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Financial crisis threatens Church’s strategic plans

01 February 2021

Curates could struggle to find incumbencies; northern dioceses hit hardest

Guilford Communications Team

Deacons in Guildford Cathedral in October 2020

Deacons in Guildford Cathedral in October 2020

DECLINING income, accelerated by the pandemic, means that dioceses are facing “indiscriminate cuts” to clergy posts, undermining the Church of England’s attempts at strategic reform.

New assistant curates, recruited in the recent push for vocations, could struggle to find incumbencies, an internal document suggests.

Details of the scale of the challenge are contained in a discussion paper circulated to all bishops and diocesan secretaries in the middle of last month. 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.

The document, Perspectives on Money, People and Buildings, seen by the Church Times on Monday, has not been made public, despite confusion from parish priests and others about media reports on its contents, and a declaration at the start: “Honest sharing of information on how those resources of money, people and buildings are being stewarded for greatest impact is vital.”

Church officials say that the paper, which we reproduce in full below, 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 were asked about long-term changes to the Church’s material assets, including the supply and demand of stipendiary ordained ministers. The document cautions: “These perspectives inform future models of mission and ministry. They are not the whole picture.”

One section of the paper, which was first reported in The Sunday Times this week, 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, in many instances, continuing 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.

It states: “There has been some horror expressed at the clergy number reductions announced by a few dioceses, although they are in the context of the consistent decline in clergy numbers over recent decades and the unsustainability of ministry in many parishes. Significant reductions in clergy numbers in one diocese can impact the rest of the Church, but if a diocese does not deal with its sustainability issues (and expects the national Church to use its funds to bail it out), this also has an impact on other dioceses.”

It continues: “Most of the dioceses announcing significant changes in clergy numbers are doing so as part of a programme to revitalise mission and ministry, re-allocate resources to places where both ministry provision and attendance are currently lower and to refresh their leadership. The risk, however, is that dioceses are forced into making indiscriminate cuts that weaken their mission health as they seek to develop a comprehensive programme to address it.”

In June, Chelmsford diocese announced that it was planning to bring forward by four years drastic cuts to stipendiary posts — a target of 61 cuts by the end of 2021 — in view of the impact of Covid-19 on already strained finances (News, 12 June 2020). The plans were formally approved in December (News, 4 December 2020).

The cuts came five years ahead of the original proposal for 2025; but plans had 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.

Perspectives on Money, People and Buildings is frank about the impact of the pandemic on already struggling dioceses such as Chelmsford, and the continued 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 with higher costs.

Three particular concerns are raised in the discussion paper: the disparity of wealth between dioceses; the 25 dioceses which 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.

Parish share income was down 8.1 per cent year-on-year as of November 2020, the paper confirms. The largest fall in a single diocese was 17.8 per cent, while another diocese had seen a year-on-year increase of 0.5 per cent. The average reduction for dioceses in the northern province was 10.5 per cent, compared with 7.4 per cent in the south.

“There is deep concern about 2021,” the paper says. “Total budgeted income is projected to be down ten per cent in 2021 compared with 2020 budgets — although this data was provided before the current lockdown and the true picture for 2021 is not likely to be clear until later in the year.” Total expenditure, clergy spending, and diocesan staff costs were all projected to decrease by three to four per cent over the same period.

In the past, it says, the Church had survived decline only because “its historic assets have been large enough to enable it to subsidise parishes which cannot afford their ministry costs and by steadily reducing the number of stipendiary ministers.”

While the introduction of strategic development funding in 2014 and the subsequent focus on new mission projects had resulted in some growth, the funding available had decreased from £21 million to £15 million. “Monies for 2021 have been distributed in full in January (rather than monthly) to assist recipient dioceses with their cashflow.”

In an attempt to save money, “dioceses are making provision for reduced numbers of clergy in almost all cases.” 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.”

The paper is part of the work of the Vision and Strategy group, led by the Archbishop of York, the Most Revd Stephen Cottrell, which is planning a “simpler, humbler, and bolder” future for the Church (News, 27 November 2020). This is reiterated in an covering letter from Archbishop Cottrell to the Perspectives on Money, People and Buildings report.

He explains: “COVID-19 has hit us hard. It has also revealed other shortcomings and challenges that were often unheeded. We are moving into new, uncharted territory. Therefore, there isn’t a map. . .

