Addressing access challenges

The access and sensory challenges posed by church buildings are significant, especially in the Church of England. An approach including nationally endorsed generic fabric changes by architectural period; requiring churches seeking to make fabric changes to present comprehensive access development roadmaps; and mandating consideration of community need in regard to hygiene related proposals.

Nationally endorsed generic changes by architectural period

The Church of England’s built estate is sufficiently large that there are few truly ‘unique’ examples or architecture from a given period. That is not to say, of course that there are no uniquely ‘valuable’ buildings

The Church Buildings Council or some other suitable body could draw up portfolios of generic adaptions for different architectural periods, with the cooperation of disability organisations, architectural professionals and ‘historical societies’. Parishes considering alterations could be assured that

  • these adaptions are proven both in functional and civil engineering terms.
  • Faculty applications for projects clearly using an appropriate generic design will be warranted to be favourably looked on by Diocesan Advisory Committees

Currently much expertise (above diocesan level) in alterations is vested in commercial architectural practices. This liberates this experience for the common good, and equips parishes to understand what sorts of adaption might work for their building, allowing them to focus on planning for development.

Comprehensive access development roadmap

Diocesan Advisory Committees (who grant planning approvals) should insist that any change to church buildings which has at its core sensory, hygiene or physical access adjustments be accompanied by a definite outline plan (including initial drawings) indicating a roadmap of all major changes necessary to ensure that the building will be no impediment to welcoming the whole community including the full spectrum of disabilities.

Presently it is possible for a parish to request a faculty (planning permission) for hygiene alterations, for example the provision of disabled toilet), when the relevant building continues to rely on a system of portable ramps to provide disability access. This provision combats the present non-sensical situation.

Community need consideration for any hygiene related change

Churches should be mandated to consider community benefit when changing hygiene provisions in their building, for example by altering toilets, installing disabled facilities, or changing areas.

For example a church installing disabled toilets should consider whether it can improve wider community accessibility through provision of a space meeting the Changing Places standard


Church Resource Hub?

Changes in patterns of ministerial service mean that a resourcing service at provincial level that can support the life of faith in the local parish church is urgently needed. An enabling Hub can draw locally generated resources into a national asset library. Such a hub is a critical necessity to equip commissioned or licensed lay leaders so they may serve and sustain the light of incarnate faith in local churches across England.

One of the humbling and inspiring features of the Church of England is the quality of thought, discernment and creativity found in the people of faith scattered across the 15,000 or so parishes. The commitment to subsidiarity in the Anglican churches, including this Church of England, means that there are few readily available platforms for drawing these invested gifts back to make them available for the common good across the wider church.

An authorised hub with national leadership would allow the best content and resources produced in Church of England to surface for the benefit of the whole people of God.

Why is this needed?

Changes in the pattern of ministerial deployment and creative acts by Bishops in various places are leading to the rapid authorisation via ‘Bishops Commission’ or similar instrument of lay people to act as service leaders, discipleship coaches, as pastoral workers or preachers.

The probability of success for such initiatives would be greatly enhanced were resources available to this new cadre of lay leaders in the church.

What sort of resource are we talking about?

Predominantly resources which enable the new cadre to effectively serve their congregation in their role. We anticipate that very many of these leaders will be ‘time poor’ and that resources which enable them to spend more time ‘doing’ and less time ‘preparing’ will predominate. Four classes of material might be considered:

  • drawing existing resources together with minimal modification
  • providing access to appropriate projects provided by para church organisations, or research by appropriate bodies.
  • adapting existing programmes from specific churches or areas to make them ‘widely deployable’
  • Least commonly, at least initially, to commission specific projects.\

How would we know what to provide in such a hub?

The true scope of such hub can only be precisely determined as users interact with the service. The project would benefit from an Agile approach similar to that commonly used in software development which would iterate rapidly from minimally viable product based on the analytics gained from users.

Why doesn’t it happen already?

