Archbishop of York says parish system plans are about revitalising the Church

(Photo: Unsplash/Daniel Polevoy)

The Archbishop of York, Stephen Cottrell, has hit back at claims that he and the Archbishop of Canterbury, Justin Welby, are seeking to undermine the Church of England's parish system.

In a debate on the last day of the July General Synod on Monday, Archbishop Cottrell commended a Vision and Strategy report setting out the Archbishops' aim for the Church to become "younger and more diverse", and "simpler, humbler, and bolder".

"At the centre of this and as the means whereby we will serve and reach our nation is a parish system revitalised for mission. I'm dismayed that anyone would think that this work – work, by the way, that is still work in progress – is aimed at anything else," he said.

The four-day online Synod meeting was overshadowed by media reports of a recent speech by Canon John McGinley, leader of the 'Myriad' church-planting initiative, which is supported by the Bishop of Islington, Ric Thorpe, who has a national church planting brief for the CofE.

Canon McGinley told an online conference about Myriad's vision for 10,000 new lay-led churches across England: "Lay-led churches release the Church from key limiting factors. When you don't need a building and a stipend (clergy salary) and long, costly college-based training for every leader of church ... then actually we can release new people to lead and new churches to form. It also releases the discipleship of people. In church-planting, there are no passengers."

The Archbishops of Canterbury and York endorsed the MutliplyX 2021 conference, with Archbishop Welby saying the Church needed to plant churches "to let Jesus out".

Rev Marcus Walker, Rector of London's Priory Church of St Bartholomew the Great, expressed anger towards the comments in The Spectator magazine: "I am a key limiting factor. That's a new one for a clergyman of the Church of England. We've traded under parson, cleric, priest, minister, padre and even pie and liquor, but never before have I heard us described as 'key limiting factors'.

"There are about to be General Synod elections. So, stand. Stand and write in your manifesto that you are standing to 'Save the parish'. Stand whether you are an Evangelical or an Anglo-Catholic or a High Churchman. Stand if you're a female priest or a woman who doesn't think women can be priests. Stand if you want to save the parish.

"Stand because this might really be the last chance to save the church we love."

The row over frontline parish clergy being described as "key limiting factors" prompted Archbishop Cottrell to reassure Synod members on Friday that in his view, it is the lack of clergy that is "a limiting factor".

In the debate over "taking note" of the Vision and Strategy report, Prudence Dailey, a lay member for Oxford Diocese, said: "If we were going to start the Church of England from scratch and think really big, what might we want it to be like?

"Wouldn't it be great if we could reach people where they are by having our very own building in the heart of every community as a centre for people to gather and worship?

"Each one of these centres might have its own clergy specially selected and trained to reach out to all the people in their own context and these clergy would actually live in the heart of their community and be part of it.

"Of course, we don't have to dream because we already have all this. Until I see real evidence that we're willing to treasure what we already have, I'm afraid I'm going to struggle to take note of this report."

Replying to the debate, Archbishop Cottrell said: "Synod, I don't know where some of these things come from that say that somehow there is an agenda to undermine the work of parishes and the work of clergy.

"I can simply say from the bottom of my heart that if I thought even for a moment that that's what any of this was about, then I would be voting against this motion to take note."

The final Synod before September's elections voted overwhelmingly to take note of the report. It is due to come back for group discussions and further debate at future Synod meetings.