General Synod backs flexible worship times for multi-parish benefices

The Church of England’s General Synod has approved legislation increasing flexibility for worship schedules in multi-parish benefices in a change to 400-year-old practices.

This week Synod voted strongly in support of changes allowing churches in group ministry to rotate services without explicit permission.

Existing legislation had required that Morning and Evening Prayer be said each day in every church and Holy Communion be held each week in every church.

Under the new legislation, the same services need only need be held in one church within a benefice, at the same regularity.

This normalises the already widespread practice of services moving from church to church within a benefice on consecutive days and weeks.

Such arrangements had previously required special dispensation from a bishop, which will no longer be required. 

A spokesperson for the Church of England said: “Sunday worship continues to be central to the Church of England’s ministry, but this change is designed to make life easier for multi-church benefices.”

“Larger benefices are a reality, particularly in rural areas, and this legislation allows schedules to be set within a local context, alongside other forms of worship not covered by this legislation.”

“Morning and Evening prayer continue to be the heartbeat of church life, and whether urban or rural, communities are prayed for on a daily basis.”

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

Figures from the Church of England’s Growth Research Programme show that 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 8,400 of the Church’s 12,500 parishes are now amalgamated. 

"As the number of church attendees and stipendiary clergy has decreased over recent decades, parishes have been amalgamated to form multi-parish benefices,” the report stated in 2011. 

In 2017, it was reported that the Church is increasingly turning to “self supporting priests” with weekday jobs such as doctors, writers, teachers, plumbers or farmers. Accounting for one in six clergy, the number of self-supporting priests increased from 2,091 in 2002 to 3,230 in 2016.

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