History gave us the structure of our diocese. Our Anglican ancestors, in the main, came from a country in which every neighbourhood had its parish church. That was the pattern we followed here until after the Second World War.

So the diocese has a lot of small parishes scattered throughout Vancouver and the North Shore, and a few other areas. As Bishop Michael Ingham has recently pointed out, we are over-churched in some places, and under-churched in others.

We have recognized this situation for over a decade. But we haven’t figured out what to do about it.

Having lots of small churches – a pattern from a pre-automobile age – is a blessing and a challenge. A blessing because it means we have a visible presence in many areas. Our 78 parish churches can often relate to the neighbourhoods in which they are located.

But it is a challenge too, because in some places numbers are shrinking, and costs continue upward.

The question we must be asking – and the question the new Task Force on Physical Resources is beginning with – is not what churches should we close, but where are we doing viable ministry, and where should we do more of it. That’s not only ministry inward for our congregations, but outward into our communities. We are charged with spreading and living the Gospel throughout the world.

Ministry takes place in parishes large and small – and being small has advantages. But even small parishes must, over time, be self sustaining. And a church building closed most of the week (or rented out to daycare), with a supply priest on Sundays, is in our opinion, not viable ministry.

The Diocese of British Columbia’s recent report suggested that, on average, it takes revenue of about $130,000 per year to sustain a parish. At least 19 of our parishes have an annual income of under $100,000.

Does that mean we close parishes based on someone’s cold, harsh statistics? Of course not. But it does mean that all parishes have to ask and answer honestly: Are we doing viable ministry? If not, how do we?