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General Synod digest: The rainy day is now, says Spence

04 December 2020
YouTube/Church of England

The chairman of the finance committee of the Archbishops’ Council, John Spence, responds to the debate

The chairman of the finance committee of the Archbishops’ Council, John Spence, responds to the debate

THE General Synod, met online last week after a change in the law meant that decisions taken remotely had legal force. Among other concerns, notably the coronavirus and safeguarding, members were able to take a first overview of how the pandemic has affected the Church’s finances.

The discussion took place during the formal debate and votes on Tuesday afternoon, when the Synod voted to accept the Archbishops’ Council’s budget and apportionment proposals for 2021.

In a pre-recorded speech, John Spence, who chairs the finance committee of the Archbishops’ Council, said that he had been confident of the finances when the Synod met in July 2019, and had then been able to offer a flat apportionment thanks to the National Church Institutions and a generous settlement of the Church Commissioners. Transformational funds had been apportioned to the dioceses.

“All seemed well, until . . . Covid-19 erupted on us like a volcano, having a major impact. Emergency actions were put in place.” This included measures to improve the cashflow of cathedrals and dioceses (News, 3 April). “Since then, we have been tracking very carefully what’s happened. We have seen parish shares hold up commendably well.”

The impact of the pandemic was bound to increase as restrictions continued and resources were exhausted, he warned, and there was an enormous range between dioceses.

So far, 22 dioceses had applied to receive sustainability funds of £14 million, which he expected to increase to £20 million in 30 dioceses by the end of the year. The flat budget recommended for 2021 had been reduced by 1.66 per cent. Members might wonder why this was not more, he said, but the governance and Vision and Strategy reports and recommendations were big projects that the Archbishops had not wanted to cut. The Transforming Effectiveness workstream was under way.

“It is the time to grasp nettles,” he said. “It is the time to accept that there is an imbalance between the wish list that we have, and the resources that are available.”

In 2021, the Commissioners had still found more money for safeguarding and the environment, but the Church could not keep looking to that source. There were things that no longer needed to be done. “I have to look further ahead, to 2022 and beyond. We can expect to see further storm clouds.”

The Commissioners’ income and asset-growth projections had been damaged by Covid-19. The IICSA report meant more money for safeguarding: this included interim and emergency support schemes before the long-promised redress scheme.

“Looking further ahead, we are going to have some real battles to overcome if we are going to achieve our goals. But I put it to you that we can do so with confidence.”

In his eight years, he had never seen such leadership from the House of Bishops, he said. At parish, deanery, and diocesan level, he had seen how people had met the “digital revolution” brought about by Covid. “It is not the House of Bishops that are the Church of England, but us.”

He moved his budget recommendations.

Carl Hughes (Southwark), who is the deputy chair of the finance committee, was “surprised and disappointed” not to see more questions from the Synod on finance and growth. “The Church of England is under significant financial stress,” he said. Pensions contributions were getting more expensive, the incomes of cathedrals and churches had been decimated by the pandemic, and reducing worshipping numbers had hit finances. Average diocesan parish share receipts were 12 per cent lower than a year ago.

“The big picture is about growth; financial issues are merely a consequence,” he said. Financial giving of the faithful underpinned the Church’s financial health, he suggested, not the Commissioners or national reserves. This was a “stop gap” budget, and he commended it for approval, but suggested a much more radical budget for 2022 and beyond.

The Revd Dr Philip Plyming (Universities & TEIs) thanked the Synod and dioceses for continued investment in future leaders: £18 million was a significant amount of money, but it was training a “refreshed priesthood” to the Church. The TEI sector had expanded and improved with online and onsite formation, he said. He recognised that the laity also needed to be supported. The review of theological funding needed to be considered as a Synod and he looked forward to that debate.

Margaret Sheather (Gloucester) asked for an explanation of why spending on the life events programme had been reduced to support other evangelism and discipleship programmes.

Sue Slater (Lincoln) was interested in why the budget continued to be split into votes; it bothered her that one section was called Training for Ministry, when this was about training for ordained ministry. There should be a greater emphasis on lay ministries and training, and a separate budget and strategy for this, she said.

Robin Lunn (Worcester) asked whether the transforming works stream was working as effectively as the Archbishops’ Council would wish.

YouTube/Church of EnglandThe Bishop of Burnley, the Rt Revd Philip North

The Bishop of Burnley, the Rt Revd Philip North (Northern Suffragans), said that the Government was breaking its promises to the poor with the international aid reduction, which had been criticised by both the Synod and the Archbishop. Surely, it was right that the Synod keep its own promises to the poor, he said. He pointed to the February 2019 motion to have a worshipping community on every estate in the country. On many, there was none, he said. “Does the Covid-19 crisis mean that inevitably we are going to break our promises to the poor?”

Responding, Mr Spence said that, yes, there was funding only for ordained ministry, but he hoped that lay ministry could be included in future. Reserves were there for a rainy day, but the tropical storm was here. The Church needed both “realism and radicalism” in its approach to finances. He was not aware that any application for estates funding had been rejected; evangelism funds were being directed to low-income areas.

The Revd Peter Breckwoldt (Salisbury) said that the Church was called to refresh its vision and revise its core activities. He suggested a zero-based-budget approach for 2021, asking which areas focused on the family business of Christ’s Church.

