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General Synod digest: wealthy dioceses to support poorer ones

15 July 2022
Sam Atkins/Church Times

The Bishop of Sheffield, Dr Pete Wilcox

The Bishop of Sheffield, Dr Pete Wilcox

Spending plans

DRAFT legislation to allow well-endowed dioceses to draw on their stipends funds to support poorer dioceses was given first consideration on Monday afternoon.

Introducing the draft Diocesan Stipends Funds (Amendment) Measure, the Bishop of Sheffield, Dr Pete Wilcox, spoke about a priest in his diocese, Lucy, whose work, he said, it had been possible to fund only because of the generosity of Oxford diocese, which had given a combined £1 million to poorer dioceses. Such generosity was not currently able to come from stipends funds, however. The draft legislation would “not mandate anything”, Dr Wilcox emphasised, but merely enable dioceses to be generous if they wished.

Canon Kate Wharton (Liverpool) highlighted the “extraordinary disparity” in the wealth of parishes. She would have liked the Measure to go further, “but surely this is the minimum for what we must do.”

Sammi Tooze (York) said that it was “our privilege to be the generous giver”, and Julie Dziegiel (Oxford) said that she “hoped and prayed” that dioceses would make use of the Measure if it was carried.

Sam Atkins/Church TimesJulie Dziegiel (Oxford)

Others sounded notes of caution. Dr Ian Johnston (Portsmouth) said that the proposal was “well-intentioned, but misguided”. The money involved would effectively come from parishes, he said, and asked whether this was the best use of such funds, and whether they should be consulted about this.

Clive Billenness (Europe) generally supported the motion, but suggested that some limits should be written into the legislation to mitigate financial risks.

The Revd Samuel Maginnis (Chelmsford) said: “We all want to encourage generosity and mutuality in the Church,” but, “if we don’t also have sustainability in our income, how can this motion be anything more than a sticking plaster?” He suggested that parishes look to unlock better returns on glebe assets.

Charles Houston (Hereford) also asked whether ways could be found to help unlock assets that were currently unproductive.

Canon Andrew Salmon (Manchester) welcomed the proposal as a “first step, and one thing we can do, to address fundamental disparities that we have across our national Church”. Carl Hughes (Southwark), who is deputy chair of the Archbishops’ Council’s finance committee, also spoke in favour of the legislation.

The Revd Marcus Walker (London) supported the motion, but said: “We have got to look at the ways we can use the vast resources of the Church better . . . to ensure that every corner of our country, and most especially the poorer corners of our country, are not left destitute of priests.”

Gavin Drake (Southwell & Nottingham) suggested that the money should not flow through charities, but directly through dioceses or the Archbishops’ Council, to avoid “top-slicing” by organisations out of the Church’s control.

The Archbishop of Canterbury picked up on Fr Walker’s comment that it was important to ensure that a minimum of monies being transferred from one diocese to another was spent on “central costs”. Archbishop Welby said that he “found himself in the happy situation of agreeing very warmly in many ways, but not entirely”.

He said: “One of the things that is slightly worrying me in some of the tones I’m hearing is that we need to control what is happening with these wicked bishops. Well, I think we’re a bit short of wicked, scheming bishops. We used to have plenty, but I don’t think there are many left.” There was laughter.

Archbishop Welby called for trust that money would be well spent by dioceses, and asked that members resist the impulse to require centralised control of the process.

Responding, Dr Wilcox said that he had made notes of areas of concern and caution, and invited further submissions, as the draft legislation stands referred to the revision committee.

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