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.