Is this a once in a lifetime opportunity to set the Church of England up differently for mission and growth rather than decline? It may well be but there will be a heavy cost paid by some.
The Church of England is not immune to the financial difficulties that have come from the recent pandemic. My own diocese has taken out multi million pound business continuity loan as well as receiving hundreds of thousands from central church funds. That will however only paper over the gaps for a short time. The bottom line is income to all churches and all dioceses is down significantly. With the second lockdown and no knowledge of when we will return to a semblance of ‘normality’ the institution of the Church of England has to plan now for the future.
Like most other organisations the greatest expenditure is on people. Unlike most other organisations it will not be quick to change that. The process for pastoral reorganisation that will result in redundancies is likely to take between 18 months and 2 years depending on who you speak to. So each diocese needs to look towards budgeting for 2022 and 2023 and estimating what the income will be! Not an easy task.
The bottom line is that many stipendiary clergy across the whole of the Church of England are likely to be made redundant. Think for a moment what that means and the pain that will be felt in every one of those households. It will mean not only losing the income of a stipend, but also the security of housing, as that will go as well. It means cutting themselves off from the community that they have been serving, in my case for 17 years. They will have to find new housing for themselves and their families outside of the parish where they serve. They may well apply for vacant posts, but as many are made redundant the ‘competition’ for these will become difficult. Some will not be able to find another post within the Church of England. That’s a massive ask, but it is now inevitable.
Will the pain be borne primarily be clergy and their families, or are our church communities willing to bear a share of the pain as well? If our church communities still expect their services to continue as before, if they still expect the vicar to be a governor on the board of the local church school and if they expect the same level of leadership and pastoral care as before, if there is an expectation that communion will still be the primary expression of worship then it will all have been in vain.
If we are going to go through the pain barrier it must be worthwhile. And the only way it can be that is if we reset our structures for mission, growth and evangelism rather than the maintenance of long held traditions and how things have always been done.
Are you prepared to share the pain that is coming down the road along with Vicars, Priests-In-Charge and Rectors?
I must also ask will the pain primarily be felt in the parishes? I was speaking to a friend a few weeks ago who said that since the 1950s the graph of Anglican Church attendance has been in a severe downward direction, however, he contended, at the same time the number of Bishops in the Church of England has been on an upwards curve! Will the changes impact on the senior posts in equal measure to parish posts?