent,' he said. 'They belong not only to the Church of England, but to the City and to the nation. It is out of the question to pull them down.' But, he said, St Ethelburga, Bishopgate, which was demolished by an IRA bomb in 1992, should not be rebuilt as a replica, nor turned into a public garden, which he said would be 'the most expensive since the hanging gardens of Babylon'.

He suggested that the 24 churches transferred to the 'reserve list' could be used for libraries, for music, or for business purposes.

The report makes a scathing attack on the lack of vision and organisation in the present arrangements for City churches. 'Each minister in charge of a church decides what he is to do, and what activities are to be carried on, in and from his church . . . No one is responsible for assessing the needs of various categories of people in the City and no one has the power to ensure that those needs are met comprehensively with the most efficient deployment of money and manpower.

'Nearly all the persons who gave written or oral evidence to the commission complained that the Church of England in the City has no strategy to achieve its mission and that the efforts of all the ministers are un-coordinated.'

The commission proposed that these problems be solved by appointing a 'City dean', who would direct the operations of the Church of England in the area; and by the appointment of priests to jobs in the City for five- or seven-year terms, instead of the present freeholds which leave the incumbent secure until his 70th birthday.

The commission also proposed that the historic endowments of the City churches be redistributed among the churches of the diocese in general. At present, the City Churches Fund has an annual income of pounds 3m, of which pounds 1m is spent on the 36 churches of the City, and the remainder distributed among the 1,000 other churches of the diocese of London.

The Bishop of London, Dr David Hope, described the report as 'lively, bold, and imaginative' and said he was committed to implementing it.

However, it was attacked by the conservation pressure group Save Britain's Heritage, which said: 'The callous proposals must be resisted strongly . . . The churches must be retained intact with their furnishings, open to the public, and continue to be used for events as they are at present. The churches should be available for services and open for prayer.'

The churches to be closed under the commission's proposals are: St Andrew by the Wardrobe with St Anne; St Andrew, Holborn; St Anne and St Agnes; St Bartholemew the Less; St Benet, Paul's Wharf; St Mary Abchurch; St Michael, Paternoster Royal; St Nicholas, Cole Abbey; St Olave, Hart Street; St Peter, Cornhill; St Stephen, Walbrook; St Andrew, Undershaft; St Michael, Cornhill; All Hallows, London Wall; St Botolph, Bishopsgate; St Clement, Eastcheap; St Edmond, King and martyr; St Katharine, Cree; St Margaret, Pattens; St Mary-at-hill; St Vedast, Foster Lane; St Botolph, Aldersgate; St Dunstan-in-the-west; St Martin, Ludgate; St Mary, Aldermary; St Sepulchre- without-Newgate.