THE New Zealand diocese of Dunedin is at the “point of collapse” after years of financial decline, its Bishop has announced.
The Bishop, Dr Kelvin Wright wrote to all his clergy, warning them of the “grave situation”. He later posted the letter on his blog.
Falling numbers of people who attend church, and a decline in the real level of giving meant that some parishes were already “on the very edge of ceasing to exist altogether”, he wrote.
“We have pared the diocesan budget back as hard as we dared, reduced our staffing levels, and made cuts to service wherever we could, but still we have not been able to balance the annual budget. Some have advised me to appeal to the parishes to increase their giving to the diocese, but I know that this is simply unrealistic.
“With no change in the overall pattern of decline, with the imminent prospect of massive increases in the cost of insurance and the inescapable task of earthquake strengthening, the pressure on parishes over the next year or two will be greater than ever. In fact, I expect that some of our parishes will cease to exist in the near future.”
The diocese, founded in 1869, had about two years’ worth of reserves to see it through until it came up with a radical new structure that was sustainable, he said.
Although the diocese has just 60 churches in 33 parishes, its geographical area covers one third of the South Island. It has more than 50 clergy, but only 14 are on stipends.
Speaking on Wednesday, Dr Wright said that last year’s earthquake, with the resulting damage to churches, was the “straw that broke the camel’s back”. Parishes were unable to afford to strengthen their churches, he said, and insurance premiums had increased sharply.
Parishes had taken the bleak news surprisingly well, he said. He has held meetings in three archdeaconries this week to explore a way forward. “We have been strangely energised by it. We’ve all known we have been in trouble for some years, and nothing has changed now but that we have named it.”
The diocesan structure has already been pared back. There are four members of staff in its central office, serving about 2000 weekly worshippers.
Dr Wright said that the challenge now was to determine “how to be Anglican in this part of the world, and how we can be faithful to the message of Christ”.
Several options were on the table: one was to merge the diocese with that of neighbouring Christchurch; another was to merge the Bishop’s role with another role in the diocese, or turn the diocese into a missionary organisation that would serve people in places “where God is working in the world”, he said.
“At the moment, most of what we do is about Sunday worship, and there is no future in doing that.”
Despite the bleak financial outlook, he said that he was hopeful. “I am not losing any sleep over this. I think several other dioceses will be watching what we do with interest.”