The Church of England has today published two further papers as part of the “reform and renewal” programme to be discussed at the February meeting of the General Synod.
The report Resourcing the Future Task Group is published here. In a video and blog introducing the report Canon Dr. John Spence, Chair of the Finance Committee of the Archbishops’ Council, who chaired the task group said:
“We are here to help every parish, deanery and diocese achieve its goals. The totality of the reports published this week represent a coordinated response to a proven and vital need….the need to respond to those dioceses who have asked for us to help inject other expertise on strategy to help turn their ambitious plans to reality.”
In a summary of its recommendations the report “proposes a fundamental shift: removing the current formula systems which provide mechanical, ineffective subsidy and replacing them with investment focused on fulfilling dioceses’ strategic plans for growth, and with a strong bias towards the poor.”
The report also notes that “The Church as a whole needs greater ‘institutional agility’ – its legal structures and its ministry and resource patterns need to be more flexible to respond to its mission challenges. The National Church Institutions need to develop a more effective partnership with dioceses. The dioceses’ aspirations to grow and have more leaders are likely to require significant new investment.”
Describing the origins of the work of the group Canon Spence writes “We started with all the research findings contained in the Anecdote to Evidence book published a year ago. That pointed to a declining and ageing Church of England population. Projecting the findings forward made us see the real threat to the presence of our Church, not only in every community but in large parts of rural and urban England.
Each of us has a personal Christian mission to help the Word of the Risen Christ reach out. In other words, we need to change this trend and start securing growth – not just in some places as at present, but with a more uniform pattern across the country.”
The second paper released today is from Andreas Whittam Smith, the First estates Commissioner.
Entitled “Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it”, the paper addresses the questions of funding for the reforms proposed by the “reform and renewal” agenda of the task group reports and papers. The paper also reflects on the history of the Church Commissioners funding of the mission and ministry of the Church and what lessons can be learned at a time when increased levels of funding may be sought.
“Rightly the Commissioners are the go-to body for any Church institution that is seeking additional funding. To provide a basis for responding to requests, the Commissioners have for twenty years relied upon the advice of their actuaries. Each year the actuaries calculate how much can safely be distributed after paying pensions and meeting statutory duties. The test is that this amount would still leave the endowment in a position to preserve its real value through time….
The question now arising is whether this admirable rule can apply when the membership of the Church is shrinking. One doesn’t want to arrive in a situation when a small Church of England has a huge endowment. Our successors might then wonder why we hadn’t used our financial strength to arrest the decline when there was still time.
This is precisely the issue that is now up for debate.”
Reflecting on the next steps Andreas comments: “However, before the Commissioners can make a final decision whether we should ‘over-distribute’ given our other pressing commitments and, if so, with what safeguards, we wish to know what is the opinion of Synod as expressed in next month’s debates. Indeed, without synodical support, we should not go forward.”
There is an opportunity to comment on both papers in a specially created online forum on the Church of England Website: