This is an interim response. A fuller response to the questions will be available in the Autumn.
A BIG thank you to all who have so far participated in the Common Fund process. We have now visited eight Deanery clergy chapters and seven open Deanery meetings. For us, it’s been a really good experience of meeting with and talking through the new Common Fund and the vision of the Diocese, of which we are all a part. We recognise from the conversations that we don’t always get things right and we are sorry for those occasions when we have got things wrong. We also recognise that we need to learn from one another.
We have journeyed a long way in a short space of time and we still have a way to go, but we want to express our gratitude for the conversations we have had, for the honest and open engagement we have experienced, and for the overwhelming feeling that we are part of one Diocese, with a Common Life and a Common Fund, bearing witness to Christ in every community.
At each of our meetings we gave the opportunity to ask questions through ‘Post-It’ notes. We have reflected on all the questions and we want to share some thoughts with you as we continue to journey together. We hope that in the next round of meetings there will be more questions raised so that we can continue the conversations .
As we reflected on the questions we became aware that similar questions were asked at each meeting, and that some questions are identical. Rather than answer each question we have grouped them under the following seven headings:
- There is a problem with the formula
- We should not have to pay for ministry we’re not getting
- Our congregations can’t afford it/won’t be persuaded to pay
- We have abnormal costs
- The money is going to churches that aren’t pulling their weight
- There needs to be a conversation about the viability of some churches.
- The diocese needs to spend less money or cut staff costs.
There is a problem with the formula
We agree that every formula will have its own problems, that no formula will be ‘perfect’ because the complexity of any Diocese cannot be neatly captured in a formula. But the question remains for us as a Diocese: how do we fund our Common Life and live out the Gospel imperative to ‘love our neighbour’?
We should not have to pay for ministry we’re not getting
Within the Diocese we understand ministry more widely than the Vicar or the Parish Priest in a parish. As we reflected on this question other questions emerged. For example, if we only pay for the ministry we receive how will this affect the life of other ministry that is currently offered in the Diocese eg. Reader Ministry, Self-Supporting Ministry, Safeguarding, DAC?
Our congregations can’t afford it/won’t be persuaded to pay
As we continue to reflect on the new Common Fund, we recognise that for some parishes there will be a difficulty in paying what is asked. But we really do want to live up to the name of ‘Parish Support Office’: we want to support parishes that might find it difficult to contribute to the Common Fund. We have prioritised the work of a number of staff in the ‘Parish Support Office’ to support parishes as the new Common Fund is introduced. They will work with parishes and with deaneries through open conversations and drawing on a variety of resources.
We have abnormal costs
We recognise that the formula cannot capture the complexity of the different parishes in the Diocese. As we journey together as a Diocese in our Common Life we will become more aware of these costs. In listening to parishes and walking with them we hope that we can be imaginative in finding ways to take account of ‘abnormal costs.’
The money is going to churches that are not pulling their weight
This is an important question and not an easy one to answer! It raises all sorts of other questions: Do we want to go down the line of ‘enforcement’ and ‘sanctions?’ How do we encourage people to build God’s Kingdom, to be healthy, outward facing, growing and learning? How do we help parts of our church family find a new life and a new way of ‘being and doing church’? How do we avoid being judgemental about what another church is doing or not doing, particularly if we are not familiar with the particular context of that church?
There needs to be a conversation about the viability of some churches
This is another important question. We are aware that some ‘small’ churches feel they are struggling. And we are aware of the historic, cultural and social importance to the wider community of churches. How do we discern viability? How do we do closures well? How do we celebrate the past, but also mourn the loss of one part of the Diocesan family in the present?
The Diocese needs to spend less money and cut staff costs
We recognise that in any financial planning – for business or personally – it is important to balance the budget. Income and expenditure need to be the same; if there is over expenditure in one area then cuts are need to happen in another area. The Diocesan budget reflects the Diocesan priorities for mission and ministry, for our Common Life together as a Diocese. How we spend less money and still achieve the Diocesan priorities for mission and ministry is an important – and challenging – question. How do we decide what we need to keep and what we can do without so that together we can work to achieve the Diocesan vision ‘Christ’s Presence in every community?
Thank you once again for your important contributions to our thinking about the Common Fund. As together we continue our journey into the next phase of the Common Fund we pray that together we may hear and listen to one another and that together we pray the Common Fund Prayer:
God our Father, make us to think more of what we can give to life and less of what we can get out of it. May we be mindful that we hold our gifts, our talents, our possessions, our life itself, in trust for you and the service of all people. Save us from thinking only of our own needs and desires; and help us to remember that it is more blessed to give than receive, according to the teaching of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ. Amen
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