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Scottish Episcopal Church votes to freeze quota after ‘mixed’ year in finances

15 June 2018

Church Times

The convener of the Standing Committee, Robert Gordon, addresses the Synod on Saturday morning

The convener of the Standing Committee, Robert Gordon, addresses the Synod on Saturday morning

Standing committee: budgets and quota

EXPENSIVE legal settlements and pensions advice contributed to a “mixed” financial performance of the Scottish Episcopal Church in 2017, the convener of the Standing Committee, Robert Gordon, told the General Synod on Thursday of last week.

Presenting its annual report, Mr Gordon said that minor underspends in the general fund had been offset by “unforeseen spending” in three areas: a protracted dispute with HMRC over employment allowance, which had been won, but had “proved expensive”; pensions advice; and a range of unbudgeted clergy personnel cases.

“It is not good to fall out, and, when we fall out and engage lawyers, that is costly as well,” he said.

Income totalled more than £2.44 million in 2017, covering a total expenditure of about £2.3 million — leaving a surplus of about £141,000 (about £84,600 more than budgeted).

The spending budget for this year had, therefore, been increased to some £47,000. The Church had budgeted for a surplus of £9471 in 2019, and a deficit of £102,789 in 2020, however, partly owing to an expected increase in the costs of grants to assistant curates, to account for ordinands who last year chose to defer the start of their initial curacy.

In future, the committee could budget with more certainty the costs of hosting the Synod, building grants, and administrative support, Mr Gordon said, but there was “considerable uncertainty” surrounding training for ministries and securing first incumbencies for emerging candidates.

“We have to ensure that people applying to ministry are appropriately supported,” he said. The arithmetic was not straightforward — the number of full-time ordinands, curates, the level of support, and the sum required, was unknown — but the potential growth, he said, was “a great problem to have”.

These costs could be covered by the surpluses in recent years, which was why, he explained, he was proposing that the quota be raised by three per cent in line with inflation for this year. Funds had already been redistributed from richer to poorer dioceses, but more movement might be needed to support areas that were unable to sustain ministries in the longer term.

“We are well aware of the challenges we face,” he said. The committee was working with the College of Bishops to understand how to sustain ministry in “fragile areas”, and to meet the demands of increases in retirements.

Mr Gordon concluded: “It is not clear when people are going to go into retirement, and where opportunities are going to rise. It is not an exact science. It is looking at models of ministry which are sustainable. God may be saying, ‘There may be growth, but not yet.’”

Motions 17 and 18, to accept the annual report and agree a quota of £763,773 for 2019, the total sum that the six dioceses are obliged to contribute to the General Fund of the Church, were debated on Saturday afternoon.

An amendment to Motion 18 — to freeze the quota budget for next year rather than accept an increase of three per cent in line with inflation — was proposed by the Revd Professor David Atkinson.

Many clergy members of Synod expressed concern that churches across the dioceses were already living on a “knife-edge”, and that increasing the quota would put further pressure on congregations to stay afloat.

Freezing quota, however, would give the dioceses a much-needed lift, without dipping into surpluses that could be spent elsewhere.

During the debate, the Revd Professor Annalu Waller (Brechin) said: “We have a moral responsibility to make difficult decisions about how we retire some charges to build from the bottom up, and equip our young people and our Church to be there and grow and share the word God with society.”

Dr Beth Routledge (Edinburgh) pointed out that her diocese was funded by surpluses from more wealthy dioceses. The Dean of Glasgow, the Very Rev Ian Barcroft, said that the discussion should have been given more time in Synod. He called for a review of quota on an annual basis. “We need to bring money right into the centre of Synod,” he said.

Mr Gordon said that he would work through the issues raised by the Synod. The proposed amendment was narrowly accepted by a counted vote of the whole Synod: 48 for, to 45 against.

Motions 17 to accept the annual report and Motion 18, as amended, were carried.

Read further coverage of the General Synod of the Scottish Episcopal Church here.

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