The commitment to subsidiarity in the Anglican churches mean that there are few internal organisational vehicles for sharing the true span of the quality of invested in the lives of the faithful. Many excellent para church projects contribute valuable work in specific areas, but there is a specific lack of a provincially authorised source of curated products.

What models could we look at and learn from?

The model of the best bits of Open Access publishing in the Academic world is striking. Here are ‘Journals’ of every flavour, which provide a neutral space for academics from many different (and frequently competing) institutions to share knowledge. Typically they are managed by a largely volunteer editorial board, and the requirements for peer review, and other academic activities are met voluntarily from within the user community.

Recent developments have seen the Open Access community focusing on preserving the entire asset stack relating to the research paper – rather than just the final text. This move the Open Access journal towards a fusion of a document server and digital asset mangers.

These developments both conceptual and suggest that both in terms of concept and available platforms the church could be pushing at an open door in implementing such a resource hub.

Who should run this?

People who understand

  • the software design aspects of the problem
  • the user needs and interface issues
  • the existing resources available across the world
  • the future of the English Church
  • developments in missiology

What roadblocks might exist

Proposed digital products such as this require considerable user literacy, which evidence suggests is lacking in wider congregations. Whether it is lacking in the specific cadre of new ‘lay leaders’ is unclear. There are also barriers relating to bandwidth in some of the more isolated parts of the country, which mean there may need to be a physical media request service.

Finally where resources include provision for leaders to interact with digital products in the context of leading services there are issues because many churches lack the hardware to permit this. It may be necessary to think creatively and provide a standardised product similar to a mobile digital advertising display adapted to be suitably elegant and compatible with the listed buildings etc, to aid the delivery in some of the smallest and most delicate settings.

Where did this idea come from

I’m indebted to a collection of people including Tom Pearson for ideas presented at the 2018 Church of England Digital Labs hack day concerning a project called the ‘Church Support Hub’. 

 © Ian Wyllie 2019 for this post, with every expectation of sharing freely in the Church should someone be interested in taking the ideas on. I assert my moral rights etc. 

Data Stories

Ordinands: disabled under-represented?

Only four percent of candidates sponsored for a BAP (the gateway process in selection for ordination) declare a disability. Relative to national proportions of disability in working age adults there seems to be massive under-representation in the selection process. Is pernicious, cumulative and hidden discrimination to blame, or does poor measurement and lack of focus by the Ministry Division bear the blame?

4% of those sponsored for a BAP declared a disability… 

Bishop Seeley (St Edmundsbury and Ipswich), as chair of the Ministry Council

In written questions at Synod on 20th February 2019 Mr Williams asked the Chair of the. Ministry Council about the proportion of candidates with disability at four points in the process of discernment surrounding ordination and appointment

  • Entering the vocations process for ordained ministry;
  • Being recommended for training;
  • Completing training; and
  • Receiving a stipendiary vs non-stipendiary title post?

His question is perceptive since since the potential for filtering as a function of the protected characteristics the candidate expresses during the discernment process could poses a discriminatory force on ordinations, and the published data does not suggest the issue has high visibility for the Church of England.

A further necessary question Mr Williams neglects

Based on my personal experience of the Vocations system in the Church of England Mr Williams might also have useful added a fifth point at which the proportion of disabled candidates could usefully be recorded:

  • when their Vicar recommends them to meet with the DDO

This is necessary because this might in fact be the point at which the greatest effort needs to be focused on combatting discrimination.

 Response at Synod from Bishop Seeley

In a written response the Bishop Seeley (St Edmundsbury and Ipswich), as chair of the Ministry Council said

In the 2017/2018 academic year, 4% of those sponsored for a BAP declared a disability, the same percentage were recommended for training and a slightly higher percentage, 5%, sponsored for a stipendiary post.

