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Oxford offers help for poorer dioceses

01 December 2023

Diocese of Oxford

Church House, Oxford, the headquarters of the diocese

Church House, Oxford, the headquarters of the diocese

THE diocese of Oxford has allocated £1.5 million of its income from land and investments to support the five most financially disadvantaged Church of England dioceses in the period 2025-29. In 2020, Liverpool, Newcastle, and Canterbury dioceses were among the recipients of a similar £1-million allocation of funds.

The diocese is the wealthiest in the Church of England, with £65 glebe assets per head of population compared with 65p per head in Liverpool. Glebe accounts for £5 million of its annual income.

“All wealth and riches come from God, belong to God and are to be used to the glory of God. Diocesan glebe land and investments make a significant contribution to the life of our churches right across the diocese, but we must demonstrate Christ-like generosity to dioceses who are in greatest financial need at the same time,” the diocese said in a statement on Monday of last week.

In November 2021, the General Synod gave the Archbishops’ Council approval to take the first steps towards developing legislation to remove geographical restrictions that prevented wealthier dioceses’ helping poorer ones (News, 26 November 2021).

The Bishop of Sheffield, Dr Pete Wilcox, told the Synod that the combined wealth of the C of E more than sufficed to maintain high levels of stipend. “We believe that this step would stimulate a greater sense of mutuality, leading to greater generosity and greater fairness,” he said, and called it “the first step towards urgent and necessary conversations about inequalities in missional and pastoral freedom, so in every place we bring grace and truth to this generation.”

The ten dioceses with the least historic wealth per capita are Leeds, Rochester, Blackburn, Manchester, Sheffield, Chester, Newcastle, Birmingham, Canterbury, and Liverpool. Seven are industrial areas, and six are in the north.

Canterbury diocese used the money given in 2021 to fund its Kent Refugee Programmes Manager, who has worked on projects intended to create long-term social bonds and to expand the social network of the community. Examples have included welcome hubs for Ukrainian refugees, English-language lessons and employment, a café welcoming refugees and people seeking sanctuary in the Canterbury area, and work with schools.

In a statement, Liverpool diocese said of the generous support that it had received from Oxford: “It was particularly striking that it came without restriction or preconditions. In many ways, that made the award doubly significant.”

Given Liverpool’s connection with the slave trade, it decided to open up a “a new and significant area of missional opportunity” in focusing on racial justice and how ti respond as a diocese to the report From Lament to Action (News, 22 April 2021).

It committed the funding to the costs of a racial-justice officer for the diocese and cathedral for five years. The subsequent diocesan strategy secured a grant of £196,000 from the national Church, to take it forward over the next three years. The diocese described the combined support as likely to be “transformational.”

The funds that Newcastle diocese received have funded a Pioneer Minister in a newly established Bishop’s Mission Order (BMO) across four deprived benefices in south-east Northumberland. That, in turn, unlocked a £300,000 grant from a local charity to fund a youth project over three years. “The Oxford funding essentially helped release energy into a deprived former coalmining area and has opened up opportunity for others to provide funding for what we are aiming to achieve through the BMO,” its statement said.

Ninety-eight per cent of Oxford diocesan-synod members voted for the further commitment of mutual support. The Bishop of Oxford, Dr Steven Croft, described the action as “entirely right for us. . . We hope this move will encourage the other dioceses who can to do the same.”

The five dioceses that will receive the support will be named in spring 2024 when the Archbishops’ Council has updated data.

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