Diocesan Synod - November 2011

As well as the issue of women bishops, Synod debated parish share collection and statistics for mission.

Parish Share - Reversing the Trend

Mike Eastwood, Diocesan Secretary, introduced a debate on Parish Share by outlining the situation our diocese faces. Reiterating that if we hadn't made changes around the Diocesan Review in 2001 we would have annual deficits of £2 million by now which would be unsustainable. 

He stated that from a finance point of view we are effectively a single issue diocese - the determinant of our future health & viability is our Parish Share collection rate. So a 1% fall in Parish Share collection would amount to nearly £70,000 – this is 2 stipends.

For purposes of presentation Mike outline 3 categories of parishes:
  1. Parishes who pay Parish Share in full – which is the vast majority
  2. Parishes who are trying to pay in full but currently unable – a small minority
  3.  Parishes who frankly don’t care – also a small minority
He said we want to affirm the first two positions while challenging those in the third
category.

Mike emphasised that intention is everything. Where churches have good intentions on
Parish Share we want to work with them and support them; when they don’t we want to seriously challenge it.

The Parish Share Payment Plan is the means by which this intention is expressed. It will outline how churches are looking to get back to full Parish Share payment – however long this may take. It will only be the “can’t pay/won’t pay” parishes that will be unable to produce a Payment Plan.

Mike stated that biblically the New Testament is strong on mutuality and mutuality of financial responsibility with the body of Christ. Mutuality underpins the Parish Share
system in Diocese of Liverpool. Therefore default in one parish is a burden for another.
Diocesan Synod

Mike explained that financial responsibility needs leadership. In Ezra when the exiles began to return to Jerusalem, King Cyrus issued a proclaimation about building the temple. ‘Family heads' of Judah and Benjamin, plus priests and levites, 'everyone whose heart God had moved', prepared to go and build the house of the Lord these are gifts from the people and the king.

This is a standard pattern of leadership and we need similar leadership on Parish Share.

The paper presented does not seek to penalise clergy where there is good intention – either on the part of clergy or on the part of their parish. The section in the paper on supporting a clergy move is simply that – supporting a clergy move if the incumbent feels that he or she has reached the end of the road with a recalcitrant parish.

And if there is a Payment Plan in operation the ‘sanctions’ against the clergy also fall at that point.

So what does the Parish Share paper aim to do:
  1. It helps people face up to the reality of the position. Not crisis yet - not crisis by any means. Default position is that people pay, and the majority of people who don't are trying to find ways into paying. But we could easily tip into unsustainability from here. Remember, intention is everything and supporting good intention is key.
  2. It puts information out in a way that thanks and affirms those that do pay, thanks and affirms those that are trying to find ways to pay and exposes those that are not.
  3. It gets to the point where we have financial freedom and shows the importance of reserves. Finance Committee set a minimum of 3 months’ reserves to ensure we can whether storms and orderly wind down.
We are practically aiming for 4 months to cushion from effects of stock market movements – notionally lost £350,000 this year – these are currently paper losses; if reserves become too low become actual losses. We don’t need limitless reserves. Certainly wouldn’t aim to have more than 5 months.

In normal year expect investment to grow by 4% – 6% = paper growth of £150k to £250k. In practice this paper growth has covered the financial losses through non collection of Parish Share and been able to maintain a stable financial position as we achieve the £2 million turnaround in diocesan finances mentioned above.

BUT

If Parish Share non collection consistently outstrips investment growth then diocesan finances simply grind down into unsustainability.
If we can get to top one, future really opens up for us because paper growth becomes real money, and real money brings positive choices.

In summary the current levels of Parish Share payment are becoming a significant threat to the health and viability of the diocese. If we see further slips from category 1 (churches who pay in full) into category 2 (churches who currently can’t) and from category 2 into category 3 (churches who effectively won’t) we will be in that downward spiral shown on chart 3. We lose freedom of choice and it inevitably ends up in cuts which in turn impact on mission and growth which lead to decline which leads to cuts. It’s not a good position.

If we can reverse the payment trend we can get into a much healthier position whereby we have choices around what to do with surpluses – set up growth funds, rebate to parishes or whatever. Wouldn’t that be a nice discussion?

Mike finished by saying “I don’t suggest all the changes in the paper are easy or indeed particularly palatable. I do however think they are absolutely necessary.”

You can download all synod papers here