“The invitation to you, as you meet in your Regional Groups, is to ask how these ideas and the invitation of this vision resonates with the work, vision and strategy that is already going on in your dioceses and see how both can mutually support and shape each other.”

On Sunday morning, Archbishop Cottrell was asked about the Sunday Times report — headlined “Church to cut paid clergy as a fifth of flock wanders off” — on the BBC Radio Sunday programme. He said: “It is much too early to write headlines like this. First of all, decisions about clergy numbers are decisions made in each diocese. I simply don’t know what different dioceses are doing.

“Yes, this is a financially challenging time for the Church as it is for all organisations; but there are no central plans to cut clergy. Even if there were, we couldn’t do it. . . That is not how the Church of England operates.”

Asked about the “pruning” of clergy and parishes quoted in the report, Archbishop Cottrell said that he did not know which document that was referring to. “It is simply inviting dioceses to speak to each other about what their plans are.

“The more important point the article raises is about online worship. I imagine that is going to be here to stay; I imagine that as we move out of Covid many organisations, the Church included, will be leading a much more hybrid life. But actually, the thing that interests me is the thousands and thousands of people who have engaged with us online, and I look forward to being a Church that can welcome and nurture that new faith.”

The discussion paper, which is based on the results of a church survey conducted during the first lockdown, is positive about the growth of online worship and resources while churches were closed. It estimates that 200,000 to 300,000 people who were new to church or had attended irregularly made use of these resources, while 100,000 to 200,000 people intended to continue either online or in-person worship after lockdown.

It warns, however, that “the same number of people in the pre-Covid-19 worshipping community are not planning to return in any form.” The post-lockdown worshipping community could be between one million to 1.2 million people, it suggests, of whom only with 160,000 to 200,000 would only attend church online.

“The Church of England could emerge from the pandemic smaller in terms of engagement by at least some measures, but particularly physical attendance. This will inevitably have further impact on the sustainability of many local churches.”

This did not mean that buildings would be made redundant, the paper states, despite the Covid crisis adding to the pressure of securing the future of Victorian churches in the north-west or making buildings accessible. “There is no evidence that church buildings being closed for worship has led to a general feeling that they are not needed.”

A Church House spokesperson said on Monday: “The findings, based on research during the first lockdown last year, are incomplete in the context of a developing situation. The Church of England will continue to assess ongoing research and analysis to understand how the pandemic may shape the Church in the future.”

The first Coronavirus, Church & You survey, also carried out during the first lockdown, found that, among its 10,000 respondents, 34 per cent of rural clergy and 22 per cent of rural laity considered that their church buildings would not be viable after the pandemic. In addition, 29 per cent of rural clergy and 23 per cent of rural laity considered that key lay people would step down and be difficult to replace.

The survey was conducted in partnership with the Church Times by the Revd Andrew Village, who is Professor of Practical and Empirical Theology, and Canon Leslie J. Francis, Visiting Professor of Theology and Religious Studies, both at York St John University. They said on Monday: “The fragility was exacerbated by the ageing profile of churchgoers. Other research shows just how much the Church of England relies on retired people (clergy as well as laity) to keep the show on the road.”

Their survey suggested that those aged over 70 were hardest hit by being locked out from their local churches; least likely to settle into the online provisions; most discontent with the way in which the Church responded to pandemic; and most likely to subscribe to the fragile-church thesis.

Both academics are encouraging people to contribute to their latest survey to build up a fuller picture one year on (News, 22 January).

 

The internal discussion paper, sent to Bishops and Diocesan Secretaries, on 18 January:

 

Perspectives on money, people and buildings

Bishops and Diocesan Secretaries

January 2021 regional meetings

Context: There have been various versions of this perspectives paper which has now been updated with the latest data and inputs from meetings during November and December 2020. These perspectives inform future models of mission and ministry. They are not the whole picture. Ultimately, we start from the whole church of God serving the whole mission of God in the whole of life and the use of those sufficient resources which God gives us in service of that. Honest sharing of information on how those resources of money, people and buildings are being stewarded for greatest impact is vital. And the response might reflect the vision which is being articulated and developed into strategic priorities

1. Introductory question: What long-term changes are you seeing COVID-19 accelerating in relation to people, money and buildings?

