THE new Archbishop of York is to lead a review of the future of the Church of England’s 42 dioceses as the coronavirus crisis continues to leave church doors closed, with many services conducted online instead.

Bishop Stephen Cottrell, who will be confirmed as the next Archbishop in July following the retirement of Dr John Sentamu, has been asked to chair a ‘Vision and Strategy’ group.

A national newspaper has claimed that the review could lead to a ‘cull’ of bishops, the mothballing of historic churches and cuts in the number of dioceses to reduce administrative costs, amid pressure to merge diocesan functions in education, theological training and administration to save money.

The newspaper quoted a source as saying that the bishop had privately signalled he was prepared to contemplate’ dramatic cuts’ and also saying that the coronavirus pandemic had vastly accelerated changes in the way the church would ‘do its stuff’ because of declining attendances and revenues.

A Church of England spokesperson said yesterday that the group’s purpose was to see how the ‘five marks of mission’ might shape the Church’s priorities over the next 10 years.

“It is primarily to do with spiritual renewal, evangelism and discipleship,” they said. “The group itself has not yet met.”

They said that for at least the last ten years, the Church of England had continued to review the size and number of dioceses ‘so as to most efficiently and effectively share the gospel and serve the whole of our nation.’

“Along with other communities and organisations, the current pandemic has brought this discussion further up the agenda,”they said.

“At the moment it is no more than a discussion and there are no specific proposals.

“Our most recent House of Bishops meeting included updates from groups of bishops looking at coronavirus and its implications for the future of the Church of England.

“This also involved a series of breakout groups further looking at issues including political and economic change, shifts in technology as well as the impact of demographic change.”