Ad Fontes

Politics, Theology and Christian Humanism

When cuts happen to churches

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The leadership of all three major parties say that cuts are needed. New Labour promises ‘necessary’ cuts, the LibDems ‘savage’ cuts and the Tories are planning to rip public spending to shreds. Many of us point out that cutting public spending will hit the most vulnerable the hardest, and point out that priority changes and long-term, interest-bearing investment should be fully considered before cuts (even instead of cuts).

So, you might expect a Church of England diocese to place pastoral and mission concerns at the forefront of its priorities on a tight budget. However, the Diocese of Winchester, under the leadership of outspoken homophobe Bishop Michael Scott-Joynt, has just passed some particularly savage cuts.

The Diocesan Synod got some limited consultation and were allowed to propose amendments to the budget, but, without being allowed to review the proposed budget beforehand, no uncosted amendment could be accepted — so, it was a case of take it as is, or face the threat of budgetary collapse (whatever that might entail). The cuts were accepted, and they are the most opportunistic in nature, slashing the most exposed limbs of diocesan ministry. Two university chaplains are to be made redundant, as is the chaplain to the deaf; two training posts for new clergy are to be scrapped; the canon missioner is no longer to be funded and money for parish mission are to be withdrawn. In short, the diocese is retrenching to maintenance mode, likely to stunt the diocese’s growth and mission for years to come. University chaplains have a disproportional effect on church growth. At university, many a student is encouraged in faith and vocation. Dioceses with strong university chaplaincies have a steady flow of young ordinands. By scrapping curacies too, Winchester may well end up letting its latest ordinands go to other dioceses.

My heart and prayers go out to Simon Stevens, Chaplain to the University of Southampton facing redundancy, and all who will be severely affected by this unthinking short-sightedness. Read Simon’s account of the overridden synod on his blog. As the trade unionists are saying, all that we can do to oppose economic savagery is resist by all reasonable means.

Update: The bishops of Basingstoke and Southampton are moving on to new posts, and the Bishop of Winchester is already past retirement age. Perhaps an obvious place for budgetary cuts is funding for episcopal posts. After all, bishops have a disproportionately low personal effect on church mission and growth (their effect is in policy setting more often). The Diocese of Winchester could be brave and suspend the two suffragan posts, instructing the PM to appoint a new diocesan with sufficient energy to devote to the diocese. Parishes would have to understand that the bishop couldn’t do as many confirmation services, but be encouraged to band them together for the sake of diocesan funds. That would be radical, sacrificial and a more Christlike approach to budget cuts. It might even have a beneficial, mobilising effect on the diocese, and get us out of the ‘pointy hats for the boys’ mentality.

Author: Gareth Hughes

A priest of the Church of England, who is Chaplain of Hertford College, Oxford, and doing Syriac research at Oxford University.

One thought on “When cuts happen to churches

  1. But as Bishops are not paid from diocesan funds suspending or merging their posts wouldn’t make any difference to the diocesan budget.

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