THE Synod agreed a quota figure of £600,000 for the year 2021, representing a 19.1-per-cent reduction on the previous year, in response to the financial impact on dioceses caused by the Covid-19 pandemic. The motion was carried by 100 nem. con. with two recorded abstentions.
Robert Gordon, the convener of the Standing Committee, said that the pandemic offered opportunities as well as challenges. A deficit of almost £231,000 had been budgeted for 2020. The year was now expected to end with about £270,000 more than planned, as savings had accrued in many areas during the lockdown. The projected outcome was for a broadly break-even position, a surplus of about £7200.
Spending for the period 2021-23 needed to acknowledge the financial challenges presented by Covid-19, with a strong desire to sustain ministries and support services to which the Church was intentionally committed, and to find space to support and foster new opportunities. Cutting the provincial quota to £600,000, with the aim of rebuilding it in stages by 2024, would give dioceses a measure of discretion over how best to use this headroom to address their needs.
Priorities were: maintaining provincial spending on charges and dioceses; maintaining the giving to others; and also delivering corporate services across the province, including safeguarding, pensions, advisory services, formation, and training.
The Standing Committee had looked closely at different ways of working under lockdown, to consider how these might allow it to operate more efficiently in normal times. The planned underspend of £270,000 would create a recovery and renewal fund, to which charges and dioceses would be able to apply for new openings and opportunities, post-pandemic.
Criteria were still being developed, and the aim would be for applications to the fund to be considered in the second half of 2021. One example might be investigating the provision of live-streaming facilities in churches that did not have that capacity at present.
“We have built up a substantial surplus over the decades, and now is the time to release it to take forward for mission,” Mr Gordon said, noting that the figures also took into account the possible increase in Unit Trust Pool (UTP) receipts.
The 2019 Synod had advocated further joint working between the Standing Committee and the College of Bishops to sharpen priorities for action. The pandemic had put paid to that, but the Primus and Standing Committee proposed to form a small task group of bishops, clergy, and lay people to identify a range of short- and longer-term emerging issues for future work.
These would include such things as managing guidance during the pandemic; identifying courses of support to those exhausted by its demands; ensuring adequate digital resources for those unable to attend church physically; and gauging the impact of the crisis through contact with diocesan treasurers.
The pandemic appeared to have brought to a head the ability to discharge governance and responsibilities in small, ageing churches — finding enough volunteers, for instance. The task group would be looking at possible models of stronger diocesan support for these, and “buddy” support from better-resourced churches.