Offering Plate 2
Church of England

Why are Church Commissioners throwing more cash at insolvent Diocese of Rochester?

 

The Diocese of Rochester is insolvent. That’s to say, its cash-flow in falls beneath its cash-flow out. The Diocese isn’t bankrupt, but it has manifestly been living beyond its means. If it hadn’t been for a few £1,000s of liquid reserves (actually, quite a few £100,000s of liquid reserves), they would probably be staring at bankruptcy. Quite what happens when a diocese goes into administration isn’t clear. Presumably, they don’t sell off the cathedral to the House of Saud.

The Bishop of Rochester, the Rt Rev’d James Langstaff, has written to all his clergy and told them that their stipends are frozen, recruitment halted, and all non-essential works projects are to be cut. Quite how the Bishop is defining ‘non-essential’ isn’t clear: the National Secular Society might have a few ideas. The objective is to balance the budget, and so austerity is the order of the day. All 239 churches in 216 parishes are expected to tighten their belts. They’re all in this together.

The deficits aren’t trivial, either. In 2015 the Diocese of Rochester ran a deficit of £604,000. It was forecast to be £557,000 this year. “This means that our present position is worse than expected because, while this has also been funded from reserves, those general reserves are now almost exhausted,” the Bishop said. Since “the remaining reserves are not sufficient to fund this deficit”, the Diocese is insolvent. Quite why the 2016 deficit is “worse than expected” isn’t clear: presumably, having learned from the state of affairs in 2015, if they did nothing to increase their income while doing nothing to reduce their expenditure, they must have totally expected to be another half-a-million quid down. What would the Financial Conduct Authority make of this?

Since the Bishop’s letter evidences a degree of chronic financial mismanagement – for living beyond one’s means year after year is, indeed, irresponsible (if, indeed, not immoral) – there are some serious questions to be asked at a senior level. Does the deficit-addiction precede Bishop James? If so, what did Bishop Michael Nazir-Ali know of the situation? Who authorised the overspend year after year? By what rationale was it nodded through? With what transparency? What accountability? How can the church in Rochester preach about good stewardship if it does not practise it?

A prudence of vicars can’t expect an outpouring of BBC/C4 empathy at their impending redundancy: that’s reserved for Tata steelworkers. The media don’t care much for the impoverished labourers who toil in the vineyard of the Lord. Their stipends are now frozen, workloads increased, and ‘Everybody out!’ isn’t an option. For clergy with children to feed today, ‘the Lord will provide tomorrow’ isn’t a very pastoral or caring response, is it?

But why, if the Diocese of Rochester has frozen stipends, postponed repairs on buildings, been forced to rent out its unused vicarages (why weren’t they already doing that?), cut back on training programmes and basically shown itself to be financially feckless, are the Church Commissioners and Archbishops’ Council throwing more cash at it as part of the ‘Renewal and Reform’ programme?

…The aim of the funding is to complement the formula-based funding distributed to dioceses each year, so they can benefit from additional resources to make a significant difference to their long-term mission and financial strength, by supporting major growth and change activity which fits with dioceses’ strategic plans.

Proposals will be evaluated throughout to ensure that learning for the wider Church can be captured and disseminated, complementing the new process of diocesan Peer Review, which is also a key part of Renewal and Reform.

The funding was awarded after a competitive process, in which dioceses were invited to put forward initial applications to the Task Group. Those proposals which were judged to meet the criteria most strongly were invited to submit detailed project plans.

…Further details on the projects awarded funding:

…Rochester: £665,000 to re-establish mission in Chatham Town Centre, planting a new worshipping community alongside missional outreach.

There is a certain irony (/irresponsibility) that a diocese which cannot resource its present to the tune of c£600,000 should be given that precise sum to resource its future. What discernment of strategic development does this evidence? What “major change projects” may be initiated if recruitment is frozen? What significant difference to their missional strength is possible if clergy stipends are frozen while new projects are funded? Surely you have to be faithful in small strategic plans before taking on bigger ones? Why are the Church Commissioners trusting the competence of Rochester’s Diocesan Board of Finance? Why are they funding a new worshipping community if the Diocese can’t afford to support existing ones?

