Related to this section ...

Churches in Cumbria tackle challenges

Members of Carlisle Diocesan Synod from across the Diocese are to begin tackling the problems facing the Church in Cumbria.


They won’t need to be reminded that the symptoms are hard pressed finances and numbers both of clergy and of congregations. But Bishop James will tell them that it's important to tackle the underlying causes.

Synod was to have met last Saturday (23rd March) but the event had to be cancelled because of the weather. Instead, the Bishop is to explain in a letter and a podcast his vision of a Church which is there for everybody in Cumbria every day, and in which every member sees themselves as an active minister. The problem is, he will say, that we easily slip into thinking of Church as just about Vicars and Sundays.

The answers are contained in three Strategies to be presented to Synod members. The Mission Strategy shows how the Churches in Cumbria need to reach out to those who don’t come to church – how to be more than just something done on Sundays by a few. “We want everyone in Cumbria to discover that God is for them and Church is for them”, says Rob Freeman, the Bishop of Penrith.

The Buildings Strategy looks at our Church buildings, encouraging congregations to have open and widely used churches, and to think about their buildings in relation to other public buildings (including other churches) in their communities.

The Ministry Strategy envisages 55 Mission Communities across the county, newly formed from groups of parishes. A typical Mission Community would have a couple of full time clergy and a much larger number of volunteer clergy and lay leaders. There will be lots of local debate about where the Mission Community boundaries will be drawn.

A retirement bulge and financial pressure will see the number of paid Church of England clergy in the county fall from 130 to 100 over the next seven years. But the new Mission Community model will see an increase in the number of ministers, as that number is boosted by volunteer clergy and lay leaders. “It’s realistic”, says Bishop James, “to hope that every church will have its own minister.”

He adds: “More importantly, as many as a third of the paid clergy, and lots of laity too, will concentrate much less on keeping things going and much more on reaching out to build new congregations. And all of us will concentrate on making God’s kingdom more of a reality in Cumbria.

“These ideas have been around a long time, but there hasn’t been any imperative to do anything about them. In fact, these problems with finances and numbers which have forced us to face change, may be God’s way of getting through to us!”

It makes sense to tackle these three Strategies together. So at the heart of these changes, there will also be greater ecumenical collaboration with the Methodist Church and United Reformed Church across the county, with all Christians working together across our communities. The three church leaders have written a joint letter commending the jointly developed Strategies to their Synods for discussion and ratification. This builds on the Declaration of Intent signed between the three denominations in November 2011, which sets Cumbria on the way to being the first ecumenical county in England.

Bishop James admits that these are big changes: “We are not rushing Synod members into a vote. Instead, they are being given three months to think and talk about this. During that time I and the Bishop’s Staff Team are going round the county to talk to special meetings of clergy and laity, to explain and to listen. Then we come back for a final vote at the next Synod, on 18th June.”

Bishop Robert Freeman, Bishop of Penrith, commented, “The picture is not all doom and gloom. Some Churches are growing, and many people are very generous, but there are financial and numbers pressures and these Strategies face them. The Strategies will create ministry which can be sustained over many years to come, but they’re more than that. We’re enthusiastic and excited about helping our hardworking congregations to refocus on being lively Christians outside and inside church. And we are committed to making sure that there continues to be a Christian presence in every community, including creating new Christian presence where there wasn’t one before. It’s challenging but it’s also a great opportunity.”

Rev Richard Teal, chair of the Methodist Cumbria District, said: “Mission Communities will allow for even closer working ties as we move forward, united as church families. This further cements the good work which has already been done since the signing of the Declaration on Intent.”

Rev Sarah Moore, president of the United Reformed Church Cumbria Area, added: “We are all confident that as we move forward this model provides us with the opportunity to continue to grow and feed people’s faith right across the county. It’s a wonderful and exciting example of how churches can work together.”


Notes for editors
• The annual budget for the Church of England in Cumbria is £8m. 80% of this is spent on local ministry – clergy and their housing and training.
• The Diocese always sets a balanced budget and does this without drawing from assets.
• It is beginning to invest in new work through the recently created Diocesan Growth Fund.
• The Church gets no help from the state. It looks after about 70% of the listed buildings across England.
• The Diocese of Carlisle has about 160 paid “employees” and about 26,000 members. This makes the Church of England the biggest charity in Cumbria.
• Compared with other charities and voluntary organisations, the Church is also the most successful charity. Where the sector as a whole has seen its income drop by as much as 30% in recent years, the Church’s income and membership have increased. The problem for the Church is that for the last three or four years, increases in costs (up 2.5%) have outpaced increases in income (up 0.7%) each year, with the trend set to continue.
• “Synod” is a Greek word which means meeting : in the Church of England there are four levels of church democratic governance: General Synod at national level, Diocesan Synods at Diocesan (=county) level, Deanery Synod at, roughly district level (there are 11 deaneries in the Diocese of Carlisle, each with 25-35 parishes), and Parochial Church Councils (PCC) at parish church level.


For further information please contact Ven Richard Pratt on 01900 66190.

  • Diocesan Director of Education announces retirement Posted Tuesday 10 September ...