I have no doubt that the answer given by Mr Seeley is accurate in the terms given. It is in fact those terms which causes most concern

Self declaration results in under identification of disabled candidates

Specifically the answer refers to candidates ‘declaring a disability’. In the 2014 report on Ordained Vocation Statistics it was clear that disability was being assessed based on ‘self declaration’ for reasonable adjustment at a panel. Assessing on this basis is known to result in under reporting, as the report acknowledges

As those declaring a disability are only doing so if it is relevant to BAP, the numbers are low and do not reflect the likely number of ordinands with a disability. This makes the data unreliable and indicates a need to take steps to improve the monitoring process.

The similarity in the 2014 and 2019 language ‘declaring a disability’ suggests a continued reliance on self declaration as a method for monitoring levels of disabled candidates in the discernment process. Relying on self declaration almost always fails to identify significant proportions of the disabled community. The reasons for under-declaration are complex but are thought to include applicants:

  • Believing their condition or disability has nothing to do with your ability to perform the role
  • not wanting an ‘employer’ to focus on the disability during a selection process
  • assuming that the ‘employer’ will expect you to have difficulties, need more time off, or support.

Achieving a realistic estimate

It’s almost certain that there is a problem with the statistics being reported, both in the 2014 report and Mr Seeley’s answer. The Papworth Trust’s disability stats reference 2018 suggests 18% of the working age population has a ‘disability’ of some sort.

 Do we know what pool the church is picking its ordinands from?

We don’t know what proportion of worshippers experience a disability. That matters, because we can’t assess whether the figures given in 2014 and by Mr Seeley are helpful without understanding the population the process is selecting from. Sadly discrimination in ‘right to access worship’ may mean that the pool the Church of England is choosing its ordinands from differs substantially in respect of type and severity of disability in respect to the wider population.

What should we want the answer to be?

I hope I worship in a church where there is a commitment to the poor, the excluded and the disabled. That care for, and responsibility to the ‘outsider’ is something that jumps out at me from the whole of scripture. So for the church to be finding that only four percent of those sponsored for a BAP declared a disability fills me with horror. Even if that answer is 100% below the actual, i.e. 8% of the BAP population is disabled, the proportion of candidates with a disability is still far below the proportion of disabled people in the working age population. Something is probably going very badly wrong

Is sufficient attention being paid to this by the Church of England?

Since it’s been known that the Church of England’s understanding of the potential problem of discrimination in it selection of candidates for ordination is incomplete since 2014 (nine years after the Disability Discrimination Act) passed, reasonable questions should be asked as to whether sufficient priority has been given to what is an important statistic.


The names we choose…and are given in the Church of England

Questions about digital conversion efficiency of church, parish and benefice names in the Church of England

In the social media / digital product domain what is the most effective form for naming:

  1. parishes
  2. multi-parish benefices

In this context effectiveness has three dimensions:

  • conversion efficiency in terms of ‘engagement’
  • openness to messaging from
  • affinity to church / parish / benefice

If you work or help with communications in a church with many congregations or a denomination with many churches how do you handle this. I would love to hear from you. I’m @ianwyllie on twitter or comment below… 

Why this question important?

In our area we see, and the anecdotal evidence also suggests that:

  1. There is poor recognition:
    • of the names the Church of England uses for benefices and ministry units larger than one parish
  2. Parish names are typically
    • longer than is ideal for conversion on social media and convenient display in digital products
    • do not unambiguously connect the parish to the Church of England
    • do not unambiguously locate the parish geographically
  3. Church names
    • do not unambiguously locate the church geographically
    • do not unambiguously connect the parish to the Church of England
  4. We also see confusion between ecclesial and civil parish names and their boundaries.

