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Diocesan Synod

March 2012

Presidential Address by The Bishop of Southwark, The Rt Revd Christopher Chessun


Bishop Christopher addresses Synod
Faith, Hope, Love – these three abide and the greatest of these is love.

The Lord be with you.

In a few days time there will be much rejoicing in the Diocese as our two new Area Bishops are consecrated in Southwark Cathedral and I commend Michael Ipgrave and Jonathan Clark to your prayers. Bishop Richard and I look forward to welcoming them into the Episcopal Team.   As we gather this morning we do so as Faith, Hope, Love: my personal Call to Mission as your Bishop is being launched in these first weeks of Lent across the Diocese. By now, many of you will have received, in your parish churches, as well as in our schools and other communities, the Call to Mission envelopes with their encouragement to reflect personally on how we are disciples of Christ. This is an individual, personal and direct call to engage in Mission, in the furtherance of God’s kingdom.  It offers space to each of us to reflect on these Kingdom values and challenges us to engage more deeply with our Faith, which is breathed into us by God as God’s gift to us.  It encourages us to step out in Hope in the company of those who proclaim the Hope of the Resurrection and the promise of Salvation.  And above all, it is about living in Love – so that our lives themselves may be signs of God’s presence, remembering that those who live in love live in God and God lives in them.

In Calling the Diocese to Mission – and you will hear more this afternoon of how the Call unfolds over the coming months – I do so to respond to the urgent needs of the Church and our Communities. More than ever the voice of the Lord needs to be heard in our land and more than ever there are those who are uncertain, unsure and despairing of the way forward. The responsibility for Mission is shared with all of us and I pray that God may use each of us in his service.

As we engage in the Call to Mission, this important piece of work sits alongside other important work in the diocese. The Signs of Growth project, which is just being rolled out in Croydon, having been successfully completed in Woolwich and Kingston, provides each parish with important and useful data about a range of subjects in ministry, mission, faith, stewardship and resourcing. It is providing a useful tool which gives us a snapshot across the diocese of data that helps parishes to think, reflect and plan strategically.

Signs of Growth and the Call to Mission are about helping us to build with confidence on the Foundation that is Christ. Having confidence in who we are as God’s people, having confidence in the vital claims of the Christian Faith and being confident in planning and delivering ministry and mission are central to our vision of moving forward together.

However alongside our confidence in the Faith we proclaim is a need for some profound thinking about ministry and the deployment of our ministerial resources. The Bishop’s Council has established a group that is looking at a Strategy for Ministry and this work is becoming more compelling and urgent given our current financial position. The harsh reality is that we are faced with an undeniable fall in our financial resources. Last year saw a big fall in the amount of Parish Share being collected. It is clear that in some instances Parish Share is not being paid because parishes simply cannot afford to pay it.  In other cases parishes have struggled to meet their obligations and have often dipped into their own reserves to fund this.  In a very few cases parishes have wilfully decided not to participate in resourcing ministry and have withheld money.  The amount outstanding for 2011 as at 29th February stands at £740,000 and is 5% of the amount requested.

The non-payment of parish share and the rising pressure on ability to pay means that we cannot delay in addressing some challenges. Yes of course we will look hard at encouraging the payment of parish share and encouraging appropriate stewardship and sacrificial giving, but inevitably we need to plan for the harder financial circumstances we are now experiencing. Yes of course we are committed to sustaining the highest achievable level of stipendiary clergy in our parishes, but we now have to look together and radically rethink how we deploy ministry in creative and sustainable ways.

The Strategy for Ministry group has met five times and is working on a report that will come to Synod at our November meeting following Archdeaconry consultation meetings which will explore the issues we face and the options for change. This will be a very thoroughgoing consultation which will seek to hold together our confidence in faith and mission whilst being realistic about the unavoidable need for immediate action and planning.

