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General Synod digest: Eyes on effectiveness, simplicity, and cost

26 November 2021
Geoff Crawford/Church Times

John Spence, Archbishops’ Council

John Spence, Archbishops’ Council

Archbishops’ Council Budget and Apportionment 2022.

AN UPDATE on the budget and apportionment for 2022 was given by the Archbishops’ Counci’ls finance chair, John Spence, on Tuesday morning. He reported that the work of the Transforming Effectiveness review, conducted “to understand how we can at once be more effective by making things more simple in the NCIs, while saving costs and the burden that places on dioceses”, was coming to an end.

Apportionment to dioceses of these costs for 2022 would be reduced by 3.7 per cent, or £1.2 million, which was a reduction of 12.4 per cent of Vote 2, he said.

Mr Spence reported that the total income was £1.7 billion, of which about £1.1 billion came in through parishes. Of that £1.1 billion, parishes remitted about one third to dioceses to support their activity. The expenditure by the Archbishops’ Council covered by apportionment was about £50 million — in total, around three per cent of the overall economy of the C of E.

On Vote 1 — ministerial training — it had been possible to afford an increase, thanks to support from the Church Commissioners, while celebrating the growth in the number of ordinands coming through the system. On Vote 2 — the operating budget of the Archbishops’ Council — there was a great disparity between the total spending and that which came from dioceses, thanks to support from partners including the Commissioners. Vote 3 concerned grants to charities; Vote 4 paid for pensioners who had been missionaries; and Vote 5 paid for housing for retired clergy.

In 2014, 89 per cent of the budget had been taken from apportionment. This was now down to 62 per cent: the burden was being increasingly lifted from dioceses.

The Archbishops’ Council operating budget included £100 million handled by the Strategic Investment Board — a board of the Council. A total of £22 million went to Strategic Development Funding, for which an independent review of many projects was to be carried out, Mr Spence said.

This was down from £26 million, as funds had been diverted to create an emergency sustainability fund. It also included strategic ministry funding to support extra curacies; transition funding for dioceses that had lost money through moving away from the Darlow model of funding; the strategic transformation fund; more investment in the giving strategy to help parishes to increase generosity; and Lowest Income Community Funding.

Mr Spence again highlighted the “profound” impact of the Covid-19 pandemic on parish income, still the biggest single source of funding for the Church of England. It had been running at ten per cent below 2019 levels; for September, it was running at two per cent lower even than September 2020.

“We have learned that parish share and parish income held up rather better than was first expected,” he said. “But we are learning that it is proving much more difficult to recover, and I have to question whether we will ever again reach the levels that it did in 2019, when we knew that the numbers of regular givers were declining and their age was increasing.”

He continued: “We have learned just how hard it is for dioceses to save money. . . It has not been enough to counter the loss of parish share and the loss of other income. . . We have learned how difficult it is to make a strategic impact at the centre. . . The need for transforming the financial effectiveness as well as the spiritual and missional efficiency of the Church of England is one for every single one of us.”

Mr Spence concluded by noting that money was “not the end; it is merely the means. . . If you want a finance chairman who will be happy to balance the books on a declining institution, you have the wrong person. The joy of the risen Christ burns in this heart, and I am so sad, so very, very sad, that the great bulk of the British population is not experiencing that joy with me. How can we ever be satisfied to do anything other than to march boldly forward?”

He continued: “This is not a time to be frightened: it’s a time to be determined. There may be some areas where there is a need for caution, but there is a greater need for creativity and for courage. Above all, there is a need for us to trust in Christ and to trust in each other.”

Mr Spence concluded by quoting the Bishop of Chelmsford: “The Church may not look the same as the Church to which we are used. We may not be always certain where the road is taking us. But with trust in each other we can walk confidently in the footsteps of our risen Lord.”

Adrian Greenwood (Southwark) asked whether assurances could be provided about the place of evangelism and discipleship within the Archbishops’ Council’s operating budget. Responding, Mr Spence spoke of the need to move to collaborative working. There was no intention to weaken the evangelism and discipleship team.