 

People: There was widespread agreement by bishops that within the Kingdom Calling framework of the width of social, ministerial and relational vocations, there is commitment to increased vocations to enabling ministries continuing to be strongly encouraged and seen as a blessing. Within this, the specific role of stipendiary ordained ministry has the most significant financial implications for the church collectively.

2. If the supply of stipendiary ordained ministers is becoming greater than our financial resources, how can we work together to ensure our best people at all stages of ministry are deployed most effectively across the whole Church of England and to find fair ways to work with those for whom there is no stipendiary role? [How are you addressing this issue in your diocese?]

Money: There was broad agreement amongst bishops that the intentional use of funding is important both to ensure ministry in the most deprived contexts and to enable structural transformation and growth in numbers, depth and in community impact with investment where dioceses identify real need for renewal. Collectively the existing church will need to create models which are sustainable in the long term.

3. How are you making this change to a combination of intentional funding and sustainable models and what structural change in the Church of England would enable us to do this together?

Buildings: COVID has highlighted the issues of the sustainability of churches with very small worshipping communities, in rural and urban contexts. It has also shown the importance of many church buildings in providing social action and community support.

4. What level of priority are you giving to addressing the strategic selection and use of buildings and why?

UPDATED JANUARY 2021

Perspectives – money, people and buildings

Introduction

  1. God provides the church with what it requires. How do we direct these abundant resources to where they will have most impact in the light of the challenges the church faces? How can leadership set the tone for this? How do we avoid the short-term response squeezing out capacity for longer term transformation?

  2. The paper is primarily concerned with planning issues as regards money and people, rather than the direct impacts on mission and ministry itself, and it does not seek to cover the very important wider spiritual, social and welfare issues relating to COVID-19 and the response of the Church to those. Nor does it cover vital issues such as the priority of evangelism in this season. Of course, before COVID-19 many dioceses were facing grave structural issues that are merely being precipitated by the pandemic and this is reflected.

  3. This paper has evolved from several meetings aimed at prompting both discussion and reflection on next steps. It includes thinking from a joint meeting of the Diocesan Secretaries Liaison Group with the Regional Convenors on 26 November as well as the Coordinating Group for the Emerging Church of England work and the December House of Bishops.

How is COVID-19 impacting diocesan finances?

4. We have seen a significant fall in parish share income — as at end of November, it was down 8.1% year on year in aggregate, though this is significantly less severe than diocesan projections earlier in the year. There is marked variance between dioceses – the largest fall has been 17.8% and one diocese has seen a year on year increase (of 0.5%). The average reduction for dioceses in the northern province was 10.5% compared with 7.4% in the southern province. Early indications suggest that churches which have a solid foundation of regular giving through direct debit or standing order appear to be withstanding the pandemic much better than those more dependent on church hall income, visitor donations and cash in the offertory plate.

5. At the time of writing December parish share data has been received from 23 dioceses. From these submissions in aggregate more share was received in December 2020 than in December 2019, helped by eleven of the dioceses which have submitted data having received more share in December 2020 than in December 2019. This will not materially change the aggregate full year position.

6. Looking forward, there is deep concern about 2021. Total budgeted income is projected to be down 10% in 2021 compared with 2020 budgets – although this data was provided before the current lockdown and the true picture for 2021 is not likely to be clear until later in the year. Total expenditure is projected to decrease by only 3% in comparison over the same period. Clergy spending is projected to be down 4% in 2021 against pre-pandemic 2020 budgets: and diocesan staff costs projected to be down 3% over the same period.

7. There is an obvious impact on deficits. [The source of the data is sustainability funding applications from July 2020 onwards. Figures reflect the 23 dioceses that have applied for sustainability funding and have provided a full budget breakdown through to 2021.] Illustrative of this is the estimated net deficit for dioceses applying for sustainability funding, which is predicted to be £40m in 2020, recovering slightly to £30m in 2021. This compares with £9m for the same dioceses in 2019 and a projected pre-pandemic 2020 figure of £13m. The range across different dioceses is broadly between 10% and 25% of income Again, these figures are based on information provided before the current lockdown. NCI staff will continue to engage with dioceses to keep appraised of the changing situation and update these figures as we progress through 2021.

8. Some dioceses are more vulnerable than others to the financial impact of the pandemic. This is partly because some have fewer assets than others (the ‘glebe assets per capita’ figures of dioceses range from around £90 per person down to under £1). Some dioceses are also more reliant on parish share than others (‘parish share as a proportion of income’ figures range from 80% down to 40%).

