But, said former Bishop of Dover, the Right Rev. Trevor Wilmott, this was not an unusual situation to be in and once people learned ‘the secret of Guernsey’ they might be more inclined to come.
He was on a ‘farewell tour’ of the Channel Islands in his role as ‘bishop’ of the islands, a job he has retained after retirement as Bishop of Dover in 2019. The islands are moving from being part of the Diocese of Winchester, via a spell under Dover’s oversight, to the Diocese of Salisbury.
During his visit he went to Sark and Alderney and took part in a confirmation service in Guernsey.
Some Guernsey churches share a minister while two have vacancies – St Sampson’s (the post being shared with St Mary’s) and St Stephen’s. The Vale and Castel parishes are also facing losing a rector soon.
Mr Wilmott said that the island was ‘going through a normal period of some vacancies and the opportunity for new ministers to come’.
But it was not easy. ‘It’s quite hard to find clergy who are ready to take on the responsibilities. If someone is going to come from the mainland UK it’s quite an upheaval for them to come.
‘Perhaps they don’t know the secret of Guernsey as perhaps those of us who come here regularly, do.’ He said the secret was ‘life, welcome and encouragement.’
In the UK recruitment to the ministry was good at the moment.
‘But perhaps even more important, the age of those offering themselves for ministry is getting younger again, which is a huge encouragement.’
With parishes sharing a minister or with no minister at all, he said the possibility of perhaps merging them was something for the island to decide.
‘I think it’s very much for the local community to discuss that. Plans from outside never work.
‘But I think where parishes are able to work together and share a ministry they are enriched.’
Controversy over ratepayers funding the parish church buildings rears it head frequently but Mr Wilmott said if the Church did good work it could help show people that it is worth having.
‘The Church is in a privileged place and should never forget that. I think it’s by our fruits we are known.’
He cited the work done by churches during the pandemic as being an example, in that they helped people not be so isolated and to feel more confident.
‘When the Church is doing that I think the wider parish, which we should never take for granted and whose generosity sustains the buildings, then says “yes, we understand and we want the Church to be here”.
‘Will that continue forever? That’s for the people of Guernsey to decide.’
Why the change of diocese?
The Channel Islands were linked to the Diocese of Winchester for more than 450 years. That ended after a falling out over the then Dean of Jersey’s handling of a parishioner’s complaint about abuse. No evidence of any wrongdoing was found.
The Bishop of Dover was given temporary oversight of the islands until the Church agreed that responsibility for the islands would move under the episcopal oversight of the Bishop of Salisbury.