Diocesan synod, July 2021
Bishop Rob Wickham, our commissary bishop, gave the Presidential Address, which included a discussion about the Lord's Prayer and our own personal prayer lives. You can read the whole text here.
CENTRAL STAFF TEAM
Diocesan Secretary Victoria James gave an update on the diocesan central staff team. While the presumptive pause on recruitment remains in place, there are a couple of urgent situations which need to be addressed by recruiting imminently. Victoria reported that there had been two resignations in the safeguarding team, and that we were looking to recruit imminently. She also reported the decision of Bishop’s Council to recruit for an additional part time, safeguarding adviser to meet the increasing demands in this important area of work.
The Archdeacon of Portsdown, the Ven Jenny Rowley, spoke about a Clergy Wellbeing Post, to support clergy and look out for their wellbeing. The Bishop’s Council have agreed to fund this as a 0.5 post.
BISHOP’S COUNCIL UPDATE
Diocesan Secretary Victoria James spoke about the past couple of meetings of the Bishop’s Council, much of which had been taken up with conversations about Live | Pray | Serve. The only other item discussed was the national report into tackling racism – From Lament To Action. You can read more about that here, and download the full report from here.
A working group is being established to take forward element of the report which are our responsibility at diocesan level. It is hoped that there will be a review of the position nationally, so that funding will be made available from the National Church to fund a racial justice officer.
GENERAL SYNOD UPDATE
Canon Bob White gave an update on General Synod issues. The Synod met in July for 30 hours over a four-day period. A debate was held on the Crown Nomination Commission reforms that were being proposed. Fears were raised that these would reduce the ability for the diversity of the Church or local diocese to be expressed. The proposals were accepted and the future pattern for electing the central members of the CNC will be changed.
Comments were made about a Church Times article that appeared to describe clergy as a ‘key limiting factor’ on growth. It led to some frustration from parish clergy after what had been a draining and stressful year. However, as speakers pointed out, this comment was a small reference in a much wider document on vision and growth in mission, and was not the ‘official doctrine’ of the Church of England.
The Archbishop of York, the Most Rev Stephen Cottrell gave the presidential address, and said clergy were a ‘limiting factor’ in the sense that there aren’t enough of them. There were also many references to the need for a ‘mixed ecology’ where the parish system needs to be resourced alongside other ways of ‘being Church’.
These Synod members will also be passing on discussions of Living in Love and Faith and the Clergy Discipline Measure onto those elected for the next five-year period. Nominations for the election of the next set of General Synod members is now open, and the national C of E have produced material to encourage a younger and more diverse set of candidates to stand.
PARISH SHARE REVIEW
Diocesan Secretary Victoria James spoke about stage one of the review, which is outlined in a paper here. She clarified that this was only stage one, to solve the issues of calculating the 2022 parish share, which relate to the lack of typical average weekly attendance figures (AWA) for 2020.
Synod members approved a motion that a nine-year rolling average of AWA should be used for 2022, taking existing figures from 2011-19, with an adjustment for any parish that sees an increase or decrease of 5% or more as a consequence.
BOARD OF FINANCE ANNUAL REPORT AND ACCOUNTS 2020
The annual report for 2020, which includes detailed accounts and also reports from each element of central diocesan activity, can be downloaded from here. Finance director Lisa Streeter spoke about the challenge and changes experienced over the past year, including working from home, a new accounting system and a new payroll system.
She explained that deficits had been minimised with a freeze on recruitment, a pause on normal activities, emergency-only property repairs and several lay-post redundancies and hours reductions as reported to Synod in June 2021. Using the government’s furlough scheme added £164k to income. Our property values and investment portfolio increased, and we also received a grant from the Archbishop’s Council.
Questions were asked about the borrowing and repayment of the £2m Coronavirus Business Interruption Loan, which is interest-free for the first year; about whether to realise our assets; and whether to sell any investments.
LIVE | PRAY | SERVE UPDATE
Bishop Rob introduced a significant report into our Live | Pray | Serve process, which aimed to set the diocese’s vision and strategy in the context of the underlying reasons why change is needed, and the financial position of the diocese now. You can download the full report here. (slightly amended, post-synod)
Bishop Rob said the paper highlighted the fact that we are a diocese that truly cares and are deeply committed to mission. We are a diocese that want to get this right and we are all in it together. We need to discern God’s desire and imagination for this diocese. Listening is important and we need to make sure that everyone feels listened to.
Meeting dates have been set aside for September and October to give the opportunity for the senior team to listen further to those from parishes, chaplaincies and deaneries.
Diocesan Synod members split into smaller groups to examine some of the theology behind our diocesan vision and values, and to prayerfully consider where God may be leading us. Each of the groups provided some feedback, and others were invited to continue to provide feedback over the next few weeks. A summary of the themes which emerged in those theological reflections is available here and will be used to support further biblical reflection in the coming weeks as we continue to discuss a shared vision for our diocese.