Letter: A bigger church is not a better church

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The Independent Online
Sir: 'Far too many churches', says Robin Gill (Home News, 15 February). His analysis is interesting, but readers should bear in mind that a massive act of despoliation could not be launched without violating the very nature of the Church of England. Dr Gill seems to assume that regular Sunday church-going is a value-assessment of parson and parish alike. We are being assessed to death.

It is the genius of the Church of England to belong to everyone. The parish church is not the property of some great corporation called the Church of England, for there is no such animal: its freehold is vested in the individual parson, a corporation sole, as a matter of sacred trust on behalf of all the parishioners - whether they come to church or not.

A parish church is not the congregation's building: it belongs to the people. To all those people the parson traditionally ministers - in baptisms, marriages and funerals, all celebrated without any invidious test. Does Dr Gill imply that that is not church-going? When a landowner gave the ground to be sacred and built a church to be consecrated by the bishop, set aside from all common and profane uses for ever, he as patron chose the parson - at its best a holy alliance to serve the people.

Today I took the funeral of a Hamstead man who worked in coal all his life, born and baptised here, married 50 years ago in my church, his church, although he was not there on Sundays. He said his prayers at home. I prayed in his house yesterday with his wife and family. I was glad to do so. His vicar was in his home to complete the cycle of life and death. One of the congregation had called in the morning.

That is what it is to be the Church in a place. That is what a large congregation of the gathered sort can never be.

One of my friends has just moved to a much larger congregation: 'No one spoke to us,' he said. Is that a 'better' church, just because the Sunday worshippers are more numerous? Quality or quantity? If we go for quantity, we shall denude the English countryside of its churches, and so deprive the deprived of their last resource. At least country dwellers have God's house, even if they have to share God's man with the adjacent parishes]

Such a withdrawal would be more than symbolic. Large tracts of the country and the inner city would be surrendered to paganism, other religions, or house- churches, and Henry VIII might turn in his grave.

Yours sincerely,



The English Clergy Association


16 February