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General Synod digest: ‘Money is never the endgame’ members hear, as parish share falls

14 July 2023
Sam Atkins/Church Times

John Spence presents the Archbishops’ Council budget

John Spence presents the Archbishops’ Council budget

THE Chair of the Finance Committee, John Spence (Archbishops’ Council), presented the annual budget to the General Synod for the last time, on Monday morning, before stepping down.

Between 2019 and 2020, church income had fallen by 14 per cent, and expenditure had fallen by seven per cent. Parishes had an aggregate surplus of £319 million between 2012 and 2021. But more than half (56 per cent) of PCCs ran a deficit in 2020 and 46 per cent in 2021. The aggregate deficit of dioceses in 2019 was £19 million, but in the four years 2024 to 2027, with flat parish share and without sustainability funding, this was set to be £200 million.

About 55 per cent of diocesan expenditure was stipends. “There are only so many surplus houses and investments that can be realised without cutting into that stipendiary priest number — a real worry,” Mr Spence said. Parish share had fallen from £334 million in 2017 to £308 million in 2022.

While the number of regular givers had fallen by two to three per cent per year between 2012 and 2019, compensated for by greater levels of giving, this figure fell by 15 per cent between 2019 and 2021.

“Money is never the end game: money is the by-product of missional success,” he said. “It is one of the signs for me of a committed Christian pilgrim, that they give.”

Across dioceses, the percentage of church members who were regular givers varied between 30 and 64 per cent, while the level of giving ranged from £8 to £26 per week with no correlation with deprivation. Diocesan giving advisers working in partnership with diocesan leadership delivered “significant process”, he said (13 dioceses had yet to employ one).

As for the Church Commissioners’ distributions, the amounts available for 2023 to 2025 for “core strategic distributions” were more than double those in 2017 to 2019. Apportionment had been held flat at £31.3 million. In 2014, 90 per cent of Archbishops’ Council spending on Votes 1 to 5 was paid through apportionment, but this year it would be 53 per cent. It was £25 million less than the total spend — a subsidy to help dioceses.

Mr Spence “deeply regretted” that, in 2024, less would be spent on Vote 1 (training for ministry) than in 2023. Between 2019 and 2021, there had been 1375 people going through ordination training; but, next year, this would be between 1000 and 1100 candidates.

“We are hearing reports of a lack of confidence among candidates that there will be long-term posts for them, and among dioceses about their ability to fund those long-term posts,” he said. But he was “delighted” that ministry-development costs were going up, because, “for the first time, that includes a dedicated budget for lay ministry development and training.”

Mr Spence said that this was “not the budget I would have wanted to present at my last time before you. It is not the budget I would have expected to present as recently as 2020. There is no doubt that the pandemic and subsequent shocks to the system have had a big impact on us.”

But he also celebrated recent successes, including “the brilliant projects and bonfires that have been lit across the country”. He concluded: “It is often said that in this world there are Valley People. They are good people. They live in the village and the valley. They work hard, they go to school, they have ordered lives. They have picnics under those willow trees whose dappled leaves frisk upon the lazy river. And they are good people, nothing wrong with them, all virtuous.

“And then there are the Mountain People: the people who strike out from that village and start going up the rugged arduous path up that mountain, and, as they do so, they are assailed by rockfalls or even avalanches, storms, blizzards, and they keep going, and they reach the top. And it’s only the Mountain People who look across the mountain tops to see the glories of God’s creation. It’s only the Mountain People who are reminded that they can do anything that they really want.

“And we still have the burning heart of the risen Christ in us. We still have the Holy Spirit pouring through our veins. And only those Mountain People will be able to look into the adjoining valleys to understand where Christ is not yet present, where Christ needs to be reinforced, where Christ need to be welcomed. I may present this budget to you. The finances are merely an incidental. It is the mission which matters.”
The Revd Dr Sean Doherty (Universities and TEIs), who is a Principal of a TEI, spoke of the Resourcing Ministerial Formation (RMF) proposals, which sought to bring greater stability and predictability to funding in the sector. “At the moment, it just means that we can predict considerable deficits.” He noted price rises and the recommendation of a five-per-cent rise in TEI staff payments. Yet fees were set to go up by only three per cent.

TEIs would experience an “exceptionally low intake again this year for the second year in a row”, he said. Budgets were tight everywhere, but the budget recommendation of just under £15 million was based on 500 people entering training, and only 395 would be through Stage 2 Bishops’ Advisory Panels by the end of August. Did the fee increase need to be set as low as three per cent? Adequate funding now, while reserves were available, would be cheaper than a more expensive bail-out later, he argued.

Professor Joyce Hill (Leeds), a member of a governing council of a TEI, asked: “What is the evidence base for the Vote 1 figure?” The RMF paper had stated that information about the true cost of provision had been sought from principals of TEIs and provided. But it went on to say that “the answers were deemed to be too difficult to work with.”

This suggested that the current formula was based on historic assumptions that had not been recently tested against current realities. Realities changed, and these included the changing expectations of students and the Church. “Should we not be doing something to put [the evidence base] on a more secure footing, with an honest assessment of the true cost of training, because, if we do not, where will we be?”

