Strategy, mission and people in a rural diocese : a critical examination of the Diocese of Gloucester 1863-1923
A study of the relationship between the people of Gloucestershire and the Church of England diocese of Gloucester under two bishops, Charles John Ellicott and Edgar Charles Sumner Gibson who presided over a mainly rural diocese, predominantly of small parishes with populations under 2,000. Drawing largely on reports and statistics from individual parishes, the study recalls an era in which the class structure was a dominant factor. The framework of the diocese, with its small villages, many of them presided over by a squire, helped to perpetuate a quasi-feudal system which made sharp distinctions between leaders and led. It is shown how for most of this period Church leaders deliberately chose to ally themselves with the power and influence of the wealthy and cultured levels of society and ostensibly to further their interests. The consequence was that they failed to understand and alienated a large proportion of the lower orders, who were effectively excluded from any involvement in the Church's affairs. Both bishops over-estimated the influence of the Church on the general population but with the twentieth century came the realisation that the working man and women of all classes had qualities which could be adapted to the Church's service and a wider lay involvement was strongly encouraged. The Great War proved to be a major catalyst, both in breaking up class barriers and in confirming the estrangement of the masses from the Church and its message. Throughout the period, the Church's efficiency was impaired by having to operate through an archaic parochial system in which a large proportion of rural priests were considered by their bishops to display a high level of lethargy. Published work on this topic has hitherto been confined to some of the major industrial cities. This study offers an insight into an area of the country and at a period which has not previously received much attention.