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Cure souls or create schools?

Church split over controversial pound;10 m spend. Genevra Fletcher reports

The Church of England is considering spending pound;10 million on new schools to form an evangelical front-line.

But the proposal to use money from the pound;30 million Church Commissioners' Missions Fund has been attacked by clergy who say it is a misuse of the cash. The fund's guiding aim, they say, is the cure of souls and the promotion of parochial ministry.

Peter Bruinvels, a former MP and church commissioner, proposed the scheme with the aim of achieving the Dearing report's target of 100 new church schools by 2008. He said: "Schools are today's and tomorrow's future. This is about front-line evangelism."

Mr Bruinvels says that use of the fund is not restricted to support the clergy, and that the creation of new church schools is a vital form of parochial ministry.

He said: "The shortage of clergy means churches are being shut down all over the place. Very often it is only the church school that survives. I'm not expecting us to put millions of pounds into each school. But the fund is for the support of lay workers too, and teaching staff are lay workers."

David Jennings, rector of Burbage, Wiltshire, said: "Let's hope this is just a suggestion and that, like a lot of Mr Bruinvels' past suggestions, it comes to nothing. It's theft.

"The Church Commissioners' Mission Fund is to support the clergy. We will end up with a profusion of church schools but no clergy or parish churches."

Richard Bentley, the priest in charge of St Peter's church in Petersham, Surrey, said: "This proposal is about recruitment. If you do not try to recruit in schools, how are you going to involve people in the church in the future? But it is wrong to take money that is for sustaining the parishes."

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