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Church Commissioners are to vote on providing extra £155m ‘without selling the family silver’

21 June 2019


Ordinands in London last year

Ordinands in London last year

THE Church Commissioners are to put additional investment into addressing the “happy problem of success”, as more candidates are put forward for ordination, it was revealed on Friday.

Pending approval by the Commissioners’ AGM, next Wednesday, an extra £155 million of investment is to be the subject of a presentation at the General Synod next month. It is intended to fund the increase in those training for the priesthood, but also to provide for extra support for cathedrals and disadvantaged areas.

The Bishop of Manchester, Dr David Walker, told the media at the Synod briefing on Friday: “The money that is going for additional ordinands and curates will see that those people get really good training, and that their diocese is supported to deploy them in parishes in the first instance.

“That growth in those curates will help us deal with the demographic challenge that many of the exisiting clergy, just because of their age, are coming to retire in the next few years.”

The increased funding of ordinands and curates falls as part of Renewal and Reform; the Strategic Development Funding will also gain more investment from the Commissioners.

Should the funding be approved by the Commissioners’ AGM, which Dr Walker said he was “confident” about, it the Synod will receive a presentation about it on the Monday afternoon.

The Synod’s secretary general, William Nye, said: “We have a happy problem of success in having more people coming forward for the priesthood, and that causes a certain amount of financial stress on dioceses. How are we going to pay for these ordinands? How are we going to pay for them when they’re curates?

”Happily, the national Church has been able to find money to help dioceses to pay for these extra ordination costs, training costs and ordinands.”

Speaking after the briefing on Friday, John Spence, who chairs the Archbishops’ Council’s finance committee, said that the Commissioners had “recognised that they were being a bit conservative”, and that they could invest more money.

Dr Walker had earlier said: “We’ve been able to make this extra money available because we have been looking at what’s sensible, what’s reasonable. Some things we know we have to do for ever. The pensions liability will eventually work its way through the system, but, until it does, we have to pay those pensions.”

Mr Spence explained that the national Church would provide the funds to dioceses to fill the gap in their funding caused by the increase in people coming forward for ordination.

“Where more curates are being deployed, the funding will be there for dioceses before they meet the right level. . . Ultimately it has to be funded by meeting the cost from donations at parish and diocesan level.”

Dr Walker said that the increase in candidates for ordination training was certainly the case in his own diocese.

He explained: “We have seen a particularly rapid growth in the people coming forward who are young, particularly young women, and roughly at the moment in the Manchester probably about 20-25 per cent of those coming forward for ordained ministry are from BAME communities. We’re increasingly diverse.”

The House of Bishops also had two other priorities, Dr Walker said: continuing Strategic Development Funding, and money for the lowest-income communities.

Mr Nye said: “We’ve made a deliberate effort, in response to local needs — these are all ideas that have come out of our dioceses — to invest in somewhat overlooked, somewhat left-behind towns.”

He gave the examples of Dudley, Preston, Blackpool, Wigan, Chatham, Swindon, and Southend, among others, as places that had received investment.

The secretary general asked: “What other institution in the public sector, or the voluntary sector, or the private sector, is able to say it is consistently investing in places like that?

“Investing in churches, to bring more people to faith; but also those churches can be very significant in building up community and the social fabric in these places — places that have many challenges, which the Church is trying to push its message to.”

He later said: “The Church is very rooted in our communities. . . We are a national body in that we are everywhere, or almost everywhere. We have centres of influence and decision-making that are very distributed.”

Mr Spence argued that a key part of Renewal and Reform was seeking “good growth”, which was “not just about getting bums on seats”.

He said: “It is about being in places where the Church is needed. . . It is about ensuring the depth of discipleship, and creating disciple-making disciples.”

Other parts of the additional funding would go towards helping cathedrals be sustainable, diocesan sustainability funding, and social-impact investment.

On the extra cathedral funding, Mr Spence said that “cathedrals are particularly important in this country,” as they had both “religious and community significance”. The funding would help “further enhance their status”.

He hoped that the Government might match this extra funding, as £10 million translated to just £240,000 per cathedral.

The “hand of God” was behind the extra investment, Dr Walker said: “It is seeing how God is calling men and women to offer their lives in service in ministry; it’s seeing how God is growing the Church in places where the strategic development funding has been applied.

“It’s seeing how God is working through churches for the poorest in communities. This is a reasonable response to helping the Church to sustain that work in the future.”

The paper from the Triennium Funding Working Group on National Church Spending Plans for 2020-22 explains that an actuarial change lies behind the decision to make more funding available: “The latest actuarial assessment of the Commissioners’ funds has recently been completed. Their Assets Committee has agreed to switch from using the Retail Price Index (RPI) to the CPIH Index as the inflation basis on which provision is made for future expenditure growth (other than for expenditure on pensions). As the long-term estimate of the annual increase in CPIH is below the estimate for RPI, less of the Commissioners’ assets are needed to cover their ‘core’ distributions.”

This meant that the Commissioners would not be breaking generational equity, or “selling the family silver”, Dr Walker said at the briefing.

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