Open Letter to the Archbishop Of York, Stephen Cottrell: Leicester Minster (Diocese Hub) Scheme

In view of the support for the Parish system you have recently been at pains to express, we are writing to you in connection with the above scheme which is a matter of the gravest concern.

In short, it is a scheme for the abolition of the traditional Parish system.

Such a proposal is entirely counter to the very views which you have expressed, most recently in your address at St Martin’s in the Fields last Monday which received wide coverage in the national and religious press.

We attach a document which is to be presented for approval at Leicester Diocesan Synod next Saturday, 9th October.  It proposes to introduce a ‘hub’ scheme, an organised shift away from the local to the central: from Parishes to ‘Minsters’.  

The net result is that Leicester diocese would reduce the number of stipendiary posts from 100 to 80 by 2026. This involves removal of the identities of 234 Parishes with the resultant loss of morale among clergy and churchgoers caused by the absence of local presence and pastoral care services to the parishes. There will be no more Parishes; just Minsters.

It seems that the diocesan administrators hope to balance the books by increasing the Parish share.  A webinar sent to all the Parishes in Leicester Diocese two weeks ago outlined three methods of eliminating the deficit for 2022 (around £ 1 million).

·       Reduce Diocese administration cost by 10%

·       Increase the Parish Share by 10%

·       Increase Parish Share by 2%; decrease Diocese administration cost by 2%; reduce stipendiary priest costs by 5%

The last option was chosen, and it inevitably signals destruction of Parishes. Interestingly, consideration of the first option is not even mentioned in the plan laid out for approval at Leicester Diocesan Synod next Saturday.

Not only is the attempted introduction of such a scheme during a General Synod election period distastefully anti-democratic when attention is elsewhere and without General Synod debate. It is also not apparent upon what basis the Diocese has the right to impose this change on the parishioners of the Leicester Diocese. Giving reference to appropriate statutes, and/or decided authority, can the Leicester Diocesan Synod explain what gives them the power to do this without the agreement of all the parishes, especially priests, patrons and parish share payers?  Surely, as a bare minimum, they must be able to tell the people of Leicester diocese the answer to this.

As matters stand, it seems almost inevitable that such a widescale destruction of the livelihoods of the clergy and the closure of parishes will result in legal challenge, the costs of which the Church can ill afford and all of which costs could be avoided by the withdrawal of the proposal.

Financially speaking, the cost analysis is weak, but one new aspect is that each of the new Minsters will have an Operations Director; thus introducing yet another layer to the already bloated bureaucracy (179 at the last count). There appears to be a strong risk that it will prove unsustainable.  If Parish buildings have been sold by the diocese (although its authority to do this is morally dubious given the historical ownership of parsonages and churches by Parishes and their incumbents), the Parish infrastructure could then never be put back.  Lastly, the giving habits of parishioners have been totally ignored: if parishioners (contributors to the Parish share) lose their feeling of identity, they will not be motivated to give. So, the sustainability argument becomes even weaker.

In the light of what you have said about your love for the parishes, we imagine you, in consultation with the Archbishop of Canterbury, will wish to contact the Bishop of Leicester and dissuade him from proceeding with this Minster plan in his diocese.

Yours sincerely

Professor R G Faulkner