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Whoopee! We’ve been ‘abroad’.
We are inveterate overseas travellers - and that has been stymied by the pandemic. But, at the beginning of September, we made it. Why ‘abroad’ in inverted commas? Well, we actually went to Ellan Vannin. Never heard of it? The Isle-of-Man to you and me - the home of our eldest son and his family (his wife’s a Manxwoman). It feels ‘abroad’: it has its own language (Manx), currency, passports, customs and culture. It’s what’s known as a ‘crown dependency’. The UK looks after its defence and foreign policy and the Isle-of-Man parliament (said to be the oldest continuous legislature in the world) looks after almost everything else. We think the island’s a gem. It has the most wonderfully breathtaking scenery, a steam railway, an electric tram, (and when they finish repairing Douglas promenade) a horse-drawn tram, and a fickle weather system that can bring dramatic downpours in the north and balmy sunshine to the south (and vice versa). But there is a curiosity: the Church of England is there too. And it has a very big problem.

The Diocese of Sodor and Man is one of the forty-two dioceses that make up the Church of England. It’s a bit like an offshore Diocese of Hereford. But it has forty-one churches (many with church halls) to serve a population of about 90,000 (you do the maths!). Many of the churches are obviously loved and well cared-for and a lot have vast churchyards - again, beautifully maintained. But plenty of congregations are small and dwindling. The ratio of stipendiary clergy to the population is higher than in England and therefore more costly. And then there’s COVID, which has severely reduced parish income. It’s a perfect storm that means that the diocese faces bankruptcy within just a few years unless radical and dramatic action is taken.

So, selling assets (churches and church halls) is on the agenda. The problem with that strategy is that you can sell them only once - then what happens if other things don’t change?

Could something similar happen in England? You bet it could. Meantime . . . our diocese (like all others in England) has told parishes that they must complete an energy planning tool to find out their ‘carbon footprint’. Fiddling whilst Rome burns?

(C) Ian Williams 2021