The new Bishop of Lincoln is taking two initiatives. One is to review the central services and costs of the diocese; I’d first heard about this from a couple of people on the diocesan staff concerned about their jobs, and it has now been formally announced in the most recent mailing to clergy. The other is to have a programme to deepen discipleship, for which there will be major ‘opening’ and ‘closing’ events in the Cathedral; I’d first heard this referred to by a couple of people active at deanery level, and I’m sure an announcement and programme will be coming to us in due course.
The Bishop spoke about these two things at the Cathedral Council last week. He is aware of good heart and faithfulness in the diocese, but also of a rate of decline in attendance and a rate of financial giving which do not compare well with other dioceses. Part of the result of his review may be to liberate some money to be spent in parishes rather than at the centre. Part of the result of the discipleship initiative may be things ranging from increased giving to more vocation.
This all seems very worthwhile, although I wonder whether these things take sufficient notice of what I think of as the demographic unravelling of our present patterns of operation; the decline which is becoming increasingly visible is not so much people ceasing to attend and give as the coming home to roost of the sharply different rates of recruitment and Christian formation of the people born in the 1920s-50s compared with those born in the 1960s-90s, something about which I have posted before.
On the surface a review of central services and costs makes a lot of sense. The 2012 diocesan budget indicates that just short of 40% of expenditure (£3.8 million) is in these areas while just over 60% (£5.9 million) is in the local deployment of parish priests. But it is not quite as simple as that. Over a third of central expenditure (£1.4 million) is on deploying Curates in training posts in parishes and in deploying ‘sector ministers’ such as Industrial Chaplains in local areas. And a further £0.8 million is our payments to meet fixed national costs, over half of which is for training clergy. If the review was to result in a cut of one third in the remaining £1.6 million of central expenditure that would only free up enough money to deploy 0.75 of an extra clergy post in this deanery (whose budget meets 6% of central costs), which would be welcome but actually quite marginal in a process which has halved the number of filled posts within ten years from about 16 to 8.
And on the surface a systematic readdressing of our discipleship would also be very fruitful; a Catholic member of the Cathedral Council spoke about the impact of the Renew programme when she lived in the diocese of Arundel and Brighton a number of years ago. I am reminded of the Recovering Confidence and Missionary Congregation ideas which were fresh when I was on the diocesan staff fifteen years ago and about which I’ve posted from time to time: taking one’s eyes off the immediate planning and retrenchment to focus on deepening our Christian distinctiveness and engagement. This level of faithfulness and renewal of dependance on God is probably the only way to open up new confidence, mission and possibilities, but perhaps not if in our heart of hearts we go into it simply hoping it will be a magic wand to preserve our present failing structures.
The pile of shopping at the back of St Michael’s yesterday was an impressive response by people in our churches to an appeal the previous Sunday to help restock the North East Lincolnshire churches' Community Larder which had been emptied by the distribution of 79 different gifts to those in emergency need during January and February.