9. To date, the Church of England has received £30 million in grants through the Culture Recovery Fund and National Lottery Heritage Fund Emergency Fund. Of this, £17.5m went to cathedrals, £9.4m to major churches and £2.9m to other churches. More of the Heritage at Risk grants are to be announced in the next couple of months (the deadline has been extended into January to enable churches to improve their applications), which are likely to benefit further churches. Listed churches and cathedrals will also have the opportunity to apply for grants from the second round of Cultural Recovery Funding to support cultural organisations with the costs they expect to face in the second quarter of 2021 as they prepare to welcome back more people as worshippers and visitors.

10. Significant funds remain in parish reserves, which are estimated to have grown by £255m between 2010 and 2019 [Source Parish Finance Statistics 2019 to be published in January 2021. In aggregate parish reserves fell in 2010 and 2011 in the aftermath of the Global Financial Crisis but increased in every other year of the decade, including by £26.5m in 2019.] We don’t have information as to how much these have been depleted in 2020. As a comparator (admittedly a poor one), after the 2008 recession parishes bounced back more quickly than dioceses and longer-term trends (e.g. on attendance and the number of regular givers) proved more significant in the overall picture.

How is COVID-19 impacting diocesan plans regarding people?

11. There are indications that individual church leaders are finding the pressures and expectations of them, especially during the pandemic, unsustainable. Overall, wellbeing has never been such a widely recognised challenge in the Church (as it is in the wider community).

12. Later retirements and increases in numbers and proportions being recommended to stipendiary ministry mean that:

- By summer 2021, stipendiary ordinations will have increased by 43% compared with 2013.

- Due to adjustments in the retirement profile, the actual size of the stipendiary clergy cohort already exceeds the original projections based on 50% growth for the end of 2020 (7,400 compared with a projected 7,200 FTE).

- In order for the number of stipendiary clergy to remain stable at its current size (2020), an average of 380-400 stipendiary ordinations/curates per year are required. Where stipendiary ordinations exceed this figure, we will continue to see growth in the stipendiary clergy cohort without other interventions. For comparison, we anticipate there will be around 415 stipendiary ordinations in 2021.

- 2019-20 saw the highest number of recommendations to ordained ministry in 25 years and the current discernment year already looks to be full, with DDOs and vocations advisers reported to be busy with candidates. Growth in stipendiary ordinations is already ‘locked in’ to the system for the next two to three years, and conceivably we may reach the full 50% growth in that period.


13. In response to the financial situation, dioceses are making provision for reduced numbers of clergy in almost all cases. People currently in training will have entered the discernment process some years ago, hearing a message of desired growth. Most dioceses continue to express a commitment to continuing to welcome new curates and first incumbents into the diocese, to ensure refreshment and revitalisation of ministry.

14. Some dioceses are wanting both to encourage continuing high levels of new ordained vocations and potentially reduce stipendiary numbers, with the circle squared by encouraging more early retirements of some existing clergy. Some dioceses have been planning for local clergy retirements and we would expect that to be reflected in their future clergy planning. In some cases, this is being driven by pastoral reorganisation. However, looking right across the whole system is vital as pruning is considered so that bishops and others as well as parochial clergy are engaged in the conversation about potential changes. For example, more consideration might be given about how to help clergy to move out of active ministry if that is what they want to do.

15. At present, around 300 curacies are funded from diocesan funds. Since 2020, additional curacies are supported from the Strategic Ministry Fund (SMF), with grant proportions being paid to the diocese depending on their own financial position. We are confident that there will be sufficient stipendiary curacies for ordinands due to be ordained in 2021. There are indications that some of the dioceses who received SMF grants previously will apply for reduced numbers in 2022, unable to afford the proportion of costs to be met by the diocese. It is too early to know whether the baseline number of diocesan funded curacies can be maintained for 2022. Housing stock is also a factor in sustaining curacies.

16. 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. In addition, dioceses may reduce the number of vacancies advertised in an attempt to control 2020 and 2021 costs. Mitigating that are some increases in non-traditional roles, including those funded by SDF. There is also the possibility that previously hard to fill posts may become easier to fill. If in any year there are insufficient curacies or first incumbencies, there will be two significant consequences: firstly, funds invested by the Church in training additional ordinands and curates may be perceived to have been wasted; and, secondly, the messaging/mood generated deter candidates and lead to a shock contraction in the pipeline of new clergy. Exacerbated by recruitment freezes, or policies to recruit only from within, in some dioceses there is a real risk that this could occur in 2021.