Carl Hughes (Southwark), Mr Spence’s successor, said: “We do need to be realistic about the headwinds that we face. . . Mission and evangelism are fundamental. We need to pray for the re-evangelisation of our country.” A “key priority” for him, over the next 12 months, would be “addressing the money-go-round” across dioceses and the Archbishops’ Council.

“In my view, diocesan apportionment is no longer fit for purpose, and Lowest Income Communities Funding is ripe for review. Accordingly, in the coming months, we will be considering the best way forward for diocesan support in the context of a more detailed understanding of the financial condition of each diocese. And I anticipate that this will give rise to significant change in the basis of funding flows across the Church.”

The Synod had “heard much about accountability, transparency, openness, and trust, and I assure you that I will strive to be direct and clear and open.”

Catherine Butcher (Chichester) welcomed the aim of becoming a younger and more diverse Church, and the significant expenditure planned. She spoke of the “worldwide audience of millions” watching state occasions such as the Coronation. “We would pay millions of pounds for that media coverage, but why can’t we use contemporary language on these occasions?”

She had brought with her a feather as a visual aid, pointing out that she hadn’t used it as a quill to write her speech. She knew that the late Queen and the King and many at the Synod loved the “rich language” of the Book of Common Prayer, “but it isn’t understood by the majority and especially those young people we want to reach.”

The Revd Marcus Walker (London) spoke of the “collapse of money in our churches” since Covid. “That talks of a serious reduction in the number of people coming to church since the pandemic.” During that time, he said, decisions had been taken and statements had been made which were “highly controversial, and which led to a number of people thinking that the Church wasn’t there for them. A number of people heard us say, ‘You can worship God as well at home as you can in church,’ and I fear that they heard us, and believed us, and have stayed at home.”

If the Church was going to draw people back people “who decided to leave during that very dark time”, then it needed to “think about what we did as a Church” and to consider “how to revitalise people’s faith . . . through the light of acknowledging our own mistakes at that time. I have seen nothing about that over the last two years.” There was a need to “reignite the hearts of people who felt their faith doused by their Church at that time”.

The Revd Dr Miranda Threlfall-Holmes (Liverpool) spoke of the cumulative deficit of £200 million across dioceses and the planned investment of £400 million for which dioceses were encouraged to bid. Liverpool had fairly healthy figures on giving, but had low levels of historic assets.

“The amount of staff time and energy that goes into constantly having to develop plans for bids for new things is a huge inefficiency built into this capitalist approach to funding. A large part of the Church Commissioners’ money for distribution comes from things like Queen Anne’s Bounty, which was designed to subsidise in perpetuity the incomes of poorer clergy. So, I beg the Archbishops’ Council, and the Church Commissioners, and anyone else who might listen to rebalance the way that £400 million is distributed, to give a long-term, sustainable, and stress-free stability to diocesan finances.”

Professor Helen King (Oxford) also spoke on the decline in giving. “Is there a point where we start to ask whether the poorer Church is what God is calling us to?”

The Synod took note of the report.

On Vote 1, Sarah Tupling (Deaf Anglicans Together), a Reader, was concerned that there was a lack of money and focus on training deaf people for lay and ordained ministry. Some would like to go for further training, but there wasn’t provision for the cost of interpretation.

The Revd Jack Shepherd (Liverpool) expected to vote against Vote 2, because the issue of disparity in diocesan assets was one that the whole Church needed to acknowledge as its responsibility. This was not a matter of subsidising decline: growth was happening in Liverpool. “Can we please stand together?” he asked.

The Revd Eleanor Robertshaw (Sheffield) suggested the possibility of hosting the Synod away from London, given the expense, and in Doncaster, newly a city: “Imagine the levelling up we could start.”

The Revd Jo Winn-Smith (Guildford), who had served on various NCIs, was concerned about the “continued squeeze on staff” and the mantra of “’Do more for less.’ This is not the same as efficiency. It is a real risk to staff well-being and sense of vocation and service.”

On Vote 5, the Revd Christopher Blunt (Chester) was concerned about “CHARMERS”. If the grant from the Archbishops’ Council was going down, and the rents were going up, then it was clergy in this housing that suffered.

The Chair of the Pensions Board, Clive Mather, spoke of the “perfect storm” that had led to a request to the Archbishops’ Council for secure emergency funding, while options to replace CHARM were considered. Consultations were under way this year on possible replacements.

Canon Simon Butler (Southwark), who is a trustee of the Clergy Support Trust, said that the charity could continue to do support one in five clerics; yet fellow trustees were asking: “Surely the Church of England should be doing this work?” He concluded: “We will not grow the Church in the future if the clergy are demoralised, poor, and worried about their lives day to day.”

Julie Dziegiel (Oxford) said that the Diocesan Stipends Fund Measure had received Royal Assent, and encouraged better-endowed dioceses to be generous to others, and put this on the agenda of diocesan boards of finance, as Oxford had.

The 2024 budget Votes 1-5 were carried: £14,998,000 (training for ministry); £34,180,628 (national church responsibilities); £1,518,779 (grants); £426,510 (mission-agency pension contributions); £6,137,441 (clergy retirement housing grant); and the apportionment to dioceses was approved.

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