Spending priorities: Spend on children and local ministry, members urge

15 July 2009

On the way: the Bishop of Lincoln, Dr John Saxbee, en route to a debate

On the way: the Bishop of Lincoln, Dr John Saxbee, en route to a debate

THE spending priorities of the Arch­bishops’ Council for 2010 to 2015 were debated by the General Synod on Saturday afternoon.

Introducing the Financial Strategy Review Group’s report, its chairman, Andrew Britton, said that, despite the uncertainties of the economy, the Coun­­cil had decided to “grasp the nettle”, and make this the first year in which it presented a strategy docu­ment for spending over a five-year period.

The Council had set up a working party last autumn, which had pro­duced a consultation document that had been discussed with the Inter-diocesan Finance Forum, the Coun­cil, and the House of Bishops, and had received about 100 responses from in­dividuals and organisations, leading to this report.

“We are very conscious that dio­ceses and parishes face a serious fin­ancial challenge,” he said. They did not want to see the reduction in stipen­diary clergy numbers taken any further than “absolutely necessary”.

People wanted reductions, but would not agree where. There had been some “quite startling volatility” in the numbers of ordinands accepted for training, which meant that a large part of the Council’s spending was neither planned nor controlled.

The costs of the central secretariat were being cut by an average of 2.4 per cent a year for five years — “a sig­nificant reduction”. Possible savings suggested in the report were: fewer resources devoted to liturgy, less time devoted to safeguarding children and vulnerable adults at national level, a reduction in the staff support for ecu­menical work, combining hospital and education chaplaincy support, fewer resources spent on urban and rural affairs, a review of the resources spent on strategies for children and young people, and shorter Synod meetings.

Alan Cooper (Manchester) con­sidered the list of possible savings: there were many things that were “dear to various hearts”, but a hard-headed approach was necessary. Nevertheless, he urged that support for hospital chaplains and chaplaincy in educa­tion should not be coupled together. The work of the 325 whole-time chaplains, paid for by the NHS, should not be jeopardised. Part-time chaplains brought in £3.5 million to the dioceses from the NHS.

The Revd Dr Dagmar Winter (New­castle) said that the financial crisis was hitting rural communities hard. It was important that individual sec­tors were not micro-managed, and leaders were allowed to decide their own savings. Many were the only churches left after other denomina­tions had had to give up. The Synod should not undermine their work for the next 25 years.

The Bishop of Lincoln, Dr John Saxbee, felt that this could become a balloon debate. Most church members would consider work with children and young people to be uppermost, but it had been given a relatively low priority in the report. There must be no short cuts: the risks were too great. He also warned that interaction be­tween the C of E and the Govern­ment was central to the Board of Education. Withdrawing funds would signal to the Govern­ment that these sectors mattered less to the Church.

The Revd Dr Jane Craske (Meth­od­ist Church) addressed the ecumen­ical impact of parts of the report. Methodists, too, had been through the process of prioritising and cuts, so that the central team did what it uniquely could do. There were ecumenical im­plications in respect of courses and colleges, where some felt there were ir­regu­lar­ities.

Dr Craske wanted to remind the Church of England of the effect on other Churches of cuts to Churches Together in Britain and Ireland. She urged continued consultation with ecu­menical partners over the value of partnerships.

Rosalind O’Dowd (London) sug­gested exploring the existing model of stipendiary clergy in every parish: young people did not group togetherin geographical locations so much now.

She also wondered whether pros­pec­­tive ordinands were being “molly­coddled”, in that housing was being provided for them while training. Self-funding was common in the vol­un­tary sectors. Proactive funding could send a clear signal about what kind of ordinands were being sought. It could lead lay ministries to flourish. Partnerships such as those between the Mission and Public Affairs Divi­sion and Tearfund were win-win situations.

The Bishop of Willesden, the Rt Revd Pete Broadbent (Southern Suffragans), warned that if the Church were not forward-looking, it would become a Church in “terminal decline, eating our cucum­ber sand­wiches and going nowhere”. It was going to have to be more radical. Dioceses should be chal­lenged to have a growth strategy.

Vote 1 was “not fit for purpose” and should be reduced to a sinking fund for colleges that needed it. On Vote 2, defenders of boards and com­mittees would argue for their value: keep a small core of national func­tion, he suggested. “We want to re-evangelise England and help dioceses and paris­hes: we may have to give up some of the things we pay for cen­trally.”

The Revd Professor Richard Burridge (London University) said that there were pressures in the uni­versities, too — his own college, King’s, had to find £14 million of cuts. He urged the separation of NHS and university chaplains as “very different animals”, and, in response to the national debate about higher edu­cation, believed work of this nature could not be devolved to the dioceses. Education was not confined to schools.

Linda Ali (York) urged the reten­tion of pensions for clergy working in mission agencies, and for financial as­sistance to those agencies. USPG, which she chaired, trained clergy and lay people for work across the world, often in areas of conflict.

Tim Allen (St Edmundsbury & Ipswich) believed most church mem­bers would regard the work of local churches and parish clergy as their prior­ity. Suggested savings at the centre should be made the least dam­aging as possible where church build­ings were concerned. Parishes needed advice on best practice from the DACs, but it was currently unpriorit­ised.

The Ven. Dr John Applegate (Manches­ter) believed that the report confused deployment and training, and ig­nored training for local and self-supporting ministries. If the Church were to say it wouldn’t fund the train­ing of some who were called to min­istry, the assumption would be divisive. There were issues of fairness around the training budget.

Sister Anne Williams CA (Dur­ham) said that she was appalled at the prospect of children’s and young people’s work being classed as desir­able rather than essential. There was a responsibility to go for growth: “Any­thing else is unthinkable.” Help for the Church Lads’ and Church Girls’ Brigade in deprived areas had gener­ated greater self-belief: “What we can do, the Church of England can do.” Be very careful, she urged the Synod.

The Revd Stephen Coles (London) urged the saving of more posts rela­ting to children and young people. This age group was largely absent from church congregations. If such essential work was not supported, it would not happen. Jointly funded posts had been able to generate sup­plementary income: jettisoning them would be irresponsible.

Canon Pete Spiers (Liverpool) wanted joined-up thinking about the work God was calling the Church to do. Asking “How much will it cost?” and “How will we raise the money?” was the wrong approach. “If we were to give five per cent, we would have more than enough resources.” He challenged the Church to spend the same amount, and to spend more on extra things: there would be no need then for people to defend their special interests. “Have confidence in the vision,” he urged.

The Revd Rose Hudson-Wilkin (London) made a similar plea. The vision remained for the Church to grow, but it was “running scared. . . What shall we cut?” It must be pru­dent certainly, but: “It can be done.”

The Synod took note of the report.

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