WHEN people come to see these sets of papers, it's important not
to view them as a central initiative, a central strategy, but,
rather, a co-ordinated response to what the research and the Church
of England has told us. What we did is that we took all the
evidence and the anecdotal evidence and research of the past five
years, and we then embarked on a series of conversations at
diocesan level right across the country.
And the great thing that came out of it was a unanimity about
the recognition that the spiritual and numerical growth of the
Church is absolutely vital, and an understanding that the trends
that have been going on in recent decades cannot be allowed to
continue if we are to maintain our commitment to be a presence in
If we're really going to take the whole work of Christ forward,
we've got to find new ways of doing it. And so what we ended up
with was a very clear thirst in every one of the dioceses that we
talked with for growth in spiritual and numerical dimensions.
And that led us to ask, "So what needs to change?" The research
in the public domain clearly says that our numbers have been
falling at one per cent per annum. If you carry on with that at a
compound rate you're end up with a very small Church. [In addition,
Mr Spence spoke of ageing congregations and clergy: "Many dioceses
well over 50 per cent of priests are well over 50."]
If you're going to have growth, you've got to turn that round,
and you've got to make sure that they're as effective as they can
possibly be. And so you need to think about how you train them, how
you bring them through their career.
So you'll see that the great thing here is that everything comes
together. You end up thinking about a range of different
initiatives. Already the Archbishops have been thinking about how
do we best equip our bishops to be the leaders of our Church, and
how do we equip people to be the leaders of the Church in the
future. . . ?
But when we went round and did the research on resourcing the
future, we clearly saw the ambitions of each diocese; they told us
what their ambitions were; they equally said to us, "But we need
help if we're going to deliver this." It became very appropriate to
create a steering group under Steven Croft in Sheffield around
resourcing ministerial education. How do you get the most effective
education for people? What are the most effective ways now?
Because our research, and the anecdotal-evidence piece already
published, has told us so much about what makes for a successful
priest: we know that. And that, actually, then took us into the
work with the dioceses, when we identified the gap between their
projection of the number of priests they will have, and their
competence, versus what they think they need going forward. That
tells you something about pathways to ordination and how we ensure
a flow coming through.
And the dioceses also told us that they needed far more lay
leaders and lay ministers of different competences coming through;
so you ended up with a huge bucket of work under resourcing
And they also told us as well, as if we didn't know, that every
rule in the Church of England is underpinned by national secular
legislation. So, many of these rules may have been valid once, but
are exhausting for the priests today, who have so many other things
to be dealt with, and so a simplification piece, which Peter
Broadbent started, is giving a couple of initial recommendations,
but I think their work will continue for the next quinquennium and
provide a flow of simplifying legislation.
And then, finally, you end up looking at the role of the
National Church Institutions, which came rather later and very much
at my personal volition, which was really saying: here you are: you
are developing a national response to the needs of over 40
dioceses; your job is to help them deliver their strategies and
implement them brilliantly, give them the tools that they need, do
the things that they cannot do. Have we got a perfectly formed
engine room at the centre? Let's think about that. That's the fifth
and final strand, not that there's so much of that report being
published at the moment: that's a work in progress. . .
I have been really struck by the degree of unanimity that is now
there. I think maybe in the past people always said "We need to
have growth, " but there may have been greater levels of confidence
in the past that that growth could be achieved without fundamental
change. I think now there is a real recognition that you need to do
things differently. . .
THE formulae [for disbursing central funds to the dioceses] that
are in place (a) are opaque, (b) are not linked in any way to the
wealth or deprivation of the communities that each diocese serves.
There's no sense of accountability: the money is dished out in
rather a sense that this is your right, without any expectation of
what it will achieve.
And, in a world of scarce resources, the funds that we
distribute which come to us from the Church Commissioners are
modest in the overall terms of the Church, but the way in which
they are dispensed sends an important message.
[Mr Spence talked of] moving from a grant much more to a
contract, or a compact might be the best word: there's going to be
no legality about this. And what I'm absolutely clear about is that
we must not in any way become a head office.
So what we're saying now is we must work out how we distribute
the funds on a different basis, linked to the level of deprivation
in the particular communities we serve. Why is that valid? Because
the social infrastructure is less likely to be present in a
deprived community, making it more difficult and probably needing
more cost to take forward the mission of the diocese.
And, secondly, we need to make sure the money is also spent
proactively in growth projects which otherwise would not happen; so
And what we are saying to dioceses is: can we work out a way in
which you hold each other mutually supportive and mutually
responsible without coming near us? I certainly do not want any
sense of people being answerable to Church House.
THE urgency of the change agenda as identified by the dioceses
is such that, at the same time as we are doing these pieces of
work, it's important that we move as quickly as we can to maximise
Any change of formula always means winners and losers, and if we
can create a means by which we can have some transitional funding,
it means we can move immediately to maximise the impact of the
change. And that will need an element of intermediate funding,
which is what in principle is what we want to talk to the Church
Commissioners about. . .
Over and above that, clearly we're saying we recognise a need
for a very significant increase in the number of people who are
inspired to come through as ordinands. If we recognise that need,
there is inevitably going to be a significant period before we see
the payback from that. And I should not want to see that initiative
stifled simply because individual dioceses feel that they can't
afford the burden of that training cost. And that will be another
area where we have think: could we make a case to the Church
Commissioners as to why they might make an exceptional piece of
assistance to us to help us get through the change? But we are not
ready yet to quantify this.
At the moment, we think it's absolutely critical, and the Church
Commissioners think that it it's absolutely critical, that we go to
Synod and say in principle, "Are you OK with this, and do you
recognise what a significant ask it will be?" And only when we sure
that they do support the principle of the ask will we make specific
GROWTH, for me, will mean not necessarily just something which
is about a church-plant or whatever. It may well be a significant
investment in a part of the world where we've found the going
tough, and where actually this is initially going to enable us to
stabilise the position. And we've really debated at great length
about what good growth feels like.
Good growth must not be confined to the leafy suburbs, and it's
not just about numbers. It is about an underlying process of
discipleship as defined by a distinct way of life. If I do use the
word "growth", please understand it to mean "grow as against what
would otherwise happen".
In all the places we have talked through this thinking, be it
the Church Commissioners, be it the Archbishops' Council, be it the
House of Bishops, be it other places, we have a really overwhelming
understanding of the issues, of the agenda, of the need to do
something different, and the energy that goes with that.
Mr Spence talked to Paul Handley.
Do these initiatives increase your confidence in the
Church's future? Vote here
Faced with six or seven new reports, we commissioned
an illustrator, Brent Clark, to help us distinguish between them.
Three (or four) of the reports were published after we went to
press. See www.churchtimes.co.uk for details. Next week: a review
by Linda Woodhead