The Revd Barry Hill (Leicester), who had led two SDF programmes, said that, despite the argument that releasing more money would damage inter-generational equity, hundreds of millions had been released, and the asset base had also gone up by the same. Was there now a greater risk in not releasing further funds directly to parishes and fresh expressions through dioceses than in holding on to “what one might argue are now quite large barns”.

Many parishes had suffered during the pandemic, the Revd Marcus Walker (London) said. Was it possible that the Church Commissioners’ “huge windfall” of £500 million in 2020 could be retargeted towards the parishes as a one-off gift to clear all of the deficits of that year? What would be the necessarily primary legislation?

Mr Spence expressed his great thanks to the Church Commissioners. The new First Church Estates Commissioner understood that inter-generational equity could not be judged on money alone. “We recognise there is a need to understand how we get the balance right.” Breaking inter-generational equity was “not a black and white thing. It is shades of grey.”

Julie Dziegiel (Oxford), who is a member of the Archbishops’ Council Finance Committee and a trustee of the Parish Giving Scheme, said: “Regular committed Christian giving has held up this church through the pandemic, and the Parish Giving Scheme now processes four per cent of the regular committed giving in the C of E.” It had been a “lifesaver” that made life easier for both treasurers and for givers.

Penny Allen (Lichfield) noted that 8000 new online communities had been created, which needed to be “serviced digitally”. Could more money be allocated to digital work? “We do not want to lose persons we have made connections with during this pandemic,” including those with disabilities, she said.

Mr Spence welcomed this challenge.

The Revd Jane Palmer (Salisbury) spoke of her diocese’s giving campaign and the need for preaching and teaching on giving. “What I haven’t heard is a discussion of the reality of the changing culture around us. We clearly cannot continue to walk confidently with our current structures,” she said.

“Change is coming, as we have heard. As a young person I reflect that many generations have less disposable income. Sociological and economic studies clearly discuss this, but in the Church we continually ask for more money in the same way from the same people without grasping the need for new dynamic and creative ways forward instead of repeating the same message to tired parishes.”

Mr Spence invited all members of the Archbishops’ Council to pay attention to this. “We are doing stuff, we do know we need to change.”

Speaking as the director of the safeguarding charity, the Jill Saward organisation, Gavin Drake (Southwell & Nottingham), said that he was grateful for the increase in spending on safeguarding — but was this money being spent effectively? The National Safeguarding Team slogan was “promoting a safe church” but it should be “mandating” a safe church, he said, ensuring that dioceses were acting appropriately.

Mr Spence suggested that the moment was coming when it would be right to stand back and look at the effectiveness of the safeguarding spend.

Clive Billenness (Europe) noted that the four-per-cent rate of inflation was set to rise further, and asked if the finance committee was satisfied that it had enough contingency: would inflation imperil the programme?

Mr Spence said that this would require work: “We are there; we are on it.”

Prudence Dailey (Oxford) suggested that the Revd Marcus Walker’s question had not been properly answered. Mr Spence responded: “Deficits are there for different reasons. I am trying to say that we are having very good discussions with the Church Commissioners about future funding. I couldn’t commit at this stage to what this might end up looking like.” Primary legislation would not be necessary to make such a commitment, he said.

The First Church Estates Commissioner, Alan Smith, said that inter-generational equity issues were complicated but were being studied. He was working “hand in glove” with Mr Spence.

Sue Slater (Lincoln) asked when budgeting would include some realistic funding for the training of lay people, “who, all our reports keep telling us, are going to be absolutely vital”.

Mr Spence said that this was “key. . . We need to ensure that there is good support for lay ministers.” It was “some way away”, but “on the table”.

The Archdeacon of Ludlow, the Ven. Fiona Gibson (Hereford), noted cuts in various budgets. “Who knows, who decides, and who decides who decides?”

Mr Spencer replied that responsibility ultimately lay with the Archbishops’ Council, but that work was collaborative. “We have a very full consultation and engagement process.”

The Synod took note of the report.

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