Monday 5 February 2018

A House (of Bishops) in the Country

Jude Smith responds to a suggestion from the Bishop of Burnley by suggesting that the Church of England converts Church House to affordable housing, and moves its administration out to the North.

In many ways the perfect Anglican idea. Outwardly virtuous, utterly impractical and with significant damage for the people who work for the Church.

The issues are pretty simple really. First up, it's Grade 2 listed. Now, you can do some fairly radical stuff to Grade 2 listed buildings. But I can't see those gorgeous staircases and that debating hall going. So not exactly using it to its full potential.

Then, it's facilities are currently rented out as a conference centre when Synod ain't in session (as it normally isn't). So it's making some money for the Church. It's in Westminster so it' going to be charging plenty more as the day rates than it would have to beg for if it moved to Castleford. And Cass already has a Nando's and an indoor ski slope, so it probably doesn't need a load of retired Anglicans turning up every six months and clogging up the 'Spoons.

And then, there's people work in Church House. Now, I'm no expert on the sorts of people that work there. Apart from the one who gave me a dirty look when I tried to get into the Visitor's Gallery in my best druidic hi vis. But how many of those will have been north of Watford, let alone the unrelated Gap? They'll have families and mortgages all over the London hinterland. And while it's easy for a vicarage-dwelling unmarried man like Bishop Phil to make the move from Camden to Burnley - it's not so much when you're on a mortgage in Purley and your other half is a financial accountant in the Isle of Dogs. Just imagine the press if the Good Old C of E starts making people redundant because they don't feel called to break up their families.

So no, sounds great. Very virtuous. Very virtuous indeed. But the people asking for the virtue ain't gonna be the ones making the sacrifices. So feel free to recommend an office block in Kentish Town or Holloway or somewhere else accessible to the people who work in Westminster. And if you do it, sell the building as offices. You'll get more money. And then you can provide far more affordable housing in Peckham that way. As the Sage of Peckham himself once said, "You know it makes sense."

Want a good laugh? Want to laugh at the church? Want to be secretly suspicious that the author has been sitting in your church committee meetings taking notes? Then Writes of the Church: Gripes and grumbles of people in the pews is probably the book for you.

From Amazon, Sarum Bookshop, The Bible Readers Fellowship and other good Christian bookshops. An excellent book for your churchgoing friends, relatives or vicar. By the creator of the Beaker Folk.


  1. Of course there is another group looking for a debating chamber or two in Westminster, at least for a few years to cover renovations. They have a budget in the billions, which the church could make good use of. But would they have moral objections to hosting a parliament, not of owls but of MPs?

  2. I think that the Lords could use Westminster Abbey and the Commons St Paul's, because those two establishments are establishment to the end of their cassocks.

    And we could have Prince Harry and Miss Markle marry in the Chapel of Parliament, with a claim to have future Royals reclaim the Palace of Westminister as a Holiday Home.


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