17. Alongside considerations around stipendiary ministry, dioceses are looking to attract more self-supporting ordained ministers. Any narrative (intentional or otherwise) which sees SSOMs (and/or Lay Ministers) filling gaps left by a lack of funds for stipendiary ministry will be counterproductive to this work.

18. It is important to note dioceses are also pruning staff costs in diocesan offices, and that financial pressures may force churches to reduce lay roles. At the moment diocesan staff costs are expected to reduce by 3% in 2021.

How is COVID-19 impacting the perception and future of church buildings?

19. The COVID crisis has not itself changed any of the presenting issues and opportunities of church buildings, but it has given new imperative to the need for them to form part of dioceses’ strategic approaches to managing mission, outreach and ministry. Several dioceses had already begun to adopt a strategic approach to buildings, using nationally provided data combined with their own knowledge, and the past year has seen an increase in this work.

20. COVID has exacerbated already existing pressures, such as the future of large Victorian churches in the north west, or the importance of accessible buildings for provision of key social and community support activities. The financial fallout of being closed for worship and of drops in giving mean that the number of churches whose ability to manage their mission, ministry and buildings is in question has risen, but so far, no general increase in requests for closure has been observed. It is widely felt that taking time to understand the new world is a crucial part of deciding the future of individual churches, and decisions should not be rushed. Several dioceses are trialling buildings management partnerships which centralise procurement of maintenance and insurance contracts, reducing fixed costs and bureaucracy for parishes.

21. There is no evidence that church buildings being closed for worship has led to a general feeling that they are not needed. A recent report by the National Churches Trust identified the overall social contribution of churches (of all denominations) at equivalent to £12.4bn a year, a figure which has not significantly dropped due to COVID, as provision of community and social support is a function which has continued throughout.

22. The financial impact of COVID-19 is not operating within a vacuum; it is exerting pressure on pre-existing trends within the Church. Three are highlighted. First, there are significant disparities between the wealth of dioceses as mentioned earlier in the paper (para. 8). Some are better placed to cope with the financial impact of the pandemic than others (which is why Sustainability Funding is being targeted for those dioceses with least resources).

23. Second, several dioceses had structural deficits prior to the COVID-19 crisis affecting their finances and this has inevitably impacted on their ability to tackle the current downturn. We estimate that around 25 dioceses were in that position. It is important also to recognise the anguish that some diocesan leaders are feeling having worked tirelessly over recent years to put their diocese into a better financial position (moving it, say, out of a structural deficit), only to see it rapidly deteriorate.

24. Third, the current crisis comes on top of the systemic decline in church attendance, which all dioceses have experienced over many decades. The Church has survived this decline because its historic assets have been large enough to enable it to subsidise parishes which cannot afford their ministry costs and by steadily reducing the number of stipendiary ministers. Larger benefices have been created – to spread ministerial resources over a wider area – but parish (and diocesan) structures have largely been maintained within the Church, and the number of church buildings has not reflected the decline in attendance. (Church attendance has reduced by around 40% over the last 30 years; the number of church buildings has fallen by 6%, which means a higher cost burden for the remaining attendees.) From time to time the Church has faced financial crises but it has weathered these through a further combination of asset sales, pruning numbers of clergy ,the use of diocesan and national investment income and campaigns to raise parish giving. Such measures have enabled dioceses to balance their income and expenditure; however, the opportunity cost of this approach has been to reduce the resources available to revitalise ministry in decline, develop new mission or to invest the recruitment of new ministers. Over recent years, as church attendance has further declined, there been increasing concern among a number of dioceses (particularly those with the smallest asset bases) about their financial position and sustainability.

24. Since 2017, dioceses have been moving from an approach of subsidy to investing in growth: in numbers, depth of discipleship and social impact. There is evidence of significant impact from diocesan SDF projects in reaching new people, growing depth of discipleship, and in social impact – the latter particularly evidenced in recent months. The need to provide Sustainability Funding to help address dioceses’ Covid-related deficits has reduced the amount available for SDF in future years, so that in 2021 and 2022 only £15m of funding (originally £21m) is available to be awarded each year - demand for funding is now significantly exceeding the monies available. To date dioceses are reporting over 11,000 new disciples from SDF programmes, which, prior to the pandemic, were on track and forecast to reach over 60,000 more. Clearly, the pandemic will have an impact on projects and NCI staff are working closely with projects to understand what this is likely to be.