The announcement included this note:

The new process of Peer Review seeks to ensure mutual accountability over how resources are being used and facilitate shared learning between dioceses about their plans for mission, evangelism and discipleship. This will involve meetings between the senior leadership teams of dioceses and a peer review team. The team will comprise three members drawn from a wide pool of peer reviewers, nominated by dioceses and the Archbishops’ Council, on the basis of their skills and experience and trained for the task.

Peer review is good: sharing best practice is good. How else may the task of mission be improved? What is not good is praying for an increase in income from parishes while making vicars redundant or not replacing those which are retiring. Congregations don’t generally appreciate being fobbed off with part-time visiting vicars: they tend to just leave their churches, which means they don’t give, which means income falls, which means more cuts, which means… oh, you get the picture. The faithful, humble, hard-working clergy of the Diocese of Rochester deserve better, and so do the people they serve.

Then saith he unto his disciples, The harvest truly is plenteous, but the labourers are few;
Pray ye therefore the Lord of the harvest, that he will send forth labourers into his harvest (Mt 9:37f).

Except in Rochester, where the harvest is plentiful, but the labourers must be cut because of past financial mismanagement. Austerity, you see: we’re all in this together. Except for the lost sheep of Chatham Town Centre, who will hear their (ring-fenced?) gospel and be discipled by their (new?) shepherd – to the tune of £665,000.

UPDATE (16.30):

A helpful response to this blog post has been received from David Jennings, Senior Strategy Officer, Resource Strategy & Development Unit, Church Commissioners and Archbishops’ Council:

Rochester response

  • len

    ‘The Church’ (as buildings) has become high maintenance ‘money pits’.
    ‘The church’ was never meant to become an Institution.’The Church’ was never meant to be linked to the State. As soon as the Church became ‘a building’ the State claimed ownership of the Church.

    Ok,’ the Ekklesia’ (Christians called out of the world) need somewhere to gather but that doesn’t have to be a building with a steeple?.
    Stop throwing money at maintaining vast empty buildings aand put it into preaching the Gospel of Jesus Christ….

    • David

      Hear, hear !
      If the State or local community wants to support all these structures, that’s fine. But the forward thrust and priority should be on evangelism – preaching the gospel to the lost.

      • Watchman

        My village (pop. 200 or so) church had to raise £22,000 to spend on the church roof some years ago. My question that we should raise £22,000 for evangelism was met with a deathly silence!

        • David

          Typical !

        • len

          That is really tragic.

    • Watchman

      We have a bounteous and generous God who has never reneged on paying for anything He ordered. One would think that the penny would have dropped with the CofE that they are full of dead works. What happened to the life of faith that grew the New Testament church?

      • len

        Compromise killed it.

  • sarky

    The cofe is just the bhs of the church world. Falling customer numbers, failure to understand those customers and an unprofitable property portfolio.
    All we need is someone to buy it for a pound and close the whole thing down.

  • David

    The Church is neither its buildings nor the expensive robes on the backs of its episcopacy. It is comprised of all those men and women who trust in the Lord Jesus Christ and who are linked to all the saints living and departed by The Spirit, through Word and Sacrament, guided by the unchanging Traditions of the Creeds.

    Having said that it seems to me that the bishops set out to alienate many of the core faithful through focussing not on evangelism, but on conforming to the politics and culture of this passing age. Their recent partisan approach to what was the greatest political decision facing this country since WW2, fully supported my view that they understand or care not for many of those who perch on their pews and contribute to their coffers. They are remote and insensitive to the needs of the people. How then do they expect to build up the body of Christ, or replace the funds that are needed to go forward ?

    But thank God for the remaining, orthodox and faithful workers in God’s vineyard – to be found amongst the humble ranks of local vicars.