This means we face tough questions about reducing the numbers of stipendiary clergy.  In the last two years central diocesan expenditure has been kept to or held below budget, this means our issue really is about income. If income doesn’t come in then clearly we must reduce expenditure. In recent years the diocesan officers and administration has been significantly reduced.  There will be a review and examination of performance and management to ensure we are on the right track.  Beyond this we have no choice but to look at reducing the number of stipendiary clergy posts. Currently we are 8 clergy posts over budget and unless things are planed for carefully then we will be in a position of being unable to afford to fill  vacancies, repair property, replace unsuitable parsonages or increase stipends in line with the cost of living. If we cannot afford what we need then we must find other ways to operate with fewer resources.

Alongside these pressing financial needs the diocese continues to be hit with big pension liabilities. 3 years ago there was a deficit of £950,000 on the lay staff scheme and a cash payment was made from reserves to clear it.  The recent actuarial review has shown a similar deficit of £980,000.  The Board of Finance has decided this time to repay approx £250,000 per year for five years to clear this deficit, using reserves to undertake this task rather than making a charge on the Diocesan Budget.  At the same time a review is being undertaken on the future of the scheme, which is a non-contributory Defined Benefit Scheme.  In the past few days there has been financial commentary that the recent fall in investment values has reduced the value of schemes which again will also have to be funded by employers. The challenges we face inevitably root us in the reality of the world in which we live. However, the only thing that is clear is that doing nothing is not an option.

As well as consulting across the Diocese, in the coming months, there will be a thoroughgoing review of the Diocesan Offices including my own office. The Bishop’s Council acted in 2009 to delete 8 posts centrally.  So it is now important to ensure that we offer the best value for money for the resources we deploy at Trinity House and I want to ensure that we are working efficiently and effectively and engaging with best practice. This too is about the good stewardship of the excellent resource we have in these structures.

 As we seek to consult in Archdeaconries about the challenges we face and the need for appropriate deployment I am mindful that our strategy for ministry cannot be about finance alone. It is about the good stewardship of the resources God has entrusted to us. We need to commit to the highest possible number of stipendiary clergy in our parishes as well as becoming more creative in the way we deploy clergy, both in areas of need and across networks.  It is time to reflect carefully on fresh expressions and appropriate church planting.

Here at St John’s Waterloo, last Sunday, I inaugurated the first Bishop’s Mission Order in the Diocese to strengthen partnership in the Gospel with Okusinza mu Luganda, a large Lugandan congregation which worships here regularly.  We also need to be creative about how we use the dedicated and devoted ministry of our Non-Stipendiary priests. Alongside this accredited lay ministry from Readers and SPAs often is vital in supporting mission and we need to think afresh about how the offering of this ministry is used in building up confidence and sharing our faith.  Above all we need to focus on our life together as the People of God, lay and ordained, which takes us to the three themes to which I am fully and publicly committed and which together we need to take forward:

  • Valuing and empowering laity at every level of Diocesan life, those in accredited lay ministry alongside the wonderful contribution made by lay people who give sacrificially of their time and gifts, the bedrock of our communities of faith throughout the Diocese.
  • Vocational renewal as we deepen our discipleship and take seriously the promises made at our baptism
  • Breathing new life into our Deaneries and indeed developing the role of  Deaneries in strategy, deployment of resources and mission.

We could choose to be downhearted, depressed and overwhelmed by the scale of the challenges I have laid out. However, the Strategy for Ministry alongside Signs of Growth and the Call to Mission calls us to face the future in Faith. We continue to have great Faith in God the Father who raised our Lord Jesus Christ from the dead with whom all things are possible. We have Hope, which we never abandon, because the treasure we share in the Gospel is a pearl of great price that encourages us and gives us confidence. Above all we have Love, that most precious of gifts for each of us.  For we are each loved and known by the Lord, the Lord who calls us to mission, ministry and growth and the Lord who will continue to enrich and empower the Church with the gift of the Holy Spirit.

May God bless us as we seek to rise to this fresh challenge, may he inspire us with faith, hope and love and may we come to know the joy of his resurrection as we prepare to celebrate the great Easter Feast.