CHELMSFORD diocesan synod has formally approved a proposal to cut 61 stipendiary clergy posts by the end of 2021; a possible 49 more posts are to go if the financial situation does not improve.
The cuts come five years in advance of the original proposal for 2025, in the light of the pandemic. But plans have been in place since 2011 — when 47 per cent of stipendiary clergy were due to retire within the decade — to reduce clergy posts to the minimum sustainable number of 215 (News, 9 June).
A traffic-light system will operate, where posts “to be retained or filled if vacant” are classified as Green, and those “desirable and should be retained if finances permit” are Amber. Red posts are those “unlikely to be filled with a full-time stipendiary incumbent, and other options for enabling ministry should be considered.”
Benefices in the Red category which are unable to cover the average £80,180 costs of a full-time stipendiary priest will be invited to discuss alternatives, such as interim ministry, a self-supporting priest, or a licensed lay minister.
Chelmsford lost a substantial subsidy from the Church Commissioners when the Darlow formula was phased out, to be replaced by the Lowest Income Communities Fund and added Strategic Development grants.
Its funding fell from £3.1 million to £1 million, and it has a deficit of at least £1 million. Parish-share receipts fell to 92.59 per cent of the total needed in 2019 — more than half of which was attributable to 21 parishes — and have fallen further throughout the months of church closures.
The Acting Bishop of Chelmsford, the Area Bishop of Barking, the Rt Revd Peter Hill, emphasised on Wednesday that, while Covid-19 had accentuated the problem, it was not the cause. Short-term solutions such as selling investments and property, and making use of grants, including “generous and welcome transition funding from the Church Commissioners”, provided immediate assistance but did not deal with the underlying problem that, each year, expenditure was significantly higher than income.
“Whilst funding is particularly welcome, it is only available to support the transition to a sustainable model of mission and ministry. It is not available to support a financially unsustainable status quo,” he said.
“Some reductions are therefore necessary until such time as this financial deficit is eradicated. The diocese needs to move forward with plans to reduce the deficit now, before the situation becomes worse. We have a responsibility to protect the long-term sustainability of the diocesan family of churches and new worshipping communities. Only by doing so can we build a flourishing mission and ministry for the future, to a rapidly expanding population in east London and Essex.
“I want to make clear, though, that we expect most of the reductions in stipendiary clergy posts to be achieved through retirements, and clergy moving from posts that are to close into the considerable number of currently vacant posts that will remain.
“We are not alone in facing financial challenges as a diocese, but, compared with some, our historic income from investments is low. We can and must also improve our approach to giving. Our Generous God, Generous Disciples initiative, which we launched on Advent Sunday as a long-term resource and challenge to our Christian stewardship, will, with sustained, prayerful, and generous giving going forward, minimise total post reduction further.”
Letter, page 14