25. £44m is available for Strategic Transformation Funding for dioceses in this triennium, of which £11.6m has been awarded to date. At least one third of dioceses are already embarking on or planning transformation programmes (some within their own resources) responding to the financial, people and missional challenges of their context. Lowest Income Communities funding will continue to be distributed with increased accountability ensuring that funding continues to prioritise the most deprived contexts. Monies for 2021 have been distributed in full in January (rather than monthly) to assist recipient dioceses with their cashflow.

26. Before COVID-19 struck, around 5,000 parishes across the country were receiving financial support from their dioceses toward their ministry costs. Some no doubt were (rightly) being given such support because they serve lowest income communities; many however appear to receive support because they have grown too small to raise the funds necessary to cover their ministry costs. Even prior to the pandemic, dioceses were questioning whether the provision of such a large amount of subsidy was affordable or wise.

27. The pandemic created opportunities for the Church to engage with new people (through on-line services/courses, nationally and locally, and through significant social engagement work). Research conducted in July this year showed that churches responded rapidly, reaching between 1.1m and 1.3m people through a variety of Church at Home (CAH) offerings. But around 150,000 of the regular worshipping community did not attend church during lockdown.

28. We estimate that CAH attracted 200k-300k people who were new to church or had attended irregularly; 100k-200k intend to continue with either CAH or in-person. However, the same number of people in the pre-COVID-19 worshipping community are not planning to return in any form. The post-lockdown worshipping community could be between 1m to 1.2m people, with 160k-200k attending CAH only. This means that online worship will have become a significant part of the mainstream. The Church of England could emerge from the pandemic smaller in terms of engagement by at least some measures, but particularly physical attendance. This will inevitably have further impact on the sustainability of many local churches.

29. The financial impact of COVID-19 is widening and accelerating dioceses’ interest in transformation programmes (such as that already started in Birmingham). There is an increase appetite for significant change. A number of dioceses are assessing systematically how best to provide ministry, including whether subsidised parishes should continue to receive such support or be reduced, withdrawn or (if they are in a strategic location) be revitalised. 

30. Inevitably, dioceses are having to pay attention to the need for short-term financial savings. As indicated above, most are planning to prune number of clergy and diocesan staff, alongside other measures to mitigate the downturn in income, including renewed focus on giving. Financial and planning approaches will of necessity be affected by different levels of endowments and assets, which goes some way to explaining the diversity of responses.

31. There has been some horror expressed at the clergy number reductions announced by a few dioceses, although they are in the context of the consistent decline in clergy numbers over recent decades and the unsustainability of ministry in many parishes. Significant reductions in clergy numbers in one diocese can impact the rest of the Church, but if a diocese does not deal with its sustainability issues (and expects the national Church to use its funds to bail it out), this also has an impact on other dioceses.

32. Most of the dioceses announcing significant changes in clergy numbers are doing so as part of a programme to revitalise mission and ministry, re-allocate resources to places where both ministry provision and attendance are currently lower and to refresh their leadership.

33. The risk, however, is that dioceses are forced into making indiscriminate cuts that weaken their mission health as they seek to develop a comprehensive programme to address it. Sustainability Funding is seeking to prevent this occurring and 24 dioceses were awarded a total of £14.9m in grants in 2020 with £20.1m of this funding stream remaining available for allocation in 2021. Strategic Ministry is also available to help dioceses with investment in the recruitment of new ministers but, as outlined above, this may not be sufficient.

34. Many diocesan leaders believe that the financial challenges being exposed by the pandemic mean this is the moment to embark on radical changes to re-shape existing resource patterns and ministry structures, and to invest in developing a more missionally healthy and financially sustainable Church. But there is not a consensus about that: some don’t see a need for radical change or have the appetite to undertake it; some suggest that changes will have little impact.

35. To return to the opening comments in this paper — God provides the church with what it requires. How do we direct these abundant resources to where they will have most impact in the light of the challenges the church faces? How can leadership set the tone for this? How do we avoid the short-term response squeezing out capacity for longer term transformation?

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