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Review paints unflattering picture of Lincoln diocese

28 September 2012

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

Commissioned by the Bishop of Lincoln, the Rt Revd Christopher Lowson, after his appointment in December 2011, the report, 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".

The report 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".

Bishop Lowson welcomed the report. "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 on Friday.

On Tuesday, the Bishop of Grimsby, the Rt Revd David Rossdale, said that the report had captured a "snapshot of life in the diocese". The diocese had seen a "wonderful burgeoning of lay and ordained ministry", and it was important to "see how best to use the episcopal ministry to support the self-supporting ministry which is being offered in the diocese".

The Archdeacon of Lincoln, the Ven. Tim Barker, said on Tuesday that the report "doesn't make comfortable reading", but that the findings "resonate clearly with my own observations, and with concerns expressed by many clergy and lay people in recent years". The diocesan council had met on Monday evening, he said, and had "warmly endorsed" both the report and the Bishop's response to it, including the recommendation that three archdeacons operate in the diocese, taking responsibility respectively for buildings, ministry for mission, and discipleship. Bishop Lowson was to be congratulated on having "grasped the nettle quickly" after his appointment, by commmissioning the report.

The level of giving in the diocese is among the lowest in England. The review suggests that this was because the provision of stipendary clergy and support to parishes had "declined so significantly that they see no point in giving more". A lack of "consistent strategy and policies" had led to a lack of "motivated and well-trained ministers". There is "widespread dissatisfaction" with the "New Era approach", whereby stipendary ministers were replaced with voluntary lay ministers; and the report 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 that can afford to pay". A new model should be addressed.

Canon Christopher Lilley, a Prebendary of Lincoln Cathedral, said on Tuseday that "an important element of the review is the proposal to invest a substantial part of our diocesan financial reserves into implementing the proposals, including recruiting more stipendiary clergy."

Susan Slater, a lay representative of the diocese on the General Synod, said on Tuesday that she hoped the response to the report would include affirmation of Readers and lay ministers, because "particularly in villages, lay people are keeping the church alive. . . There is bit of a feeling that you need stipendary clergy to get things done, which I think is sometimes not fair on the contribution made by unpaid clergy."

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

The review committee consisted of Air Vice-Marshal Paul Robinson, a lay Canon at Lincoln Cathedral; the Revd Richard Bowett, a Canon of Norwich Cathedral and former diocesan secretary in Norwich; and Keith Robinson, who was 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 chairmen, Church House staff, and 18 clerics and lay people.

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


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