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Lincoln health-check prescribes some bitter pills

21 September 2012

THE diocese of Lincoln, in which clergy feel "undervalued" and regard the diocese office as "remote, autocratic, indecisive and lacking in transparency" should make wholescale changes including reducing its suffragan bishops from two to one, a report published today (Friday) suggests.

Commissioned by the Bishop of Lincoln, the Rt Revd Christopher Lowson, after his appointment in December 2011, the Central Services Review paints an unflattering picture of the diocese. Parishes feel that they are "presiding over decline", and that a lack of stipendiary priests and low levels of giving have resulted in a "downward spiral of despair".

It makes 51 recommendations, including the replacement of the post of chief executive with a diocesan secretary, the appointment of an extra archdeacon (the current two are "grossly overtasked"), and the creation of a £5-million Diocesan Mission Fund to "pump-prime a new cadre of stipendary deanery clergy".

The Bishop should assume "the authoritative leadership role" in the diocese, and the diocesan office, which should revert to being a "service centre", must adopt a "can do" attitude.

The review committee comprised Canon Air Vice-Marshal Paul Robinson, a lay canon at Lincoln Cathedral; a Canon of Chester Cathedral, Canon Richard Bowett, former diocesan secretary in Norwich; and Keith Robinson, general secretary of the diocese of London until 2009.

During the course of the review, the committee interviewed all members of the Bishop's staff, four canons, committee chairman, Church House staff, and 18 clergy and laity.

In a forward to the review, the committee said that it had gone beyond the original remit of the review because it "uncovered other issues that needed to be addressed". It acknowledged that some of the recommendations "may be controversial", and that there was "much that was excellent" in the diocese, but urged that the report be spared "dilution".

Since the drafting of the report, the chief executive of the diocese, Max Manin, has left his post. It was announced in June that the Bishop then discovered information that led to enquiries by the police (News, 22 June). Interviewees in the report criticised Mr Manin's leadership style and habit of "acting independently, often outside his terms of reference".

In 2010, a Formal Area Scheme was established in the diocese, in which various powers were delegated from the Bishop, who had commitments in London, to two suffragans. The report suggests that this arrangement should now end, as the new Bishop has no outside responsibilities, and interviewees had expressed concern that "in the absence of comprehensive direction", the diocese would divide into two entities "with the concomitant dangers of overlap, misunderstanding and divergence".

Giving in the diocese is among the lowest in England, and the review suggests that this is because the provision of stipendary clergy and support to parishes has "declined so significantly that they see no point in giving more".

A lack of "consistent strategy and policies" had led to "systemic failings", namely a lack of "motivated and well-trained ministers". It is recommended that a Director of Ministry, with archdeacon status, be appointed to address this.

The report also notes "widespread dissatisfaction" with the "New Era approach", whereby stipendary ministers were replaced with voluntary lay ministers; and also warns that the decision by some deaneries to undertake "aggressive fundraising" to fund stipendary clergy "could lead to a bourgeois church functioning only in areas which can afford to pay". A new model should be addressed, it said, to provide mutual support to less prosperous areas.

The review also suggests that the Bishop consider creating combined departments to serve both the diocese and the Cathedral.

Bishop Lowson, who will now ask the diocesan synod to consider the report, welcomed its publication.

"There is a lot of good work being done in the diocese, by dedicated and talented people, and the aim of the report is to ensure that those excellent resources are being used in the right way," he said. "The review group took a snapshot of the diocese at a particular time, but what they didn't get is the reason for things being as they are, and that is now where we need to do some work with the help of people from the diocese on small panels examining particular areas."

It is intended that nine panels will be established to undertake the work recommended in the report.


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