The Church of England will embark on sweeping changes aimed at getting rid of red tape and "hindrances to mission" if plans presented to next month's General Synod are accepted.
The Church's task group on 'Simplification', chaired by the Bishop of Willesden, Rt Rev Pete Broadbent, has produced a report into out-of-date and restrictive rules. In his introduction, Bishop Pete said that there is "a swathe of legislation – canons, measures and regulations – which are too complex, cumbersome to operate, and militate against change".
"There has been a tendency over recent years, in framing our legislation, to over-prescribe, to defend against every possible eventuality, and to create a defensive bureaucracy that is in many instances no longer fit for purpose," he continues, calling for a programme to "Identify the essential – what makes for good governance, proper legality and a clear process" and "Eliminate the rest."
Among the targets of the report – one of four major pieces of work to go to the Synod – are restrictions on the deployment of clergy, for instance in short-term mission situations, and cumbersome procedures for closing churches and making good use of those which are no longer needed for regular worship. It also takes aim at "unusably generous compensation provisions for loss of office" where parish reorganisations – a process also needing reform – results in ministers being deemed surplus to requirements. At present, it says, "in some cases incumbents may remain in non-viable parishes until retirement, where this is seen as a more cost effective and less time consuming solution than agreeing a compensation package".
Interviewed for the launch of the report, Bishop Pete said: "We are now in a situation where we need to do mission very urgently, where the re-evangelisation of England is our key task, and where there are a lot of things stopping that, and one of the things stopping it is the very complex and quite defensive bureaucracy that we have in terms of the legislation we operate under."
Responses from dioceses, he said, had identified " a lot of complexity which really doesn't help people in terms of being able to be fleet-footed, and change things and enable things to happen in order for us to reach new ways of communicating the good news of Jesus Christ".
If nothing changes about the way the Church operates, he said, "I do think we are near the Last Chance Saloon.
"There are parts of the country where the Church of England will probably not be surviving in 30 years time unless we do something to bring new people to church, to re-engage with our communities, to build on the really good stuff that's already going on.
"No one is saying nothing's happening. What we're saying is a sea-change is needed whereby the Church needs to restructure itself in order to evangelise the country."
Bishop Pete also called for the Synod to move quickly, saying: "I don't want to get into a situation where we spend all our time debating whether the Church of England needs to change or not. I think it's absolutely paramount for us to grasp this early and get on with it."
An online discussion forum has been created for conversation about the report.