A FURTHER £24 million in Strategic Development Funding (SDF) grants has been allocated to Church of England diocesan projects, it was announced on Wednesday.
The Church Commissioners have made the funding available since 2014. The scheme was expanded in 2017 to become part of the Church’s wider Renewal and Reform strategy to halt the decline in congregations (News, 21 October 2016).
Since 2014, a total of £163 million of SDF has been allocated to 77 projects in 39 dioceses. Just £40 million — one quarter — of this has so far been spent, however. This includes the latest multi-million-pound grants, awarded to eight dioceses this week.
In November, £35 million had been spent out of the £136 million allocated at the time, raising questions about the effectiveness of the scheme (News, 12 November).
A spokeswoman at Church House, Westminster, said on Tuesday: “All the projects supported by SDF are regularly monitored to make sure that they are on track, that outcomes are recorded, and that the learning is captured.
“The numbers of new disciples generated by the projects are measured, and we are continuing to explore how to measure discipleship development. We will also be working with dioceses to help them develop social-engagement measures. Projects are evaluated annually. Evaluations, including an independent element, are also commissioned at the end of each project.”
The largest allocation in this pool was a £5-million grant to the diocese of Manchester to fund three projects over five years.
The money will be used to refurbish the Ascension, Hulme, to “attract new congregations” with support from St Martin-in-the Fields, London, and from the HeartEdge Network, to promote music and the arts. There are also plans to designate St Werburgh’s, Chorlton, as an outreach centre: for example, for new mothers, volunteer programmes, and youth mentoring; and to establish five new churches in Rochdale.
A statement from the diocese said: “Each of the three new projects has a very different culture and missional approach, and helps address the challenges facing the diocese, and its specific Mission Goals of growing younger, more diverse congregations, and growing in areas of deprivation.”
The diocese of Liverpool has been awarded £4.6 million to support Missional Chaplains and teams to “work evangelistically” in partner schools and city universities, set up a school of discipleship, and establish three new resource churches.
The Suffragan Bishop of Warrington, the Rt Revd Beverley Mason, who chairs the project board, said: “We have long been concerned that we are missing a generation . . . so it’s vital that we do this now for the good of the Church. . . I pray that, as God is teaching us to be church in a new way, this funding will help us all learn to reach a generation afresh.”
The Bishop of Liverpool, the Rt Revd Paul Bayes, said: “We are grateful to the national Church for finding ways to support and stimulate the Church. We see that, even as they look to provide temporary support for the Church in crisis, they maintain a focus on the future.”
The diocese of Durham has been awarded £4.2 million, with which it plans to lease empty high-street shops to create 14 “Communities of Hope” in Sunderland, Hartlepool, and Easington. It also plans to plant at least six new churches in the diocese over the next five years.
The director of Renewal and Reform, Debbie Clinton, said: “The range of work outlined in these projects is a measure of the Church of England’s commitment to all areas of the country — including some of the most deprived urban communities.”
The dioceses of Birmingham, Chelmsford, Oxford, Winchester, and York were also awarded grant funding in this round. The diocese of Chelmsford, which last month brought forward drastic cuts to stipendiary posts in view of the impact of Covid-19 on already strained diocesan finances (News, 12 June), has been allocated £3 million to “renew mission” in Newham. The money will be invested in All Saints’, West Ham, and three other social-engagement projects.
A briefing paper on the C of E’s response to Covid-19, which is due to be presented to a remote meeting of the General Synod on Saturday, refers to the “significant impact” of Covid-19 on diocesan finances. “The Strategic Development Unit has had comprehensive conversations with diocesan secretaries which have helped to ascertain the needs and concerns of each diocese and inform the NCIs’ work to support them, particularly financially.”