Some observations:

There is no common pattern for the naming of multi-parish benefices. Yet these supra parish structures are becoming more and more common, and often function, and are encouraged to function, as integrated ministry units. Here are some names in use locally with issues I note

  • The Church of England in Village, Village, and Village (a benefice) used by Ampfield, Chilworth and North Baddesley where I assist with communications, but is cumbersomely long and doesn’t convert as well as we hoped. This suggests to us that either
    • the association between the local church name / dedication and the geography is strong, OR the association of the church name / dedication and Church of England is weak
    • There is poor recognition of the name / dedication of the church – its simply ‘the village church’ and understanding of a) name / dedication or in fact denomination is weak
  • The ‘Avon Valley Partnership’: Partnership of what? relating to which Avon? – two Avon rivers in Hampshire, nine in the UK – three in Scotland)
  • ‘North Hampshire Downs Benefice’: Geographically this area is diffuse and the ‘Benefice’ seems to be very poorly understood
  • ‘Pastrow Benefice’ 12 churches in the Diocese of Winchester. Pastrow is a historic ‘hundred’ division of Hampshire
  • All Saints C of E:
  • All Saints Church in Village
The Owl is watching… and always wise.

Aliens from the planet #WeHaveBudget

The most profound call towards ‘local church’ that I know is: The word became flesh and moved into our neighbourhood. For generations the Church of England has been committed to the land and its people in the parish system. To be ‘a church near you’ is a profound calling. But I have to tell you it’s not working. We are flying into terrain at a frightening rate. Solidarity as the people of God is threatened as larger parish churches function as network churches, resource churches land in nearby cities like aliens from the planet #WeHaveBudget, and pastoral reorganisations put duty upon duty.

Down here in the weeds of the local parishes it feels a very long way away from Church House in London from Synod, from Renewal and Reform, even from the Diocese. In a lot of places we are out of choices and local church is quietly ejecting itself into the river and drowning. Increasingly it doesn’t matter whether the parish is a well functioning unit or a multi headed nightmare who’ve needed six ‘services of reconciliation’ in four years, like our friends in the Benefice of Maple Syrup and Cracked Eggs, with Peculiar Mill and Leaky Churn, commonly known as the Benefice of the Pancakes

The revitalisation of the A Church Near You service is amazing. It Just Works™ It hits the spot for users and meets the web needs of many parishes outright. A Church Near You is a blessing firstly because the service reflects popular understanding that the Church of England is a church near you, whatever you think that means. Literally and metaphorically that’s what people are searching for. The hitch is that too many rounds of pastoral reorganisation have left communities too often with a church near you every third Tuesday in the afternoon. Oops.

A Church Near You is orientated by parish. That might be the greatest gift to the missions of God through the Church of England for years. It says: look local, be local, love locally. Be a church near the people that your bishop and vicar share ‘the cure for souls’ of. It might be inconvenient if you run a multi-headed benefice. But understanding of these larger groups is poor among irregular churchgoers, non-christians, and those exploring faith. We haven’t shared the full facts about what these re-organisations mean into our communities. So why not take this opportunity to use the best of technology to mesh with the understanding that people already have of our church.

As a communicator everything about the A Church Near You approach seems right. It’s research led, has ‘meeting user needs’ as the first priority, and speaks to specific constituencies. I’m a church communications volunteer in a reasonable well functioning benefice of three parishes. Our communications reflect how we the church are organised: as a shared team across three parishes. I suddenly shudder, and wonder if my practice is being shaped as much by the structure I inherit as the Victorians’ were by their lovely impractical and expensive buildings. Because that would be a bad thing right?

It’s painfully evident that a lot of vulnerable people have been abused sexually, or otherwise by churches or while in the orbit of churches. I confess that, as a junior bod in the regional church, I didn’t take this nightmare seriously enough. Neither did I make an adequate linkage of the prevalence of abuse with the number of people who had been execrably treated on account of their mental health, differences in physicality or sexuality. The linkages between the behaviour that permits spiritual abuse, physical abuse, and sexual abuse are disturbingly clear. I worry about this because I don’t think it’s fixed. Too many churches seem to be in denial that ‘people can get spiritually hurt here’ and live with an unspoken understanding that so long as leavers = joiners-1% then things are ok. I’m still persistently shocked by number of people who I speak to whose mental health, physical differences or sexuality has been cause for deliberate exclusion and discrimination by churches

