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Twice successor to Dr Dakin, Bishop Mounstephen is translated to Winchester

06 July 2023

Diocese of Winchester

The Bishop of Truro, the Rt Revd Philip Mounstephen

The Bishop of Truro, the Rt Revd Philip Mounstephen

THE Bishop of Truro, the Rt Revd Philip Mounstephen, has been nominated as the next Bishop of Winchester, it was announced on Thursday. It is two years since his predecessor there, Dr Tim Dakin, resigned after a breakdown in relations with the diocese.

On Thursday, Bishop Mounstephen said that the past two years had been an “incredibly fruitful, healing, and hopeful time” for the diocese of Winchester. “I think it’s a place that is in the process of change, transformation, becoming a more hopeful place, and I simply want to build on the excellent work that has gone on.”

Bishop Mounstephen, who turns 64 next week, said on Thursday in a press release issued by his diocese that he had expected that his post in Truro — taken up in 2018 — would be his last before retirement, “but it seems that God has other plans. . . the people responsible, both locally and nationally, for the appointment in Winchester have concluded that there is a ‘Philip-shaped’ job to be done in their diocese.” Like Dr Dakin, he is a former head of the Church Mission Society.

The move to Winchester represented a “coming home” he said, as he was born in Hampshire. The film announcing his appointment begins outside the student accommodation of Southampton University, where, in October 1978, he came to faith, “the turning point of my whole life”.

In January 2022, the Archbishop of Canterbury set four priorities for the diocese Winchester: to restore morale, nurture reconciliation, ensure financial confidence, and refocus on growth. Dr Dakin’s resignation took place before a vote of no confidence could take place at a meeting of the diocesan synod (News, 23 July 2021). Signatories of a draft motion complained that, although the national Church was committed to “fostering a culture that is open and transparent”, “. . . We do not have confidence in the diocesan bishop to set this culture or to lead by example, due to allegations of poor behaviour and mistreatment on his part of a number of individuals.”

On Thursday, Bishop Mounstephen said that he saw Bishop’s ministry in Winchester “as essentially a pastoral one, and I am very much at heart a pastor . . . The key role of a Bishop is to help the Church be its best self, to reflect most clearly and evidently the love of Jesus Christ that we are called to serve.”

While there were multiple aspects to church leadership, “you can’t do any of that unless the Church itself is pastored and loved and cared for.”

The vacancy-in-see statement of needs produced for Winchester included a description of the character of the bishop sought. He or she should have a “wise, warm and generous heart”, “the soul of a servant who seeks faithfully to serve Jesus Christ, His Kingdom, Church and all God’s people with tenderness and humility”, and “open arms and a hospitable spirit”. The diocese sought a bishop “who knows themselves, their strengths and weaknesses, who understands that they cannot bear the weight of their calling in their own strength and that they need to work collaboratively to fulfil their call”.

While acknowledging that a “crisis of leadership” had occurred, it suggested that events were “not all represented accurately in the media” and emphasised that Winchester was “a good place with good and faithful people. . . We want to acknowledge this recent past, with the complex mix of disappointment, hurt and anger felt by so many. But the situation has changed and continues to change as we move forward.

“As we have reflected on the unprecedented situation which arose, and worked to restore trust and heal fractured relationships, what has emerged is an evident willingness to do things differently, to acknowledge a degree of shared responsibility for what happened, and to go on being alert for any issues still to be faced.”

Dr Dakin’s resignation followed a period of widespread restructuring in the diocese of Winchester. His critics spoke of poor governance and financial management, as well as the toll of pastoral reorganisation and the loss of clergy posts.

Dr Dakin had, unusually for a diocesan bishop, chaired the diocese’s board of finance. In his resignation letter, he wrote that, “in trying to secure a sustainable future for the growth of the Diocese, it is clear that I’ve not done enough to acknowledge what we have lost in this process. To those I’ve hurt or let down, I am sorry. I realise that the steps taken to stabilize the finances continue to cause upset.”