  • Uncle Brian

    A dozen or more Catholic dioceses have filed for bankruptcy protection in the U.S., arising – in their case – from compensation awarded to victims of sexual abuse by clergy. The legislation governing insolvency and bankruptcy in the U.S. differs quite widely from British law, but there must be some areas in which the C of E could learn from the actions the U.S. Catholic dioceses have taken in similar circumstances. Here are a couple of links:

    http://blogs.wsj.com/bankruptcy/2016/06/03/judge-says-constitution-may-protect-bankrupt-archdiocese/

    http://www.bishop-accountability.org/bankruptcy.htm

  • Mike Stallard

    “‘Everybody out!’ isn’t an option.”
    Why not? The Rochester clergy are badly needed all over this country. They could soon get a living elsewhere with access to their grandchildren too. Also the burgeoning archdeacons/bishops/rural deans/diocesans could get another job elsewhere. Easily.
    Why not close the whole thing down now and have done with it?
    I am not being silly, I am genuinely asking what the Diocese of Rochester is for in 2016. PS: I know what is was for in 916 and indeed in 1916. But that is not my question.

  • Martin

    The answer is for every local church to support itself. And no one subsidises bishops.

    • sarky

      Ha ha ha they’d all be shut by Christmas.

      • Martin

        Sarky

        If they aren’t really churches that would be a good thing. If they’re really churches they won’t.

    • dannybhoy

      Let most of the old churches go, build or buy multi-purpose commercial units, or meet in school halls and community centres. We really don’t need all these old churches. They are cold, dark and often restricted by rows of pews, so that not much else can happen in them.

      • CliveM

        The pews can be removed.

        Generally I’ve found that living leadership and vibrant congregations turn old dead buildings into old, living buildings!

      • Dreadnaught

        Surprising as it may seem I enjoy visiting really old churches and graveyards. I think the British landscape would be all the poorer if they were to disappear or be converted into M….s.

        • sarky

          The best one I’ve been to was converted to a pub!!!

          • Dreadnaught

            Did they serve any Spirits?

        • dannybhoy

          Yes, you’ve said that before, and I agreed before. There is a streak of melancholy in me which finds an outlet in musing over old churches and gravestones and wondering about the people.
          But Dreadders, there is a huge difference between visiting these places and regularly paying towards the cost of upkeep..
          In any case I didn’t say to get rid of all of them, just some of them. :0)

          • Dreadnaught

            Dan, I always chip in on the way out. Maybe if the churches were put to multiple (secular) use might help with funds deficit.

          • dannybhoy

            Where that’s practicable, they should; but here in beautiful Norfolk there are so many little churches in out of the way places and where the populations have faded away. Our own church is on a hill, so access is difficult, human resources are few. I have another objection, and that is that it seems to me to be immoral to be continually raising funding and giving to keep a building going that is only used by less than twenty people.

      • Mrs Proudie of Barchester

        Goodness! Are the Philistines amongst us? No hobnobs for you my lad!

        • dannybhoy

          Pah!
          I currently have an unholy passion for ginger nuts..

          • Mrs Proudie of Barchester

            Goodness! Do I sense the whiff of dissent?

          • dannybhoy

            Not with you dear lady, and what would we do without Barchester and its doings..?

          • Mrs Proudie of Barchester

            Ah then all is well…

          • dannybhoy

            Of course.

      • Old Nick

        We had an Evangelical parson who tried that in the Group of parishes (sorry Mission Community) where I live. Started a weekly service in one of the village halls with guitars, Calvinism and stuff, did not come to the village fêtes (where he could have met all his flock, not just the Elect) and cut right back his presence at the village churches (a good half of which have been the places where people round here have gone to pray for over 700 years). He lasted about 18 months.

        • Uncle Brian

          I’ve read from time to time about Anglican clergy who are openly atheists or Resurrection deniers or historical Jesus deniers, but … Calvinists! I didn’t realise they’d flung the doors quite as wide open as that!

          • Old Nick

            Calvinists, oh yes. We have an NSM who takes the chance of every village funeral (folk round here still go to funerals) to preach a long sermon along the lines of “you will all go to Hell if you do not repent, and some of you are going anyway because you are not Elect”.

          • carl jacobs

            Ho ho ho. Very funny. Everyone is a comedian these days.

