Church of England cannot survive by 'spreading clergy more thinly' - Justin Welby

Around two thirds of Church of England parishes and churches are in rural areas.(Photo: Church of England/Colin Watts)

The Church of England cannot achieve its mission "only by spreading clergy more thinly", the Archbishop of Canterbury Justin Welby has admitted.

In a speech this week to the National Farmers' Union, Archbishop Welby appeared to acknowledge that the reduction in clergy numbers, especially in rural areas, was not helping the CofE to be "the Church for England".

He quoted figures revealing that around two thirds of all CofE churches and parishes are situated in rural areas.

This proportion, he admitted, presents challenges for the Church.

"I want to take this opportunity to say that the local church is there for everyone in the parish, whether they are a churchgoer or not," he said.

"This is a challenge to and for the Church as to how we ensure churches in rural areas flourish and support local communities.

"We need to change, to reclaim the vision of being not only the Church of England, but also the Church for England, every part, rural and urban.

"It cannot be achieved only by spreading clergy more thinly," he said.

The Archbishop's speech has attracted national media attention because of his reference to TV vicars being portrayed as "rogues or idiots".

He told the audience of farming leaders at the Royal Society in London: "I got into watching Clarkson's Farm over the last 18 months. I don't know how you feel about it – maybe for you watching Jeremy Clarkson feels a bit like me watching anything with a vicar in it: either you can't stand it or you get completely addicted."

He continued, "I generally find depictions of vicars on TV to be depressing – they are portrayed as rogues or idiots.

"The reality is very different – it is actually of hard-working normal people, caring deeply about what they do and working all the hours there are to do it."

The Archbishop's stress on the Church of England being the Church 'for' England follows his presidential address to the General Synod last week in which he spoke about plans for growth.

"The Church ... is planting churches in new places, casting the net in unlikely places and ways, perhaps, God-willing, as many as 10,000 new congregations in the next 10 years," he said.

"And essentially, because it is the foundation of this Church of and for England, resources, fresh resources are being put into traditional parishes."