Diocese of Portsmouth

    Change in the Diocese - the work of the Strategic Review Group

    10 July 2003

    IT’S time for change. But what kind of change do we want?

    That’s the question our diocese’s strategic review group has been wrestling with since March 2002.

    Eleven churchgoers - clergy and lay people - were commissioned by Bishop Kenneth to think about how our diocese should be organised in the future after a range of initial consultations across the diocese suggested that some re-thinking should be done.

    The group’s deliberations began as part of our 75th anniversary celebrations and will continue over the next 12-18 months. Questions about how parishes are organised, how clergy are deployed, how we should use our buildings and where we should spend money have been uppermost in their minds.

    Unlike other Anglican dioceses that have had to cut back on clergy or diocesan staff, we could look at these questions from a position of relative strength. Sound management has kept our diocese in a healthy financial position, so the group could look at these issues without a sense of impending crisis.

    However, some issues need to be examined now to make sure we don’t find ourselves facing the same problems as other dioceses in the years to come.
    Among the factors to be considered are the national downward trend in church attendance, reflected in falling numbers of baptisms and confirmations in our diocese. By 2004 it is predicted that only 1.6 per cent of the diocese’s population will be in our pews.

    Between 1998 and 2004, the number of clergy in our diocese will have fallen by six per cent. If the ongoing review of clergy pay concludes they should be paid more, our bill for clergy pay could reach £2.5m a year. Add to that the rising cost of clergy pensions, and the scene is set for massive increases in the ‘quota’ payments demanded from parishes.

    Yet there is arguably more need out there. There are now more older people and more people living alone in our diocese, and some of our parishes are in some of the most deprived areas of the country. Can we meet this challenge just by trying harder, or do we need to change the way we do things?

    The parish system was invaluable when people lived and worked in the same community and the vicar was automatically part of the social fabric. While that may still be true in some rural areas, in urban areas that can be an outdated form of ministry.

    People live in one place, work in another, socialise with people who share the same interests and often don’t know their immediate neighbours. Are geographical parishes the best way for all of our church communities to be organised? Is there a case for, say, a chaplain to Southsea’s nightclubs or a congregation based around a group that plays sport together?

    What about our clergy? Is our ideal formula to have one vicar per parish? What about a greater flexibility that might see groups of clergy, youth workers and other lay people with particular specialisms working collaboratively? How can we resource lay people better? And how can we give better administrative support to parishes so clergy and laity can do the work that is the priority for the congregation and the community?

    What about our church buildings? Of course they are a valued sign of God’s presence in the community, but our core purpose is not fundraising or buildings maintenance. Our diocese has 173 church buildings, only 13 of which are not listed. How do we make better use of them? Does fundraising for them sap our time and energy so that we spend less time actually caring for people or spreading the gospel?

    What about our finances? While our financial management has been good, the level of giving across the diocese is poor. How do we encourage real sacrificial giving that could release new initiatives to transform our community and make the church more relevant to the lives of non-churchgoers?

    And what about our mission and engagement with the community? Is mission about holding special services and hoping that non-church people might come? Or is it more about bringing God to people where they already meet - in schools, village halls, community groups or shopping centres?

    Is the spread of the kingdom of God as much about the number of homeless people housed as it is about the number of people sitting in church on a Sunday morning? If so, what are the real needs of the population (not just the congregation) in each parish?

    The strategic review group has considered these questions - and many more. It has put together some theological principles underlying its thinking. It has also drawn up a seven-point process by which parishes might consider the questions for themselves.

    That process involves working together in new ways, looking realistically at the problems in each area and the resources available. But - above all - those solutions will be worked out by local people themselves.

    Of course, the answers will not be the same in every part of the diocese. There will be no one-size-fits-all solution. What works in inner-city Portsmouth will not work in rural parts of the Isle of Wight or the Meon Valley.

    Some of these ideas are now being trialled in three areas. What emerges from these trials will inform this work across the rest of the diocese. The areas that will be given the chance to start this work will be:

    1. the whole Petersfield deanery;

    2. the five inner-city parishes of Portsmouth (St Peter’s, All Saints, St George’s, St Luke’s and St Mary’s); and

    3. the Sandown Bay area of the Isle of Wight.

    These trials should give us some clues to the answers to such questions in rural and urban settings. This process started in January 2003. There will be a report on progress in November 2003.