Reflections on generosity and giving from our Diocesan Secretary

Published on: 29th September 2020

Woodcarving of Jesus

In his weekly video messages, Bishop Richard Jackson has talked about our language and in particular being mindful about our use of the word 'Diocese' to infer a mysterious administrative bureaucracy at the heart of the Church of England. This article is from Sam Pratley, Diocesan Secretary.  It is a long read and provides a picture that explains why regular financial giving is so important to the future of all our churches across our Diocese.

"These last few months have caused a pause on ‘normal’ activity in a way that we have not witnessed since the Second World War. This pause has been incredibly difficult for so many people on different levels and the after-effects are only just emerging as we come to the end of this first phase.

"There is no question that our quiet and tranquil corner of the Church of England in Herefordshire and South Shropshire bordering Wales has been shaken, albeit less violently than many urban areas. The impact of COVID has had some positive impact: our online presence and engagement with live-streamed services, weekly e-briefings, and the Bishop’s video messages show clear results.  We have seen new people come to faith, had higher than normal attendance at some services and online meetings, we have discovered new skills and tools to enable us to work and interact together, and we have still been able to be a church without our buildings.

We have also been able to demonstrate to our neighbours and our partners in the Councils and NHS just how effective the church community can be in supporting those in need.  Our existing network of volunteers and charitable organisations have provided a huge range of crucial interventions at a time of crisis.  Some, such as food banks, pastoral visiting / befriending teams and safer communities have been busier than normal, while others have set up new services to provide food parcels, delivery of medication, street pastors in town centres, a 'home safe from hospital' scheme, and housing for the street homeless.  These have been remarkable in both the speed they were set up, the effectiveness of their operation, and in how positive the statutory bodies have been about them.

"Sadly, as expected, there are other consequences too. The loss of loved ones is hard enough but the lack of proper funerals to grieve has been very difficult.  No Sunday worship, cancelled weddings, no baptisms, social isolation, family separation, domestic violence, shielding, job losses, furlough, school closures, disruption to agricultural food chains, fear and anxiety have all become a reality of the past few months.

We started 2020 in Hereford Diocese full of ambitious plans.  We had planned a large-scale welcome for our new Bishop, Richard Jackson, and we anticipated a straightforward replacing for our retiring Bishop in Ludlow.  We projected investment in a new church plant in Hereford in the Bobblestock area of the city and creation of a new youth church in St Peter's.  We saw opportunity to grow and expand our intergenerational mission projects in market towns across the Diocese and had carefully planned to achieve all of this with a balanced budget.  Even now that the effects of COVID-19 are known and the drastic impact on our income is taking effect, we have not paused our investment plans.  We know that it is now more crucial than ever that we continue to trust God and seek growth in our church communities.

"The only one of our ambitious plans that we are unlikely to achieve is our balanced budget.  A combination of Parish Offer defaults and a reduction in parochial fees is forecasted to lead to a reduction in income of at least £700,000 this year and 2021 may be even worse.

"Fortunately, the Diocese is a strong position to weather the storm.  Both the Diocesan Board of Finance and many parish churches have reserves for a rainy day and now it is raining they will need to be used!  The central office has been working extremely hard over the past few years to reduce costs and increase income which means we are in better position than most other dioceses to cope.

In headline terms between 2017 and 2020 the (central) Diocese has:

  • Made budget savings in excess of £715,000. In our context, as the lowest spending Diocese this is a significant amount.  Roughly 60% of this has been ‘central’ cost savings and 40% related to clergy reductions.
  • Reduced full time equivalent staff (excluding externally funded) from 31.2 fte to 26.4 fte
  • 12 Diocesan staff members have left and not been replaced, 5 new posts have been added
  • Increased income / received new grants over £1m to pay for posts / reduce deficit
  • Generated £4.9m in net capital receipts from sales of glebe / parsonage land by working hard to get planning permission or increased value. This money can then be invested to give a greater annual contribution towards costs.
  • In 2019 & 2020 we have committed around £220,000 of money through total return to support parish ministry such as the intergenerational missioners. More projects will follow in 2021 and approximately £250,000 is put aside each year.

"However, the storm can only be weathered for so long and our reserves and investments will only last for a few more years before they are depleted beyond repair.  Much has been made of Parish Offer contributions (to our Common Fund for parish ministry) remaining the same for the past 8 years and we are now starting to see this decline steeply with the 2021 Offers, whilst other unavoidable costs are increasing.  Where there is no other alternative then this might have to be accepted for 2021 but we must not see this as a re-basing of our Offers but more see it as a one-off blip.  We must collectively avoid a spiral of decline and should work together to continue to pray and seek new growth in our numbers spiritually and financially.

"One Deanery in our Diocese has already come together and pledged to increase their Offer in 2021.  They are concerned about many aspects of their finances but they don’t want to bury their ‘talents’ at a time when they are needed most.  Above all they are trusting in a God that they believe will provide abundantly,

"We have a new Bishop with an excellent team supporting him, all with strong commitment to our existing mission which is to see Spiritual and Numerical Growth in the Diocese of Hereford.  We all need to come together provide the resources we need to achieve this vision."

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