Archbishop of York suffers ‘sleepless nights’ after being accused of dismantling rural parishes

The Archbishop of York claims he has suffered “sleepless nights” after being accused of jeopardising rural parishes.

The Most Rev Stephen Cottrell has said that he is “dismayed” at allegations that his plans for the growth of the Church of England would threaten rural parishes. 

For the first time, he also revealed the personal toll that the ongoing debate regarding the future of the institution has taken on him, saying that he has suffered “a good many sleepless nights”. 

Last year, The Telegraph published a series of articles revealing that multiple clergy and laypeople had voiced fears over the “collapse” of the Church of England in rural communities.

Just months later, a leaked Church document suggested that the Covid-19 pandemic has provided an opportunity for “radical change” within the Church which could result in the loss of the parish church model in a bid to remain “financially sustainable”.

The report, sent to the 42 diocesan secretaries this month, warned clergy to prepare for changes and cuts as officials prepare to overhaul the system, sparking fears that churches in rural towns and parishes will not survive. 

‘My dream for the Church’

However, speaking in a lecture entitled “The Dream for the Church”, delivered in St Martin-in-the-Fields, in London, on Monday, Archbishop Cottrell insisted: “I too want to save the parish…

“…And I am dismayed, (and the inheritor of a good many sleepless nights), aghast, that somehow the things that I have been associated with which only want to support, uphold, build and sustain local church and parish church (and more of it) in all its manifold forms have somehow been interpreted as quite the opposite.

“And I reach out to those who have been troubled by some of the things they have heard centrally and say, ‘please let us join together as sisters and brothers in Christ for this single purpose of finding how we can best preserve, sustain and enable local church to flourish’.

“[By] local church I mean the parish church and priests and parishes and churchwardens overseeing a proliferation of other ministries and expressions of Christian community which will enable us to reach more people and shape the life of our nation and our world. 

“That is my dream. And I am hugely encouraged by the many, many ways I see this lived out in the parishes I visit,” he said, adding: “All this is happening in the life of our Church at the moment, and the things that are happening in the national Church and reviews into effectiveness and governance, are seeking to support it.”

‘Scrape the barnacles off the hull’

The Archbishop added that he hoped, after the pandemic, “we might even be able to scrape the barnacles off the hull of the church and put out again into deep waters, recognising that our vocation, especially in the Church of England, is to be the church for everyone, or, as one of my most famous predecessors famously put it: the one organisation which exists for the benefit of its non-members”.

However, in response to his speech, a parishioner, who did not want to be named but who is campaigning for the preservation of parish churches, said: “Scrape the barnacles off the hull of the church and put out again into deep waters’ – what about turning the ship around before it hits the rocks?!”

Archbishop Cottrell has been responsible for leading “Vision and Strategy”, his blueprint for the Church’s future and how it can remain sustainable over the next decade, with the aim of being “simpler, humbler and bolder”.

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