This week, the Church of England finally voted for women Bishops. Many will see this as a welcome, if somewhat belated, step in the right direction, for Christian and none Christian alike. And yet, welcome though this is, there is another side to the Church of England. This is the fact that local parish churches are closing at an astonishing rate, and may soon become a thing of the past.
Take one example. All Saints Micklehurst, in the mill town of Mossley, Near Manchester. In 1999, the congregation moved out of its original Victorian home, and into the nearby church hall. And for a few years it seemed as if the problems of heating and lighting the place, which were dogging it, had been solved. For a time, the savings were enough to put the church on a more sound footing. And not only that, but a new American Vicar arrived. Charismatic, full of enthusiasm. The women of the parish loved him. A number of young families began to attend, and during his time there, until 2003, everything seemed on the up.
But then he left, and the congregation began to ebb away. Other parish priests came and went, but that they never managed to recreate the stir of the young American. And also, in ones and twos, through sickness or death, people were disappearing without being replaced. The parish was also rapidly becoming a dormitory town, mean that, as one observer said "They don't live here, they only sleep here." The decline in numbers continued, until now, when All Saints Micklehurst seems on the point of closure. After hanging on by a thread for a number of years, there is a perception that they have been either ignored or patronised by various members of the senior clergy at diocesan level. They deny this, as churches are always complaining about a lack of cash and resources. And so yes, women Bishops are a blow for equality and common sense in the twenty first Century, but for those at the coal face, it is a very different story, as the congregations make the best they can of their often ancient and expensive buildings with diminishing congregations. How long then, that those new Bishops find themselves with no churches or congregations over which to carry out their pastoral ministries?