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Church of England Reviews may see Number of Bishops Cut

The Church of England is scrutinizing the role of bishops and other senior posts in a review that could result in significant cuts and produce more focus on mission
( [email protected] ) Jun 22, 2004 11:53 AM EDT

The Church of England is currently reviewing itself and looking into the role of its Bishops and other senior posts with a view to making cutbacks. The review is being undertaken by a top-level working group created at a private meeting of the House of Bishops in Liverpool last week.

It is thought that the hierarchy of the Church of England has gotten too top-heavy, and it has been rumoured that as many as 35 jobs could be shed to slash millions of pounds from the Church of England’s annual budget. The Bishops’ ministry on average is now costing the Church of England approximately £160,000 annually, which is making the total annual bill escalate to around £18million covering stipends, pension contributions and staff salaries. The Diocese of London has already held top-level talks to consider which areas could be run without a Bishop.

The most in danger by the cutbacks seem to be the 69 suffragan bishops as their number have more than doubled in the past century. In 1900 there were recorded 57 bishops and 24,000 clergy. However, over the past 100years this number that risen to the current day figure of 110 bishops, 9,000 full-time clergy, and 9,000 other clergy and licensed lay persons.

Despite the growing threat of cutbacks, the Bishop positions under threat are highly unlikely to be sacked, and it is thought it will be more likely that Bishop numbers will be decreased on retirements, when no replacements will be sought in certain areas. These empty positions left will see jobs being merged together or even shared between lower numbers of Bishops.

A Church spokesman confirmed the existence of a bishops' working group but said that there were currently "no plans" to axe any posts. One senior figure said: "The subject has to be tackled as a matter of urgency but obviously it will not be easy to bring about as there are so many vested interests."

The Archbishop of Canterbury, Dr Rowan Williams has promoted his views of wanting to boost churchgoer numbers by diverting resources, and he wants to promote new schemes to attract new members to the congregations. Dr Williams is insistent on developing a “mixed economy church”, and has said that he wants to make the church more diverse in the ways it does things, in the recent “Mission Shaped Church” report.

Current proposed cutbacks include selling Auckland Castle in Durham, and Rose Castle in Cumbria. In January, church commissioners put forward new proposals to maximize the income from its properties and those proving too expensive to maintain might be put on the market.

Senior clergy have expressed their worries that larger dioceses may consume smaller dioceses, such as those on Portsmouth and Truro. However, even dioceses in Bradford and Newcastle may be under threat.

It is hoped that despite the obvious concerns raised by the cut-backs, that if they do go ahead that they may produce a more mission-focused Church of England.

Bishops are said to be split on the plans, but the Bishop of Willesden, the Rt Rev Pete Broadbent, is confident that the size of the House of Bishops can be contracted, “I think we will do it,” he said. “I would want to see a reduction. The system is crying out for change. Financial problems are driving this, but it would be very good to have clearer roles.”

Bishop Broadbent said that the role of archdeacons and bishops could overlap, and that a better structured Church would be more effective in mission: “We don’t want to proliferate roles. There are very few people in the pews who actually see what we do and form misconceptions.”

The Bishop of Carlisle, the Rt Rev Graham Dow, agrees that people do not understand well enough the many church and public roles that they have, but is against moves for a cut. “The Episcopal job is more difficult and clergy need more support. The Church Commissioners are eager to distribute money for mission, and that is what bishops are involved in. The case for reducing the number of bishops is very weak.”