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Matching resources to reality

by Michael Ford last modified 27 Feb, 2019 04:02 PM

Bishop Nicholas has said Synod’s agreement to drop the requirement to hold a Sunday service in every church is “sensible”.

General Synod voted to repeal the Canon law first passed in 1603, which stipulated that weekly Sunday services must take place in every church. The vote is designed to make it easier for multi-church parishes, where it is often impractical to hold weekly services in every church, to rotate Sunday services between a group of churches in a Benefice or cluster.

Bishop Nicholas said:
“This will be much appreciated in rural areas where multi-parish benefices are a reality.”

He added that removing the requirement for a Sunday service in each church might open the door to allow more weekday services across a Benefice.

“Morning and Evening Prayer are still the heartbeat of a church’s life.

“This change is a sensible step which matches resources to reality and gives encouragement to clergy and laity to hold services in one of the churches in a benefice each day.”

And while Sunday worship continues to be central to ministry here in our Diocese, a greater variety of services and fresh expression are now being held during the week. Church of England statistics show that these midweek services are increasing in popularity.

The Bishop of Willesden, the Rt Rev Pete Broadbent, who first suggested the changes three years ago, said it “clears the way for people to be honest.”

Admitting that weekly service “is a centuries-old tradition”, Bishop Broadbent said: “What we have been saying is that this canon does not work, it is out of date and we are operating differently in the countryside now.

“It cuts out the bureaucracy.

“This change merely reflects what has been practised for the past 20 years.”

The two laws that were amended include Canon B11, which requires morning and evening prayer to be “said or sung audibly in every parish church every Sunday”. This has now been amended to “in at least one church” in every group.

The second clause, known as Canon B14, previously required Holy Communion to be celebrated “in every parish church”. However, this has been substituted for “in at least one church in each benefice”.

The number of multi-parish benefices, defined as a group of churches that are looked after by one priest, has grown significantly in the UK in the past 50 years.

According to figures from the Church of England’s Growth Research Programme, only 17 per cent of their parishes were in multi-parish benefices in 1960.

By 2011 this figure had risen to 71 per cent, meaning that 8,400 of the Church’s 12,500 parishes are now amalgamated.

According to members of the Synod, the traditional canon law stipulating that weekly services must take place has been regularly broken by priests over the past several decades, who had been “left with little choice but to break it.”

Whilst no priest has been punished for breaking the canon, Thursday's changes mean that they can now conduct a single Sunday service for several congregations without having to seek written permission.

Thursday's amendments were voted through almost unanimously by 20 Bishops, 92 Clergy and 118 Laity, with only two voting against the motion.

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