General Synod calls for redoubling of efforts to create new churches on estates


Estate churches thanked by Bishop for 'utterly beautiful' work in face of challenges including poverty and rising levels of destitution
Bishop of Blackburn Credit: Geoff Crawford

The Church of England needs many more leaders from working class backgrounds and deprived communities, the General Synod has heard, in a debate where members voted to redouble efforts to establish churches on housing estates.

The Synod re-committed the Church of England to setting up a church on every significant social housing estate, five years on from first giving its backing to this goal.

Members also backed moves to double the number of young active Christians on housing estates and ensure that young people from estates and low-income communities are trained as children’s and young people’s leaders among other forms of ministry.

The Bishop of Blackburn, Philip North, who introduced the debate, called on the Church of England to act now to reverse the "slow erosion" of Christian life on estates.

Dioceses and Theological Education institutions (TEIs) – where people are trained for ordained ministry - should be encouraged to consider more ways of training lay and ordained leaders from estates and deprived communities, he said.

“Estates churches and the wider church desperately need leaders called from our estates and deprived communities,” he said.

He added: “I’m convinced that there is an underground army of evangelists and prophets out there which a culturally middle class church is simply missing.”

The Synod also backed a call for the Church of England to address financial inequalities between dioceses.

Bishop Philip said the wealth disparities between dioceses are a "scandal" that "we cannot allow to endure".

He told Synod members that there have been "many advances" since the General Synod gave its backing five years ago for the drive to set up a church on every significant social housing estates in the country.

New estate churches have been planted by all Anglican traditions, he said, and a number of dioceses, such as Southwark, Norwich, London and Southwell and Nottingham have appointed advisers.

He added that around £100 million of Lowest Income Communities Funding and £40 million in Strategic Development Funding has been allocated to estates or economically deprived communities.

But he said there had also been "significant" setbacks including the impact of the pandemic.

At least 10 more estates churches have closed in the past five years, most with no plan for replanting and there are still at least 850 significant estates that are not served by a Christian community, he said.

Bishop Philip said the Synod had a chance to acknowledge and thank a "remarkable" group of lay people and priests who minister on estates.

He said the work on estates churches had been "utterly beautiful" in the face of multiple challenges including the pandemic and increasing levels of poverty and destitution.

The motion

Synod members gave their unanimous backing to the following Estates Evangelism motion (364 votes for, none against and no abstentions):

This Synod:

  1. dedicate itself afresh to the goal of achieving a loving, serving and worshipping Christian community on every significant social housing estate to mark the fifth anniversary of Synod Motion GS2122
  2. commend the work of all who minister on our estates and gives thanks for those Dioceses who have responded positively to the 2019 Motion
  3. call on all Dioceses to include in their strategic mission and ministry plans the goal of planting and renewing churches on, and/or doubling the number of young active disciples in social housing estates/other economically marginalised communities
  4. call on the whole church to address as a matter of urgency the structural and financial injustices that prevent flourishing and sustainable worshipping communities on every estate (for example, the financial inequalities between dioceses and the distribution of LInC Funding)
  5. commit itself to taking the necessary steps to raise up and support a new generation of lay and ordained leaders from estates and working class backgrounds (by for example addressing the recommendations of the Ministry Council’s Report ‘Let Justice Roll Down.’) at all levels in the church including a commitment to invest creatively in local and grassroots forms of ministry and leadership training.
  6. Request the Estates Evangelism Task Group to work alongside diocesan vocations advisers, the 30,000 Project and other related bodies to ensure that priority is given to the formation of young people from estates and low-income communities to serve as children’s and young people’s leaders, as well as in other forms of Christian ministry.