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Clergy won’t be pushed out in cost cuts, says Archbishop of York

04 February 2021

Archbishop Cottrell responds to alarm caused by leaked document

Sam Cavender/Diocese of Gloucester

Ordinands in procession in the cloisters of Gloucester Cathedral, last September

Ordinands in procession in the cloisters of Gloucester Cathedral, last September

CLERGY are still needed to serve the Church of England, and “are not being pushed out” of their posts to make up for the continued decline in income, the Archbishop of York, the Most Revd Stephen Cottrell, says.

None the less, the Church will have to make “tough” and “challenging” changes to spread both its wealth and stipendiary clergy fairly across the 42 dioceses, he warns. This is likely to result in some cuts to stipendiary posts in all dioceses, many of which — especially in the north — are being left vacant after clerics retire.

Archbishop Cottrell, writing in the Church Times this week, is responding to the alarm caused by a discussion paper circulated to bishops and diocesan secretaries last month, part of which was leaked to The Sunday Times (see our full news report here).

This particular section warns that most dioceses are having to “prune” the number of stipendiary clergy and diocesan staff to compensate for a downturn in income, exacerbated by the pandemic, but which, in many instances, continues a pattern established earlier. The closure of churches during lockdown has resulted in a sharp decline in giving, on which many dioceses and their churches rely.

The document, Perspectives on Money, People and Buildings, which has not been made public, has since been seen by the Church Times and reproduced in full here. Church officials say that the paper is part of an ongoing discussion, and is based on recent meetings between the recipients, and information gathered during the first lockdown last year. A series of questions was asked during the first lockdown about long-term changes to the Church’s material assets, including the supply and demand of stipendiary ordained ministers.

Three particular concerns are raised: the disparity of wealth between dioceses; the 25 dioceses that had structural deficits before the Covid-19 crisis and the “tireless” but fruitless efforts by staff to reverse this decline; and the universal and systemic decline in church attendance. This had reduced by around 40 per cent over the past 30 years, it says, while the number of church buildings had fallen by six per cent, lumbering existing churchgoers will higher costs.

“There is deep concern about 2021,” the paper says. It confirms that the C of E’s income fell 8.1 per cent in the year to November 2020. It projects a further fall of ten per cent for 2021, calculated before the latest lockdown was announced. Expected savings on expenditure for 2021 are currently three to four per cent. These overall figures disguise a large variation between dioceses.

In an attempt to save money, “dioceses are making provision for reduced numbers of clergy in almost all cases.” Some dioceses, such as Chelmsford, have already made significant cuts to stipendiary posts (News, 12 June; 4 December 2020).

Yet, by summer 2021, stipendiary ordinations will have increased by 43 per cent compared with 2013, which, owing to an increased retirement portfolio, means that this exceeds the original projections of 50-per-cent growth for the end of 2020. “There is concern that, with a reduction in stipendiary posts, it will be more difficult for curates successfully completing their curacies to move into a first incumbency.”

Archbishop Cottrell writes: “It is highly likely that some dioceses are having to reduce the overall number of stipendiary clergy. No one wants to do this, but our key priority is to make sure that it is done prudently and sensitively. To put it simply: clergy are not being pushed out, but the preference seems to be that, as some retire and move on, some posts are not being filled.

“Even without Covid, we have known for some years that there would be a big bulge of clergy retirements. We also know that, in some dioceses, particularly in the north, some posts have been hard to fill. We, therefore, still need clergy.

“The good news is that God is raising up vocations to ordained ministry. In recent years, vocations to stipendiary ministry have increased by more than 40 per cent. This year, the number of new stipendiary clergy is the largest for 25 years. We also need self-supporting ministers, with their distinctive ministry, and a huge flourishing of lay ministry.”

The discussion paper is part of the work of the Vision and Strategy group, led by Archbishop Cottrell, which is planning a “simpler, humbler, and bolder” future for the Church (News, 27 November 2020).

Read the full comment from Archbishop Cottrell here

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