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Presidential Address to the Annual General Meeting of the Diocesan Board of Finance - 10 May 2016

Given by the Bishop of Southwark,
the Rt Revd Christopher Chessun

2015 was a year when the DBF made some momentous decisions and I wish to place on record my thanks to all those who played their full part in the events of 2015. This is the last meeting where John Kempsell is with us, as Chair of the Board of Finance and so it is fitting that we also can reflect on a year of great change for the better in our financial health. The statutory accounts for the last seven years have shown a deficit, but in 2015, a modest but significant surplus.

We need to take this opportunity to give thanks to God, for all that has been achieved and to seek God’s grace as we continue to implement the changes we have made this year, not least our thanks that the pledges for the Parish Support Fund for 2016 have exceeded our budget forecast for this year. The contributions are currently meeting our targets. This reflects the care that has been taken in making effective arrangements for the transition and the very encouraging response from parishes right across the Diocese.
Turning to our accounts you will see that in 2015, the final year of Fairer Shares, parishes rallied to the call to ensure as smooth a transition as possible and receipts exceeded budget forecasts. Parishes want the Diocese to be able to fund Mission and Ministry appropriately and to be able to innovate to meet the needs of the communities we serve, the Lord being our helper.

In order to control expenditure, the commitment made and approved through Synod under Strategy for Ministry in essence two-fold: in the short term addressing serious financial challenges and in the longer term our own Reform and Renewal programme. I am glad that the National Church is now following our lead. The commitment to reduce 30 clergy posts by the end of 2017 has been tough but we are moving resolutely towards that goal and will make those changes.

The 2015 Annual Report and accounts should give us confidence that the changes we are making, and the hard won decisions that were made last year, overwhelmingly mandated by Synod and fully supported by the DBF are bearing fruit. I would like to thank John Kempsell for the contribution he has made in the stewarding of our financial resources. It is fitting that the turnaround in our finances came at the same time as the decisive shift of culture and structures in empowering our professional staff more, with much greater delegated authority, complemented by the significant reduction in committees as part of the Fit for Purpose implementation, again overwhelmingly mandated by Synod with full support from the DBF.

I would like to thank the Staff Team under the coordination of the Diocesan Secretary, Ruth Martin, working collaboratively with the Archdeacons, for the careful prioritisation and rigorous management of costs and property expenditure. This has been key to the improvement in our finances. The staff team has a renewed sense of purpose, ‘to lead, enable and serve’ and this is undergirded by explicit values: transparent accountability, effective stewardship of our resources, respect for all and collaborative team working.

The Board’s stated strategy now is to grow our financial base as well as to maintain a sound financial structure needed to enable us to continue supporting the clergy through the payment of stipends, maintenance of parsonages and other ministerial housing. The strong sense of common purpose last year enabled us not only to develop some strategic goals but also to bid for Church Commissioners’ strategic development funding, a critical new part of the future. Our strategic goals include addressing issues of diversity, increasing vocations both lay and ordained, as well as seeking to grow the number of our worshipping communities. Our bid for Commissioners’ funding is centred on growing the number of our worshipping communities and the extraordinary developments along the South Bank, especially the Nine Elms area, with regeneration and renewal at the centre.

I am confident that 2015 will be seen as the year of the first fruits of all the deliberations and changes which we have made and are making. Looking ahead I am confident that 2015 has set us all a stronger base to enable us to demonstrate our vision of serving our parish communities, sharing our faith with great joy and gladness, a people with hearts on fire: loving God, walking with Jesus and led by the Spirit.

Pentecost is nearly upon us and as we pause to give thanks for the birth of the Church and the extraordinary empowering of the disciples by the Holy Spirit, we are further encouraged by the Archbishops’ call to prayer in these days between Ascension and Pentecost for the evangelisation of the nation: ‘Thy Kingdom come..’ praying that God’s will be done on earth as it is in heaven. We give particular thanks for our life together in Christ in this Diocese. This evening, we express our appreciation to John Kempsell, Ian Akhurst and other members of the DBF for faithful and dedicated service. Let us also remember the wonderful example of a serving community we had on Saturday, when we were honoured that, Sadiq Khan, London’s first Muslim Mayor, chose our Cathedral for his inauguration. I was able to welcome him into office on behalf of the Diocese and assure him of our prayers.

You will know that it is my hope for the Diocese that we focus our Christian commitment and common life to work together for the sake of the Gospel, to speak well of each other whatever our differences and to focus on being the Church through rapidly changing times, seeking to grow, not only in love for each other as disciples of Christ, but also to grow numerically. And from a DBF perspective all this reflects the spirit of generosity, a more generous response to the unbounded generosity of God, which underpins the Parish Support Fund.

Thank you for all that you do and for all your hard work over the past year. Let us be of good courage and may the blessing of Almighty God rest upon our deliberations as we joyfully move forward, having brought policy making and resource allocation together in our Diocesan structures, acknowledging the part the DBF have played in this common endeavour.

+Christopher Southwark