The Synod (or ‘parliament’) of the Anglican Diocese of Leeds, meeting in Harrogate at the weekend has given unanimous backing to a budget and ‘sustainability’ plan designed to reduce the financial deficit currently facing the diocese.
Lay and clergy leaders from across the diocese met at Ashville College for the first meeting of the new triennium (or three year term) with a challenging agenda which included both the budget, passed unanimously, and a five year Strategy for the diocese which narrowly failed to command a majority and was sent back for ‘fine tuning’.
(Pictured) At the helm of the gathering were two chairs, the Chair of the House of Clergy, the Revd Canon Sam Corley, Rector of Leeds, who succeeds Canon Tony Macpherson of Wakefield Cathedral, and the Chair of the House of Laity, Matthew Ambler from Huddersfield, who succeeds Canon Ann Nicholl .
In his Presidential Address at the start of the 12th Diocesan Synod, Bishop Nick Baines spoke of the issues surrounding the Brexit debate and said that the church would have an important ministry of reconciliation in the months and years to come.
“Each church in each parish needs at the very least to ask what steps – simple and achievable – can be taken in the next few months to bring together what has been divided and begin a healing of what has been wounded.
“This is our mandate – a ministry of reconciliation between God and people and between people and other people. Regardless of the outcomes next March, the need in the months and years to come for common healing, common vision and common repentance will be demanding and urgent.”
Introducing the debates to follow, including the 2019 Budget agenda item, Bishop Nick told Synod members, “How we direct our finances tells the world what we really think matters – what we really believe about God, the world and ourselves as Christians.”
He added, “…we believe in mutual resourcing according to ability and need. What generosity looks like will differ according to context and the discipleship of the people. But, we cannot avoid the hard task and challenge of deciding together how we shall aim to fund the ministry and mission entrusted to us here in the Diocese of Leeds.”
Diocesan Budget 2019
Synod gave unanimous approval to a budget for 2019 which will see a reduction of deficit to £600k after proposed utilisation of £900k in restricted reserved. The improvement in finances will be achieved by a combination of measures – an overall 3% increase in the amount of Parish Share received, a freeze on the cost of ministry in parishes at 2018 levels, a reduction in support staff and central costs, and a reduction in property costs.
Geoff Park, Chief Financial Officer, said that already there were improvements in the financial situation. “It is fair to say that we have had a challenging six months. I would say don’t believe everything you read in the papers, but we have had challenges. We have been making difficult decisions and those decisions have been starting to have a positive impact on the financial situation. We are forecasting that [at the end of 2018] will be £1million better than we had budgeted for.”
But he added, “But much more difficult has been the impact on staff, upon lay members in the office in Leeds where we have had to … change pension benefits, look at some staff salaries and most difficult of all, to propose a redundancy programme. That was not made lightly … those decisions do have an impact on people… but we are not able to shirk our responsibility as stewards of this organisation to run it in a sustainable way.”
After much debate the motion put by Stephen Hogg was approved, “That the Diocesan Synod authorise (or direct) the diocesan Board of Finance to raise and expend a sum not exceeding £23,549,241 for the calendar year 2019.
Diocesan Strategy 2019 – 2024
A major presentation of the Diocesan Strategy, ‘Maturing in Christ’, was followed by a lively debate resulted in Synod asking for further ‘fine tuning’ to be done before being brought back to Synod in March 2019.
The five goals set out in the Strategy, underpinned by specific objectives and initiatives, are ‘Thriving as a distinctive diocese whose culture is shaped by a shared vision and values’, ‘Reimagining Ministry’, ‘Nurturing Lay Discipleship’, ‘Building Leadership Pipelines’ and ‘Growing young people as Christians’.
The Goals are set against a challenging context, set out in the Strategy document as ‘a retirement tsunami of clergy’, 'distressingly low numbers of young people and children involved in church life', 'unsustainable financing of church activities' and a 'relative shortage of applicants for clergy posts in the Northern Province.’
Proposing the Strategy, Bishop Paul said the document was not meant to be exhaustive. “We are looking for new ways of creating initiatives in line with the five Goals. It needs to be implemented and worked through in line with our financial resources…. The Strategy gives us a real opportunity at parish level to think through and to focus on what will help us to grow, to mature and to make a difference in the communities in which we are set. ”
Concerns raised by Synod members included a request for more emphasis on environmental concerns, a request for a simplified document for parishes and for more supportive material for parishes. Others welcomed the document and said they were excited by its contents. Before a vote could be taken on adopting the Strategy, a point of order to refer the document back for ‘fine tuning’ was narrowly passed by 40 votes to 38 meaning the revised Strategy will receive further work before it returns to Synod next March.
Grateful thanks from the Children’s Society
Other business at Synod included a presentation by the Revd Mike Todd of the work of the Children’s Society. Last year churches across the Anglican Diocese of Leeds raised £147,831 on behalf of the Children’s Society, with £52,103 raised through Christingle Services.
“A huge thank-you particularly on behalf of the children we help directly and the children that we hep through our campaigning and lobbying,” said Mike Todd.
Farewell after twenty-one years
There was warm applause from Synod as Bishop Nick thanked Revd Canon John Carter (pictured right), Diocesan Communications Officer and Paul Winstanley (pictured left) Diocesan Stewardship Adviser for their long service for the Diocese of Leeds and before that the Diocese of Ripon and Leeds (writes Chris Tate).
After twenty one years and some sixty-three diocesan synod reports, John will be leaving the diocese at the end of the year. "If there was a long service medal, John would be receiving it!" said Bishop Nick. Paul Winstanley, too, began in September 1997 and will be leaving next month having been meeting and welcoming delegates and helping ensure the smooth running of synods as part of the Staff team since then.