The vacancy-in-see statement refers to a “challenging time financially” in recent years. Since 2020, an eight-per-cent decline in attendance had occurred in addition to “increasing costs, and the loss of substantial parish income during the pandemic”. It speaks of the need to explore “different approaches to how we steward our finances and assets, seeking new ways to invest in sustainable ministry and increase resilience”.

Restructuring under Dr Dakin entailed combining parishes, simplifying governance structures, and uniting benefices. In 2021, initial consultations and conversations were started for 21 pastoral schemes affecting 50 benefices and 103 parishes. A total of 22 stipendiary posts were cut.

The diocese’s 2022 annual report acknowledges that, “having implemented the difficult and painful budget savings in 2021, our shared diocesan finances are now in a more sustainable and secure position. This has however come at a cost to some of our frontline ministry and mission.”

The diocese has reported a large number of vacancies (in 2021 there were 102 in post out of a budgeted total of 116.5) and has been seeking to fill them as an “urgent priority”.

Running in parallel with the work of Dr Dakin’s Deployment Working Group was the securing of significant sums of national church funding. Between 2017 and 2021, Winchester’s mission action plan, in three phases, was awarded more than £9 million in Strategic Development Funding, for projects focused on church-planting, including resource churches, creating worshipping communities in new housing developments, and developing new approaches to rural mission.

The total cost of the plan was £20 million, and significant sums were awarded to individual resource churches. The diocese is home to several resource churches established in partnership with the Church Revitalisation Trust, including St Swithun’s Bournemouth; St Mary’s, Southampton; St Winfrid’s, Totton; and St Mary’s Andover.

Sixty per cent of parishes in the diocese of Winchester are rural while 80 per cent of its population is urban and between 2017 and 2020 it piloted a “Benefice of the Future” initiative with the support of SDF, with a goal to grow the worshipping communities of three multi-parish benefices by 15 per cent. The original aim was to roll out the programme across all 40 rural benefices.

In the past two years, Bishop Mounstephen has overseen significant restructuring in the diocese of Truro through the “On the Way” programme (News 2 June). In May, a ten-year Plan for Change and Renewal was established, under which “the majority of church communities are led by Local Ministers (both lay and ordained), with stipendiary priests in oversight roles, leading, enabling and ministering to groups of churches, communities and missional activities of different kinds.”

In recent months, Bishop Mounstephen has faced criticism over cuts to stipendiary numbers, led by an active local branch of Save the Parish.

On Thursday, he suggested that “the situations in Truro and in Winchester are actually very unalike. Winchester has been already through some significant pastoral reorganisation and . . . my understanding is that no further pastoral reorganisation or any particular scale or significance is envisaged. It’s rather a process of embedding the change that has been and helpful those communities go on into fruitfulness and growth and loving service of the wider community.”

There was “never a perfect time to leave anywhere”, he said. “We are still in a significant process of change in this diocese. But that change is happening on increasingly firm foundations. . . We have shared in developing a local vision for fruitful and sustainable parishes through the hard but important work of ‘On the Way’. We have grown deeper together in prayer in the process.”

Under Bishop Dakin, a Winchester School of Mission was established. It trains a number of ordinands every year, and, in recent years, more than 500 lay people have trained for authorised ministry through the Bishop’s Commission for Mission. The diocese is also home to four universities, and it has acknowledged a need to “engage more effectively and consistently with the student populations”.

Bishop Mounstephen’s tour on Thursday including a visit to St Mark’s C of E School, Southampton, an “all-through school” (ages four to 16); and he praised “the fantastic way the school and the church are integrated together”. A “creative and loving approach” was needed to reach missing generations, he said.

Bishop Mounstephen was ordained in 1988 after taking an English-literature degree at Southampton and PGCE at Oxford. He trained at Wycliffe Hall, Oxford, and served his title at Gerrards Cross and Fulmer, in the diocese of Oxford. After six years as Vicar of St James’s, West Streatham, in the diocese of Southwark, he spent eight years working for the Church Pastoral Aid Society (CPAS), before serving as Chaplain of St Michael’s, Paris, and being appointed, in 2012, as Chief Executive of the Church Mission Society. This is the second time that he will succeed Dr Dakin, who was General Secretary of CMS from 2000 to 2012.

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