The Revd Charles Read (Norwich), who works in a theological education institution (TEI) and is a director of Reader training, agreed with Ms Slater about the need to fund lay ministry and training. Ordination training packages also needed to be tailored to the individual, not to diocesan finances, he said. TEIs should also be relieved of the burden of worrying about money, he suggested.

Lucy Docherty (Portsmouth) asked whether the Church would ever be able to stand on its own financial feet rather than rely on funding partners, which seemed risky.

Mr Spence said that the option to defend the status quo had gone. He was not aware of any legal reason that one vote could not be expanded to include lay ministry. He always hoped that a diocese would choose what was best for its ordinands, not what was cheapest. He did not understand how he could give TEIs greater financial security while the Church was in greater financial insecurity. The Archbishops’ Council had moved away from apportionment years ago; the time would come when the Church would stand on its own feet again.

The Revd Tiffer Robinson (St Edmundsbury & Ipswich) said that cuts to stipendiary posts had been planned before Covid hit. Part-time roles were being advertised that looked like full-time stipendiary posts, which, he suggested, would be taken by some out of necessity. He asked whether the time had come to acknowledge that reserve funds were needed to preserve a modest level of parish ministry for the poorest.

David Kemp (Canterbury) said that not a single diocese’s weekly church attendance had grown last year, despite huge efforts. He wondered whether planning and budgeting for growth was wise in this context.

Enid Barron (London) welcomed the extra expenditure on the environment. She had the impression that this was seen as a luxury or optional extra by some. “It is essential,” she argued. “It chimes in with us being a prophetic Church that appeals to the young. It underpins all the other marks of mission.” A huge amount of progress had been made with the small expenditure apportioned last year. “If we don’t take our environmental responsibilities, there will be no Church left to grow.”

YouTube/Church of EnglandEnid Barron (London diocese)

The Bishop of Dover, the Rt Revd Rose Hudson-Wilkin (Canterbury), was thankful for the lifeline of central support. But things could not continue with business as usual, she said: decisions must be made about what ministry was needed, and hard questions be asked about how to sustain it. “We can’t train them at one end and fire them at the other.”

How could the whole Body of Christ, lay and ordained, be equipped in places where there was not the traditional church, she asked. “I share a sense of despair. If it’s God’s Church, it’s going to thrive, despite the mealy-mouthed attitude sometimes.”

The Revd Andrew Lightbown (Oxford) worried about the sustainability of medium-sized churches like his own, in a small market town. He advocated looking at generosity in a more nuanced way. The cost of mission and evangelism for the Church at local level had risen exponentially, and huge invisible costs were being borne through giving by the traditional method, he said. “If we were a business, we would have been put into administration or liquidation.”

In his maiden speech, Jon Walker (Leicester) said that the litmus test of many bodies was how they talked about money, and the Synod had passed with flying colours. “Living by faith is where our hope is.” He made a plea for a radical look at lay ministry and leadership.

The Synod took note of the report.


VOTES were then taken on expected expenditure in five areas. First, the vote of £17,944,000 for training for ministry was carried by the Synod, after just one question from Tim Hind (Bath & Wells) on one of the figures.

A debate opened on the £25,578,819 budgeted for national church responsibilities.

David Lamming (St Edmundsbury & Ipswich) noting that the new safeguarding responsibilities added £1.2 million extra to the expenditure, asked whether any part of this related to redress, or whether more would need to be found. This was not about affordability, but about justice, he said.

In reply, Mr Spence confirmed that there was £250,000 emergency income in the budget to enable immediate support. The Archbishops’ Council had clearly voted to make sustainable provision for ongoing requirements.

The votes for national church responsibilities and £1,262,502 for grants were carried.

The vote of £711,697 for mission-agency pension contributions also carried after a short debate in which Jenny Humphreys (Bath & Wells) expressed her support, as did the Bishop of Truro, the Rt Revd Philip Mounstephen, who said that the Church gained “tremendous value” out of its mission agencies, which allowed clergy to be deployed around the Anglican Communion without detriment to their pensions. Brian Wilson (Southwark) thanked the Council for continuing its “generous support”.

The vote allocating £5,431,063 to clergy retirement-housing grants was also carried after a few speeches. Canon Jonathan Alderton-Ford (St Edmundsbury & Ipswich) thanked Mr Spence for his “excellent” work in sharing a limited budget. He was concerned, however, for clerics who were becoming more frail and needed help to install walk-in showers and other aids in their rented property. There was a climate of inconsistency, he suggested: funding must be made available so that these clerics did not have to pay for improvements.

The Archdeacon of Halifax, the Ven. Dr Anne Dawtry (Leeds), sought assurance that the CHARM scheme would continue, as so much had had to be put on hold during the pandemic. David Froude (Bristol) thanked the Council for its pension support. The vote was carried.

Canon Mark Barker (Rochester) said that the reduction in apportionment as a percentage figure did not take into account the decrease in income. He would like to have seen that recognised, to address “growing tsunami of need” in communities.

Alison Coulter (Winchester) noted the shortfall in a diocese “not blessed with reserves” where funds had been reduced by between a quarter and a third. Mr Lamming noted the range of difference between dioceses, and asked on what basis adjustments were made.

The vote on the proposed apportionment to the dioceses was carried.


Click here for more reports from the November General Synod, held via Zoom last week

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