Vision wanted, not box-ticking

by
26 February 2016

Geoff Crawford

The media listen in

The media listen in

THE SYNOD debated the report Renewal and Reform: Resourcing the future on Wednesday afternoon.

John Spence (Archbishops’ Council) said that good growth should be holistic and universal — seen in every part of the land. He thanked the Bishop of Stepney, the Rt Revd Adrian Newman, for “holding my feet to the fire” over this definition. Dioceses would use the additional funding made available through Renewal and Reform to “express the urgency about creating a different demographic pattern and growth in this wonderful institution”.

He said that dioceses had already been asked to nominate people to be trained as part of the new peer-reviewed process for Renewal and Reform. It was a risk, because it was a new piece of working, “and we will all learn from it . . . and need to be ready to modify”. It was preferable to “things’ coming through to this place alone”.

There was, in the Synod, “near unanimity” about the need to grow, and attack demographic trends. Once funding for Renewal and Reform was in place, there was a need to achieve a “flow of propositions” that could go through the peer-review process “as to take up that full flow of funding”. He emphasised the importance of developing diocesan proposals that could then be assessed for funding.

Keith Cawdron (Liverpool) said that when he had been the Diocesan Secretary of Liverpool, the diocese had received one of the highest levels of funding from central funds, and he resented any suggestion that they were “subsidising decline”. They thought they were sustaining ministry in a deprived area. He did not want to see what had gone before belittled.

Addressing the grant-application process, he offered a warning and asked for vigilance. He was concerned that a “new ecclesiastical industry” of writing and assessing proposals would be developed, including the creation of checklists. The Church could end up emphasising that “we need to be ticking boxes” and demanding evidence in the form of paperwork.

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This culture, evident in OFSTED and the Care Quality Commission, was “one of the most pernicious developments” of the day. “We do not need a new priesthood with expertise in grant-application writing.”

The Bishop of Durham, the Rt Revd Paul Butler,warmly welcomed the report. He was delighted that the Commissioners had agreed that they were prepared to break the intergenerational equity. He had hoped for a higher figure. He argued that if money was to be taken from future generations, it would be right to ensure that more than 50 per cent of the money should be invested in children and young people. His own children were committed to church growth, and needed help and support to reach their peers.

Carolyn Graham (Guildford) was concerned about the diversity of the peer-review panel. People were likely to appoint others similar to themselves, and talented people were likely to be overlooked for not being well-known at diocesan level. The team should encourage individuals from unrepresented groups to put their names forward. Studies showed that diverse groups made better decisions. Such a group would include different experiences, and be representative of the Church.

The Revd Professor Paul Fiddes (Baptist Union) asked for more attention to be paid to the “theological golden nugget” given under the heading “the vision”.He asked some theological questions: “What is the church in vision here which is open to all people and which makes the body of Christ visible in any particular place? Is it just the Church of England or the whole Church of Christ Catholic?”

He asked, could the vision be carried through without partnership in mission with other confessions? The vision also spoke of the Common Good. It could not be realised, he argued, without co-operation with those of other faiths. He suggested that the pool of reviewers could contain people of other denominations and religions.

The Revd Dr Jason Roach (London) spoke of William Tyndale, a young man who had a plan for the nation but was operating in a “sceptical” culture, and lacked money. He described how Henry Monmouth took a risk by supporting him, despite “huge pressure” not to.

The Revd Sarah Schofield (Lichfield) had, until last week, been a trustee of a Church Urban Fund joint venture. She asked what would be the role of the charitable fund in Renewal and Reform.

Philip Blinkhorn (Manchester) chaired the diocesan board of finance. Manchester had benefited under the current formula for funding, but he welcomed the proposals, and the challenge to be accountable and think about what the diocese funded. Sometimes things needed to be allowed to die.

He was aware of a lack of strategic capacity and expertise: there was a need for more dedicated resources for help with this. He also said that ten years was “an awful long time”, and asked for it to be reduced to six years.

Adrian Greenwood (Southwark) paid tribute to Mr Spence for his “amazing and inspiring leadership”. He suggested that many of the answers about what to fund lay in the “excellent work” of the evangelism task group, including work in deprived areas.

Jayne Ozanne (Oxford) cautiously welcomed the proposals. She spoke on behalf of poorer parishes in well-off dioceses. She was in Littlemore, a deprived area. She sought refuge there when she felt she had to move churches, and got “the warmest, most embracing and healing touch by being there”. She was now treasurer, and realised that £18,000 of the £24,000 income went on parish share.

Although that had since changed, she spoke of a lack of investment “for many many years”, and pointed out that to apply for things there was a need for people and resources. The building was completely unfit for purpose, and she had secured money for a new kitchen but not a new lavatory. This was a hindrance to mission for a church with many baptisms and marriages.

She asked people to remember those poor parishes in rich dioceses which needed to be monitored to ensure that they did not miss out.

The Revd Stewart Fyfe (Carlisle) said that it was proper to prioritise the poorest places in the land. Rural poverty was often hidden. He urged the Synod to remember that global statistics would not tell the whole story of rural poverty. A radical vision in such places made huge demands on clergy and lay people, who deserved tribute and support. “Their efforts inevitably affect fewer people, but they can transform whole communities.”

The Revd Barry Hill (Leicester) said that he had been part of a team that had secured £1 million in strategic-development funding. He sought to offer reassurance that the process had been “rigorous, but not onerous”. The money was not currently fairly or locally distributed, but “we have an awful lot of it. We are loaded.”

He suggested: “Could we spend a little more of the family silver now . . . rather than find we are a very wealthy Church but with not many people around us?”

The Synod took note of the report.

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