          • Well, not quite everyone, Carl.

          • Martin

            Brian

            The 39 Articles are Calvinist in nature.

          • The Explorer

            The C of E was a compromise between Catholicism and Calvinism. The Puritans were Calvinists, after all.

        • His flock are the elect.

          • Old Nick

            We are the sweet selected Few
            The rest of you are damned.
            There’s lots of room in Hell for you
            We don’t want Heaven crammed.
            I think you will find that the clergy of the Church of England have a duty to minister to the entire population of the parish(es) to whose pastoral care they have been inducted.
            Augustine explains frequently and clearly that the root of sin is superbia, and that is the sound which such Elect persons give off, as loudly as a trumpet in front of a Pharisee on his way to give alms.

          • Indeed. But the notion of the parish has contributed to the chaos that is the established church. It was all to easy for those living in a designated area to be considered part of the church (the flock) rather than a mission field. The result being a church of nominal believers carrying the name of Christian but being devoid of spiritual life.

            The elect, if truly elect, are far from being the heartless and haughty caricature you paint. Though it remains true that the gate is narrow and the road strait that leads to life and few there be that find it.

        • Martin

          Nick

          Doesn’t sound like Calvinism to me.

      • Martin

        Danny

        What we need is preaching houses, not fancy buildings designed to impress. And for that pews are ideal.

      • Watchman

        Or meet in people’s homes where they can learn, be disciples, grow in grace, learn to eat meat and not milk. You cannot be a living part of the Body of Christ if you simply sit in a pew and listen to today’s PC message from an institutionally indoctrinated man or woman in fancy dress who does not have fire in their belly for the lost. We need those faithful to the gospel to come out of dead institutions and take up the challenge of growing in the faith.

        • dannybhoy

          Well that’s right. I used to be involved in the house church movement, and we held Sunday services in a community centre and house groups during the week.
          I still think that’s the best way. From a theological pov,the Church aka the Body of Christ remains here on earth until He comes..
          So our principle mission is to be His witnesses until He comes..
          Everything we do is connected to that main mission to be His witnesses in the world.

  • dannybhoy

    At the diocesan synods I attended for about three years the main topic was always money. To be fair the CofE has enormous overheads in terms of building maintenance, meeting health and safety requirements, heating, lighting and insurances. Clergy aren’t by any means overpaid, but definitely overworked. It’s a vocation, a calling to be respected.
    The real problem is that as the Church has ‘broadened’, the Gospel has in many cases been diluted, and so the Church has nothing to say to the world save ” Be nice to each other, tolerate differences and don’t cause offence.”
    I am therefore not surprised that the Diocese of Rochester is in trouble, and I expect more will follow.
    The CofE has great potential should it return to its calling. Elsewhere some of us were discussing ecclesiastical leadership i.e. Bishops. The CofE has a structure in place that were it slimmed down and the dead wood cut out, could give a lead in revitalising and strengthening of the Christian Church in the UK.

    • David

      Wise words. I totally agree.
      There is nothing wrong per se with the C of E’s structure but it is just that it pushing a dead, worn out liberal agenda – the one that got us into this mess in the first place. Currying favour by bending with the winds of moral relativism has been disastrous.
      But if the undiluted gospel of salvation through faith was preached we would begin to see a return to the pews. The Church must offer the surrounding culture challenge and hope, but never succumb to it.

    • Mrs Proudie of Barchester

      When cutting out the deadwood please leave Barchester alone: my Lord the Bishop is doing a splendid job…with guidance, naturally.

      • dannybhoy

        O the deadwood rage is a’comin’ on over the hill..!
        Cuts to be made cos the Church cain’t pay it’s bills..

        • Mrs Proudie of Barchester

          You have clearly been on Mother’s Ruin…am sending the Band of Hope round immediately with cocoa and a copy of Samuel Smiles…

          • dannybhoy

            Laugh!
            Only you could write that line.

      • carl jacobs

        Women don’t provide guidance. They say “My Lord, if you say it’s the sun, then it’s the sun.” This is the essence of the Created Order.

