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Lincoln steers itself out of choppy waters

18 October 2013

ONE year after a report that warned of a "downward spiral of despair" in parishes, people in the diocese of Lincoln are reporting a fresh optimism.

Delivering a presidential address to the diocesan synod at the end of last month, the Bishop of Lincoln, the Rt Revd Christopher Lowson, said: "We are a great ocean liner, and we in the diocese of Lincoln are not abandoning ship. I and my colleagues on the senior staff team are doing all that we can to plot the right course, we're getting on track and the engine is running well."

He acknowledged, however, that confidence in the diocese had been "shaken" in recent years, as a result of a shortage of stipendiary clergy, morale among the clergy that was "among the lowest" in the Church, and a drop in parish giving. These were among the problems highlighted in the Central Services Review published last year (News, 28 September, 2012), which warned that clergy felt "undervalued", and regarded the diocesan office as "remote, autocratic, indecisive, and lacking in transparency".

Bishop Lowson has visited every member of the stipendiary clergy in his or her own home for one hour during the past year. This was described in the report on the implementation of last year's review, published last month, as "very reaffirming". Speaking afterwards, he said that, besides increasing the number of stipendiary clergy - by 50 in the long term - continuing ministerial development and ministry development review was "something we are trying to do much better". Most people in authorised or licensed ministry in the diocese are volunteers, and the Bishop emphasised on Tuesday that their contribution would remain vital in the coming years.

He suggested that the characterisation of the diocese office in the review had arisen from the style of the last chief executive, Max Manin, who resigned last May (News, 22 June, 2012), and that there was now "a bigger sense that those people are there to serve ministry and mission at a local level".

The review's recommendation that a £5-million Diocesan Mission Fund be estabished has been taken up, some of it earmarked for increasing stipendiary numbers. But most will be used on "mission and ministry development", such as starter grants for Fresh Expressions projects, and socal justice programmes "caring for all the people of our diocese, not just those who are coming to our churches on Sunday".

The recommendation that another archdeacon be appointed has already been implemented with the arrival of the Ven. Justine Allain Chapman. Permission has been granted to recruit a new Bishop of Grimsby after the retirement of the Rt Revd David Rossdale, and it is hoped that a "half-time" bishop will be recruited to focus on the south of the diocese.

The diocese of Lincoln has suffered a recurrent funding deficit of £1.25 million (in a £5.5 million budget). The implementation report envisages that giving will be restructured in the next four years, with many parishes seeing a "significant change" in their share. On Tuesday, Bishop Lowson said that he hoped that by being "generous but not irresponsible" with the historic assets of the diocese, it would be possible to "kickstart a culture of generosity".

On Tuesday, Sue Slater, a lay representative of the diocese on the General Synod, said that Saturday's meeting had felt "like a relaunch of the diocese".

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