From the Rectory
March 2010

May I begin this issue of the magazine by wishing each and every one of you a most happy, healthy and blessed New Year. I pray that all your wishes might be granted and that 2010 proves to be a truly delightful time for you.

I would also like to thank those involved with the production of our monthly magazine. You might be surprised to learn that it doesn't appear by magic, a group of people give their time to make it happen. The editor, the proof readers, those who fold, collate and stitch it, and all those who contribute. Thank you. The last bumper issue was particularly good. Keep up the good work; we all appreciate your efforts, even if we do not always think to say so.

At the end of last year I read the pastoral letter from the Bishop of Winchester about the state of the dioceses financial predicament. It follows, by request. It was not, at least in my opinion very user friendly and therefore I 'topped and tailed it'...

You cannot fail to know, if you are a regular member of a church congregation, or indeed any member of the general public really, that the Church of England's finances are in a mess. The state of affairs is not just a concern for us here in Freemantle, even for Winchester Diocese. It is a problem for the Church nationally. In recent weeks the press and media have given considerable coverage to it. It thrives, as we all know, on bad news. The Bishop of Basingstoke and the Bishop of Winchester have both appeared on the television answering questions, although the answers didn't always, at least in my estimation, relate to the questions, which was a shame - it was a missed opportunity. The people in the pews could be forgiven for not engaging, or indeed, I suspect really understanding what was being said. 'Bishopspeak', did not, on this occasion, speak to its audience.

Simply put, the situation has gradually got worse over the past couple of years. This is in some way the Church's own fault. Parishes have consistently complained that they could not pay the amounts that the Diocese has asked as Quota, or Parish Share. These increases have been in the region of 5% year on year. For some parishes more than that, and for a few others, less, but on the whole 5%. Those who could afford to pay more, when asked, did and they have been supporting the poorer parishes in doing so.

In previous years when Winchester Diocese drew up its budget, it did not consult the parishes about what they could afford to pay, neither did they, it would seem, listen when parishes said that they couldn't pay. A figure was reached and agreed by Diocesan Synod which simply, to me at least, proves the point that Synod is nothing more than a rubber stamp. They agreed it, even though it didn't balance, which is when I stopped being a member, although that is not the only reason. Most of us could see that a large black hole was being created, but all that seemed to happen was that diocesan officials looked into it, scratched their heads and said, 'let's pretend it's not there', and carried on.

Earlier this year a new Diocesan Secretary was appointed. He looked at the budget and said, 'This is no good', and rejected it. A new budget had to be agreed. A new system has been introduced, the parishes have been asked what they can pay and the budget made it fit. William Green has been one of Deanery Finance members trying to get the figures in order. It's called cutting your coat according to your cloth. This is new and radical thinking. The Diocese has reduced expenditure and managed to shave 1.5million pounds from its budget. Why this couldn't have been done earlier is beyond me. What the Diocese is now asking from the parishes balances the budget.

The Bishop of Winchester issued the following letter to all parishes in the diocese to be read in Church. This is what it says:

'I am confident of this, that the one who began a good work in you will bring it to completion by the day of Jesus Christ.' (Philippians 1:6)

These words from Philippians, express the fundamental Christian Faith, which we are grateful to share, that God is actively at work within the Church and within every Christian, 'Making and Growing Disciples.'

Some time ago the Diocesan Synod, after a mature and lively debate, accepted the Bishop's Council's recommendation of a revised budget for 2010 created by the removal of 1.5million pounds of expenditure compared with the draft budget for 2010 approved by the Synod last May.

Once we saw clearly, in September, that the draft budget was not going to be fully funded, we judged that we had to take these steps. A Diocese not now in financial difficulties must ensure that this remains the case, and present a budget which it is as confident as possible will be funded. Other Dioceses, and other organisations largely or wholly dependent on voluntary giving, are finding themselves in a similar position and taking similar steps.

In its proposals to the Synod, the Bishops Council has been faithful to what we have discerned to be 'Our Calling under God' since the Bishop's Pastoral Letter of June 2004, to our commitment to 'Making and Growing Disciples', and to the development of a Church in every place that is Mission-led, Caring, Expectant, Learning and Generous.

So we believe that the Diocese will now be still better focused and structured for the ministries in which God is calling us to be engaged.

Some areas of work though, that we have considered important, have had to be given up; with the inevitable effect that some posts have been discontinued, and some valued colleagues face possible redundancy. We much regret the shock to these individuals and their families; and we are doing all in our power to assist them to find fresh posts, within the Diocesan office or within the Diocese more widely.

Where it may be possible to do so, for instance with regard to University Chaplaincy, we have undertaken to engage in conversation both with the University, and with ecumenical partners, and with others, to see whether there can be a package of wider 'ownership' and of financial support which could make it possible for the post to be sustained either fully or in part.

The new budget is based on the decisions, reported from each Deanery in September, about the level of Parish Share that they believed that they should contribute to the Diocese in 2010; and we now depend upon each Deanery rising to that commitment.

And then it is our prayer that as parishes and Deaneries understand the significant effects on the work of the Diocese of their decisions last summer, some may be moved to offer more than they offered then; and that all of us will review the levels of our Giving. There are already a few signs that this is happening, which we warmly welcome. If further funding is offered, the Synod is committed to giving first priority to reinstating the reduction, that we have made most reluctantly, from nine to seven in the numbers of first-post stipendiary curates that we appoint in 2010.

We ask you to join us in praying both for those individuals who are affected by the decisions of the last Synod, and then that all our parishes and chaplaincies, and the Cathedral, and all of us, will continue to grow more faithful to our Lord, and more effective and attractive to His service.

+Michael Winton and +Trevor Basingstoke

There is in this letter an interesting phrase, 'A Diocese not now in financial difficulties'. This could easily mislead or cause us all to relax and say, there's nothing now to worry about. There is still plenty to worry about. If the parishes do not now pay what they have said they will, we will be back in financial difficulties. We are struggling here in Freemantle to pay what we have agreed.

Each month our Treasurer tells us in this magazine the difference between what comes in and what goes out. In November alone our expenditure exceeded our income by a staggering 7,000. This despite all of our fundraising efforts, raffles, fetes, cake sales, dinners and all the rest of it.

A couple of weeks ago I had my annual ministerial review with the Bishop of Southampton. He asked me about my ministry, what I was doing and how things were going, had I thought about retirement and so on, and yes I have thought about that one. And then he said, is there anything that is particularly on your mind? I told him that during the past fifteen years in ministry I have had not one day when finance has not been on the agenda, I said I found it demoralising and inhibiting. It has coloured every day of my ministry. He listened, we parted - he has now moved to Nottingham!

'I am confident of this, that the one who began a good work in you will bring it to completion by the day of Jesus Christ'

Well! Let's hope so, because the Advent of our King is just days away. Amen.

[Sermon preached on 13th. December 2009]

Yours for Christ's sake.