        Well, that and making sandwiches.

  • carl jacobs

    This is not a bad thing. This is a good thing. Cut loose the compromised hierarchy, and the Liberal church will expire. You wouldn’t be talking about “good disagreement” if that hierarchy didn’t exist. Stop funding it and let it die.

  • What about an application for EU funding?
    Oh, forgot.

    • chiefofsinners

      Forgot that the EU is an entirely secular organisation which subsidises just about everything except Christianity?

      • National lottery it is then.

        • chiefofsinners

          Perhaps the Archbishop’s Council would grant us £665,000 to spend on lottery tickets.

          • They’re going to need all they can get for compensations claims that are pending.

            The Church of England has offered a “whole-hearted apology” to hundreds of emotionally disturbed adolescent girls placed at a church-run children’s home where residents were drugged, locked up and physically and sexually abused over a 20-year period.

            A review published on Wednesday presented “harrowing” findings about Kendall House, in Gravesend. It found vulnerable teenagers were over-medicated on psychotropic drugs and tranquillisers to control them, locked in isolation rooms sometimes for days, and in some cases raped, during the 1960s, 70s and 80s.

            https://www.theguardian.com/society/2016/jul/13/church-of-england-apologises-abuses-kent-childrens-home

          • Inspector General

            And yet it was all state of the art care back then. The pills and things. Needless to say, the girls who were subjected to this discipline were in need of it at the time. The alternative was to let them run riot…

            Edit. Raped! There was no mention of rape. It was sexual assault, and even then it was alleged…

          • Don’t be such a donkey. You don’t drug children as a method of control.

            “Girls as young as 11 were routinely and often without any initial medical assessment, given antidepressants, sedatives and anti-psychotic medication. Often these drugs were given in dosages which exceeded usual prescribed adult levels. This served to control their behaviour, placing them in a constant stupor, restricting their ability to communicate or to learn, or have any personal autonomy.

            “These drugs put them at risk of numerous side effects, many of which were distressing. The effects of the drugs also increased their vulnerability to emotional, physical and, in a smaller number of cases, sexual abuse.

            “Those that resisted, challenged or overcame the effects of these routinely administered drugs faced sanctions. These included being locked in a room for long periods, and receiving emotionally abusive threats and actions. In a number of cases, even the slightest misdemeanours, the typical features of teenagers’ behaviour, were ‘dealt’ with by physical restraint, sometimes violent, and intra-muscular injections of powerfully sedating medication,”

            And did you overlook this:

            Two former residents reported being raped on the premises in the late 70s inside the “locked isolation room”, one allegedly by a male visitor to the home when sedated, the other, allegedly, by several male visitors on different occasions. None of the alleged perpetrators could be identified.

          • Inspector General

            One repeats, that is how it was then. We judge the past sympathetically, understanding how it was at the time, or at least we should do.

          • It was not universally so, Inspector. Whist drug use was fairly common to control the behaviour of particular children in the 1970’s and 1980’s, its widespread use throughout a home was not. Plus, it was not accompanied by physical and sexual assaults or throwing youngers into isolation for days on end.

          • The Explorer

            One has an image of innocents plucked from loving and stable homes and consigned to a hell hole.

            In reality, these were probably difficult girls from dysfunctional environments, placed in an under-funded and understaffed institution that ended up drugging them in order to control them.

            At least it doesn’t sound as if the staff themselves were guilty of rape. At worst, they could not control adult visitors, or rented out the girls for financial gain. When you look at girls in institutions and the Rotherham scandal, only the religion, and the scale of the abuse, appears to have changed.

          • “difficult girls from dysfunctional environments” – how terribly 1950’s of you.

          • The Explorer

            Maybe. I was simply trying to use the language of the time. They still spoke of ‘girls’ back in those days, for instance.

          • The Explorer

            Sounds appalling. What alternatives were available to the girls, other than being placed there?

          • They were probably placed there by local authorities who would have had a range of other children’s homes to choose from. In those days residential care was the main resource available for ‘troubled and troublesome’ young people.

