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Lincoln diocese promised 100 new clergy

04 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. On Wednesday, the diocese announced plans to recruit 100 new clergy and to make Lincoln "the best environment for personal, professional and spiritual development for its clergy".

On Saturday, delivering a presidential address to the diocesan synod, 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 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), which warned that clergy felt "undervalued", and regarded the diocesan office as "remote, autocratic, indecisive, and lacking in transparency".

Bishop Lowson has visited all the stipendiary clergy in their homes for one hour during the last year. This was described in the report on the implementation of last year's review, published last month, as "very reaffirming". The great majority of people in authorised or licensed ministry in the diocese are volunteers or non-stipendiary, 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). There was now "a bigger sense that those people are there to serve ministry and mission at a local level", he said.

The review's recommendation that a £5-million Diocesan Mission Fund be established 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. Justin Allain Chapman. Permission has been granted to recruit a new Bishop of Grimsby after the retirement of the Rt Revd David Rossdale. 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 budget of £5.5 million). The implementation report envisages that giving will be restructured in the next four years, and that many parishes will see 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 "kick-start 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. . . We need to be those three words that the Bishop is talking about [as set out in his vision: faithful, confident, and joyful], or we will not attract other people. They need to be encouraged and excited about coming to a diocese where we are encouraged and excited about sharing the work of the Kingdom."

The Archdeacon of Lincoln, the Ven. Tim Barker, said that the review of the diocese had been "a slightly unsettling process, because one is continually asking questions"; but it had given the diocese a "pretty clear sense of direction. . .  I really am very, very hopeful and confident about the way we are going." Of the task of filling posts, he said: "I just hope clergy will be willing to take the adventure of coming to somewhere not known to them, as it is a diocese being seriously honest about where it is, and committing itself to going forward."


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