The problem is the urgent need for the re-evangelisation of England. This isn’t a few churches here or there not doing so well. I don’t think this will come from from large planting operations – whoever sponsors them. Looking around the world I don’t know any other way to do that than hard labour and possibly martyrdom, in it’s many forms, for many evangelists, priests, missionaries, prophets and teachers – working in chaplaincies; in prisons; among those grieving badly; in schools and in every place where people spend money, take leisure, and do work. Improving our communications, digitally and in the flesh is critical to understanding how people in our parishes see the world. Understanding that worldview is key to truthful performance of gospel speaking and gospel acting. What truthful performance means in a postmodern world is tricky. But it is only in the love and truth of God that the holy community can be holy and safe for all.

In a time of national and regional church projects with big budgets, uncertain outcomes, and variable approval or consent between different sectors of the church, The fact A Church Near You and the regular national seasonal campaigns are effective, freely given and tangibly working so short a time after they were first mooted gives them importance beyond their immediate purpose. Look: ‘it says, here are resources, services, and facilities that respect the theological width of the church’. These national things truly gifts given for the common good at local level. They recognise, like the Bishop’s Commission for Mission in the Diocese of Winchester that the time is now, the need is now, and the recent past can be no template for the near future.


Lessons learned from 18 years of worship photography in church

The Church of England has just published some really good tips on ‘taking great church photos’ at their excellent Labs Learning series. For the last eighteen years I’ve been helping churches tell the their story with still pictures of worship and other activities. Here’s some extra encouragements

Data Stories

Childhood obesity in the Diocese of Winchester

Obesity correlates with issues related issues the bible talks about as matters of justice and mercy. Unofficially for Church of England leaders in Winchester Diocese I’ve mapped childhood obesity prevalence in a way which allows an estimate of the situation in their parish. Click the picture to link to a larger file better formatted for printing

News & features

Remembrance 2017: do not withold good from those to who it is due

A talk, given at Chilworth: St Denys, on Remembrance Sunday 2017, in a service of BCP Matins. The reading was Proverbs 3.1-27 which concludes in the King James Version:

Withhold not good from them to whom it is due, when it is in the power of thine hand to do it.


Keeping missions at the heart of church events.

Churches can get so involved in running excellent, welcoming events that talking about the big story of God falls out the bottom of the bucket. Starting to get God back into the visitor picture is easy and not expensive. A simple reusable large format printed display can help draw visitor attention to the church and the loving God we worship and adore.

 The practical bit

It’s cheap and easy:

  • You have the camera on your phone. I might prefer something else, but most smartphones are very adequate in decent lighting.
  • A1 printing costs start at around £6 / sheet in the UK (2017).
  • A reusable display board (shown) might be free if you manage to recycle one, or might be a few tens of pounds if you purchase second hand.
  • The software to do the layout is available as libre / free download. Lots of things would do the job, but Inkscape and Scribus would be a good place to start.

 The easy part

Designing this sort of poster is easy to do competently. The example shown uses a very simple grid formed by mutual subdivision. This link is from 2005, but the advice is sound. Everything else is simply a matter of consistency and thinking about the message payload.

 The hard part

The hard part comes down to the people. If you’ve got a church that’s on the edge of managing decline and perhaps needs this event to work financially as part of a tight operations budget, then you may have a struggle. Convincing people the the missions of God are always the primary thing a church is for when they are tired and dejected can be really hard.

 The disclaimer

This is a really quick post, which I popped up after thinking about what the churches I help have been up to over the past few months with Art Exhibitions, History Exhibitions, Theatre performances and all sorts of amazing stuff. I’m blessed to be helping at churches where, despite their very different traditions, it’s an easy ask to make sure God stays in the picture. .

