New churchwardens sworn in as bishop speaks of church changes

Elizabeth Fawcett, Miriam Cloughton and Tricia Selby before their swearing in as churchwardens at Ripon Cathedral

By Betsy Everett

The number of ordained stipendiary clergy in the Church of England is set to fall by 40 per cent in the next ten years forcing fresh thinking on the role of those remaining and how the future needs of parishes will be met, the Bishop of Leeds has warned.

Bishop Nick Baines told a packed congregation in Ripon Cathedral to see new churchwardens be sworn in, that while more people were being ordained this would not compensate for future losses.

The diocese would need to “think afresh how we are to resource our parishes with both clergy and lay ministers into the future. Inevitably, the role of clergy will need to change as will our approach to pastoral reorganisation,” he said.
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Bishop Nick was speaking at the first of five Visitations in the Anglican diocese of Leeds, at which churchwardens are formally admitted to office.

The church, he said, was in a period of transition and challenge and meeting obligations with diminishing resources was not easy. The biblical example of Moses leading the Israelites out of captivity, the subject of one of the Bible readings, showed how such challenges could be met.

“It suggests we are in it together – not to find quick and easy solutions to complex developmental and resource questions but to work out together how best to go forward,” he said.

The office of churchwarden was one of the oldest in England, exemplifying the tension between the old and the new.

“I for one do not need to be reminded of the cost of change or of the challenges facing churches in often small communities in the north of England in the twenty-first century.”

The rural north of the diocese (which includes Richmond and the Dales) was the area where “just to be clear” he had spent more time in the last three years than any other, he said, and it presented “unique challenges.”

“They can best be addressed now we have held our nerve and kept our discipline in establishing a firm structural foundation on which we can build a framework of support and training,” he added.

Ripon Cathedral, venue for first Visitation

He had begun the process of appointing a successor to James Bell following his retirement as suffragan Bishop of Ripon and it was hoped they would be in place by the end of this year or early next. He was looking for an actual or potential expert in rural ministry and rural affairs.

Bishop Nick said churches could call on the archdeacon, area deans, diocesan officers and himself for help.

“As a number of parishes will know already, if invited, I will come to you. If I or we can visit you, we will. If you hear weird things about me or the diocese, please contact me and check them out! I am constantly surprised at what I am thought to have said, thought or done.”