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Vicar says church is too middle class; `Hierarchy refuses to learn from parishes like mine'.

Byline: Jenny Watson

THE CHURCH of England has been branded too middle-class by a vicar working in one of Liverpool's poorest parishes. Rev Tim Stratford, vicar at The Good Shepherd Church in Fazakerley, accused church leaders of closing their ears to the needs of worshippers in cities like Liverpool. He sits as a member of the General Synod and his views were published in a subscription pamphlet `Liturgy and Urban Mission' which is sent to church leaders across Britain, America and Europe.

In the paper, which is published by Grove Books as part of their Worship series, he says: ``Working class communities are likely to write off middleclass institutions as not belonging to `us' and write off middle-class individuals as `untrustworthy'.

``Yet somehow the gospel of Christ calls the Church to be more inclusive than that. ``Communities whose members have been excluded from many leading roles in society are bound to be cynical of those who seek to exercise authority over them.'' Last night Mr Stratford, a chaplain to former Bishop of Liverpool David Sheppard, explained: ``The central hierarchy of the Church refuses to learn lessons from parishes like mine in poor urban areas.

``They are blind, or choose to be, to the values of working class people.

``Leaders listen to the strongest voices and they tend to come from money and power. They have a middle class set of values which prize status, wealth and possessions.'' He believes the Church's mission is being foiled by its wordy liturgy, which has little bearing to the dialect familiar to people in his congregation. ``In my parish, which touches some of the most deprived parts of Liverpool, I encourage worshippers to contribute with their own words.

``The arrogance which says that the locals need to learn to speak English `properly' fails to recognize there is more than one legitimate way of speaking and handicaps the Church's mission.'' The 41-year-old, who has been at his parish for eight-and-a-half years, also attacks the church for prizing academic learning, which he believes working class worshippers find dictatorial, at the expense of celebrating the value of practical skills.

``The Church values learning of the mind far above learning skills. But my parishioners have valuable interpersonal skills which deserve to be recognized.''

Mr Stratford encourages vocational courses from Knowsley College to be held at his church where worshippers can learn computing and using the internet as well as crafts.

The Lower Lane church serves 700 people from the Croxteth and Norris Green area. Among the other activities which take place each week are line dancing, Weight Watcher groups, aerobics sessions and table tennis sessions. He says many churches in Liverpool are building up a slow growth in congregation sizes by tapping into the values which have meaning to the social groups in poor urban areas. But despite a pledge in 1985 to prioritise urban areas in the Faith in the City report, commissioned by the then Archbishop of Canterbury Robert Runcie, the ideas coming out of urban parishes have been largely ignored by Church authorities, according to Mr Stratford.

A spokesman for the Church of England said: ``These are issues which the Church has been aware of for sometime. Obviously people are entitled to their own view as to how they are being dealt with.''

CAPTION(S):

Q OUTSPOKEN: Rev Tim Stratford and, inset,; the late Robert Runcie Picture: ANDREW TEEBAY; EPD pic Runcie
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Publication:Daily Post (Liverpool, England)
Date:Jan 10, 2003
Words:567
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