News & features

In the end the beginning

In the End – the Beginning The life of hope, Jürgen Moltmann, Translated from the German by Margaret Khol, SCM Press, ISBN 0-334–2961-9

In the End – the beginning explores what three beginnings: natural birth; new life after catastrophe, and resurrection teach us about the nature of God. In writing that retains something of the oral character of the lectures which were in the beginning of the book’s own life Jürgen Moltmann unfolds his views with simplicity and elegance.

Part one opens with a swift but stunning exposition of the ‘promise of the child’. Moltmann explores the biblical history of the messianic ‘child of promise’, reaching into the tradition of Israel to explore the implications of the idea of the’Wisdom Messiah’ which conflated the prophesied coming Christ with Wisdom who was ‘like a craftsman God’s side’ (NIV) during the foundation of the earth. The text then outlines how the birth of the Messiah in principle might abolish: patriarchy; the cultural tying of hope to male descendents and the religious necessity for procreation, while celebrating the validity of voluntary celibacy and shining the light of hope onto every new born child. He writes: “If children are God’s creation, they are also created for the future of his creation. They must be viewed and accepted in this transcendent dimension, in which they themselves exist and in which they can develop.”

Part two opens with a brief personal insight into Moltmann’s experience of war and his escape from the disaster of both the dictatorship of the Third Reich and the shattered and defeated Germany. He turns from this personal experience of catastrophe, in the aftermath of which he was born as a Christian, to the theology of catastrophes in general. The biblical account of the flood, the Assyrian conquest of Israel, and the death of Christ at Golgotha form the pattern for his discussion. These apocalypses are contrasted with the modern tradition of the apocalyptic about which the author says: “today we have to make do with self-made apocalypses, for which human beings have to take responsibility, not God”

He continues into an excellent discussion of the relationship between justice, righteousness and salvation. There is a swiftly sketched, analysis of some reservations about both the traditional Catholic and Protestant doctrines of Justification. The account of what God’s righteousness and justice means in practice for a world of victims and perpetrators embraces the perspectives of both solidarity and representative Christology. In an interesting, and possibly contentious, conclusion Moltmann ends by exploring the consequences of this fuller understanding for God ‘Justifying faith is not just a faith through which human beings are justified; it is a faith through which God is justified too’.

Part three, which physically accounts for the second half of the book, addresses death, which Moltmann sees as a ‘beginning without ending’, resurrection, and the Last Judgment. Included with some conventional questions about Hell, Purgatory, and the nature of the soul, Moltmann discusses the implications of belief in reincarnation, and addresses the question of what happens to humans whose life is apparently ‘cut short’. On this topic he writes: “I believe God will also complete the life which he has begun with a human being … So I believe that God’s history with our lives will continue after our deaths, until the completion is reached in which a soul … will find rest and happiness.” There is an interesting discussion about mourning, or the lack of it, in modern culture and this trends naturally into an exploration of the ‘community of the living and the dead’. Here the experience of the church in countries which venerate ancestors is explored. Addressing the common question about praying for the dead Moltmann writes: ‘I myself do not believe that we can or must do something for the salvation of the dead through our prayers. But I do believe that the Christ risen from death also has his means of salvation in the realm of death too.’

The final chapters of the book look at the Last Judgement and the promise of Eternal Life of which Moltmann says: ‘Where men and women perceive Christ’s resurrection and begin to live within its horizon, they themselves will be born again to a living hope which reaches beyond death, and in living love will begin to experience eternal life in the fulfilled moment’.

The book’s origin as lectures, which were given to both theological and secular audiences, is a mixed blessing. On the positive side there is something thrilling about watching Moltmann propelling his arguments with such drive. However some will find the lack of detail and almost complete absence of references a source of frustration. Equally because of the excellence of the best parts of the book the variety in the quality of the content of the chapters comes as a slight disappointment.

Jürgen Moltmann is Professor Emeritus of Systematic Theology on the Evangelical Faculty, University of Tubingen, Germany