Buildings vs Clergy

I suddenly realised in the middle of a complicated meeting yesterday that it seemed as though people in many situations would actually prefer to have a church building than a priest.

Is that so? Is that true and is that one of the key things which gives life to those who long for freshnewlocalcollaborativetotalministryofthebaptised?


  1. I think it may well be the case. Interesting, eh?

  2. kelvin says

    Thanks for that Chris. It is really helpful to hear someone say that out loud, so to speak.

    It is a long way from the faith of our forebears.

  3. Eamonn says

    I’m not sure that it is true, actually. I know of one charge where an invitation to lay people to assist the clergy with Home Communions was refused, on the grounds that ‘this should always be done by a priest’. Whether this attitude would have been taken to the extreme of preferring to have a priest to a building is a moot point. What it does suggest, however, is that while it’s easy to caricature LCM, it was, as I understand it, a much-needed attempt to persuade people to take the implications of their baptism seriously, to realise that there might be aspects of ministry to which lay people could be called, and to get out of the habit of leaving everything to hard-pressed clergy.

  4. kelvin says

    Thanks Eamonn – also a very helpful comment.

  5. I don’t want to get into the LCM side of the question right now (Friday evening, after all) but I have no doubt at all that building are often chosen over priests. Look at churches in any rural area to see that confirmed.

    Indeed, I think many congregation would not only choose ‘their building’ over a priest, but would choose ‘their building’ over a change-of-building (smaller, cheaper) and a priest.

    Combine this with a pragmatic approach to the eucharist. (‘we want it weekly, priest or no…’) and one begins to see why patterns of ministry are shifting so fast.

    As for what encourages lay people to respond to their God-given call — I don’t think any suggestion of people doing things to help the priest really addressed the matter, and have known even well established teams to founder because people perceived of their roles as ‘helping’ rather than doing what they were called to. (though of course one can hope that God’s call might occasionally coincide with the rector’s wildest dreams…)

  6. p.s. — and aren’t I doing well not to read too much into Chris’ comment above, given that I am ‘her priest’ and our buildings are under major review!

  7. kelvin says

    I’m just pausing for a moment to consider the rector’s (ie provost’s) wildest dreams.

    Thanks for your comments.

  8. Christina says

    I find it interesting to see your thoughts after +Bob’s sermon at the diocesan synod Eucharist this morning, in which he said that he felt that selling off church properties only ever brings a short-term windfall followed by decline. He advocated (if I understood correctly) keeping hold of buildings, or selling larger ones to buy smaller properties to rent out, as this is a much more stable way of investing.

    I think the challenge is to find a balance which is practically possible. I find myself thinking of my “home” congregation; small, rural, declining. I’d like to think that they would choose to have a share in a priest rather than keep our beautiful, but costly rectory. Of course, they would prefer both, but may have to realise that this is no longer possible. The church building itself I fear may be a different matter, but from where I stand I can’t see the point of a church building with no priest. Has this really happened in some places? Surely the model of LCM is based on a supportive laity rather than an independent laity. We do, after all (in theory) follow one head, rather than a committee.

    I also realise that I write from a somewhat marginalised position – young, single, reasonably bright (I hope!) and terribly out of step with a Church I am deeply fond of but am struggling to hold to. So perhaps I am well off-beam.

  9. What a fascinating last paragraph, Christina. I’d love to hear more. I have had other conversations recently that have left me searching for what holds together the vision of the church that excites us with the reality of the church we sometimes (often) find.

  10. “p.s. — and aren’t I doing well not to read too much into Chris’ comment above, given that I am ‘her priest’ and our buildings are under major review!”

    Yes, you were doin fine until that PS.

  11. You have no idea how true this is… 5 years ago I was forced to resign from a mission congregation after the vestry decided they’d rather use their funds to purchase the building they were leasing instead of paying a priest’s salary. 5 years later they have their building, but still no priest- and still no growth. Thanks for the musings

  12. I think you’ve hit the nail on the head, Rob. People do seem to be so attached to the building that they forget what makes the church. Without adequate leadership, I can see little opportunity for growth in a congregation. But maybe that’s what some want: leave us alone – we like it just as it is, thank you. Trouble is, it makes for woefully overworked itinerant priests who have so many tiny congregations to minister to that they cannot possibly manage to do a proper job with any of them, leading to stress on all sides.

    A beautiful old church building is a privilege to have and sometimes also an impossible burden.

  13. I wrote my first, careful comment before leaving for a meeting in Edinburgh, so had no time for further reflection. However, I’d now like to add this:
    Having worshipped in one small, beautiful, decrepit church for the 34 years since I became a Christian, and having undergone the conversion to Christianity quite dramatically in another beautiful, costly and threatened church, I find myself terribly torn by the threat of their loss. However, Last week I lost, among other items left on a plane, the last 2+ years of a personal journal I’ve kept for 50 years. This last loss – to many, perhaps, an insignificant one – has brought home to me the terrible burden of caring too much about anything perishable. I don’t know if I’m cured – Di says I’m a Type 7 😉 – but I’ve learned something I only knew intellectually before.

    Why does growth have to hurt?

  14. I’m not sure it always has to hurt (no, let me try again: I’m sure it doesn’t always have to hurt) but maybe we’re more aware of it when it does.

  15. All I can add is that tho I have found beautiful places – including churches – uplifting and momentarily inspiring, the “Life-Changing” “Wow” “Kick-in-the-Pants” factor of Christianity has reached me thru PEOPLE – and it also seems to have been that those who have been most adept at “Tickling the Reluctant Spirit Within” have mostly been those in Holy Orders with an unequivocal conviction and vocation for the task…….perhaps even giving some glimpse of The Christ in person…
    (And, er, isn’t that something of what He was on about, and what made Him such an attractive sort of guy to Those Who Followed in the First Instance……?)
    I vote for Priest Before Church.

  16. The following comment carries a health warning. It is not my own, but rather came up in discussion arising from your original post, uttered by someone who doesn’t “do”blogs. The question was asked the other way round, namely: do clergy love themselves and their buildings more than they love their congregations?

    End of quote. Call it a view from the pew!

  17. That is not a reversal of the original question, Chris.

  18. No, it isn’t. Just sloppy writing on my part. 😉

  19. kelvin says

    Chris, hearing of the reported comment, “do clergy love themselves and their buildings more than they love their congregations?” all I can say is that the ability of both clergy and laity to keep on being with and loving the sad and the bitter is one of the things that gives me hope.

    However, few people who are not clergy would understand the cost of what people offer when they offer themselves for ordained ministry. I certainly didn’t when I said yes to it.

  20. Eamonn says

    Agreed, Kelvin. Part of the cost is staying with people who love their buildings more than they care for their clergy.

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