          • dannybhoy

            The ‘troubled and troublesome’ young people are often the result of bad or non existent parenting, adults able to copulate, but not commit to a relationship for the sake of the kids.
            Unfortunately our society pretends that if the relationship doesn’t work the State system can step in. But the State can never do what parental love and nurturing can.

          • When the need arises we – the State – have to do our best though and that is not pumping drugs into kids – even “back then” in the 70’s and 80’s.

          • dannybhoy

            I agree Jack. Using the chemical cosh to keep children calm is shocking in a so called civilised society. The problem is though, that many of these children are so damaged by emotional deprivation and lack of nurturing by those that they regard as parents. It often results in self destructive behaviour, self harming and depression: and of course lashing out at the world around them.

          • Jack is aware of the nature of the problem. Just remember “we” are the State.

      • Anton

        Sounds like the C of E…

  • Terry Mushroom

    Sadly, this story doesn’t augur well for Rochester diocesan finances.

    http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-england-kent-36784814

    • Uncle Brian

      That’s terrible.The report seems to have been released just today, 30 years after the home was closed down. The Rochester diocese, already in financial difficulties, is now going to pay compensation to the women they so singularly and inexplicably failed, the BBC says, but it doesn’t say how many of them there are.

  • Inspector General

    The Inspector offers Len to the Bishop of Rochester. Perhaps the diocese can raffle him off. Unfortunately he does comes complete with a “The End is Nigh” sandwich-board, as if the bishop needs reminding…

    • carl jacobs

      You know there’s many a man with his life out of tune,
      Who’s battered and scared with sin
      And he’s auctioned cheap to a thankless world
      Much like that old violin,
      But the Master comes, and the foolish crowd
      They never understand,
      About the worth of a soul or the change that is rought,
      Just by the touch of the Masters hand.

  • Anton

    The faithful, humble, hard-working clergy of the Diocese of Rochester deserve better…

    I couldn’t agree more, Your Grace. But that isn’t all of them, is it? An alarming proportion will have liberal theological views on matters as basic as the Virgin Birth and the Resurrection:

    http://trushare.com/SURVEY/New%20Survey%20Page%20241003.htm

    Those with liberal views are nothing less than parasites on the body of Christ, taking church resources to sow doubt. St Paul did not mince his words about such men (and women); should we?

  • Uncle Brian

    David Davis has been appointed to the new cabinet position of secretary of state for Brexit, it says here. I look forward to reading all the comments that the usual suspects will be posting here at Cranmer’s in due course, not to mention His Grace’s own analysis, which I imagine must be already in the works.

    • Mrs Proudie of Barchester

      Oh calloo callay, frabjous day…oh come to me my Davis Boy…
      And wilt thou slay the Euwocky she chortled in her joy…

      • chiefofsinners

        ‘Twas Brexit and the slithy Gove
        Did gyre and gimble in the wabe
        All mimsy were the Borisgroves
        And the momeraths outDave.

        Beware the Junkerwok, my son.
        The laws that bite, the clause that catch.
        Beware the Tusk-Tusk bird and shun
        The frumious Strasbourg snatch.

        • Old Nick

          Brilliant

          • Anton

            Nay, brillig!

        • Mrs Proudie of Barchester

          fabulous…I tip my poke in your direction

        • David

          Excellent !
          Cranmer will soon appoint you Poet Laureate to Christendom.

      • Anton

        Did you say it was North Africa you had been to? Was that because they are all in southern Europe now?

    • Ivan M

      Either they will get the UK out, or all will die trying. Pretty serious by the looks of it.

    • Anton

      Boris at the FO will be a hoot. Meanwhile, let us be thankful that the man who, without mandate, caused our nation to recognise gay marriage vows as marriage, is no longer in power.

      • Dreadnaught

        I think Boris is being set up to fail – Diplomat he aint..

        • Uncle Brian

          There’s no shortage of diplomats at the FCO. If anything, they’ve got too many of those already. They don’t need an extra one.

    • IanCad

      Speaking as one who expects the worst from our leaders, and is rarely disappointed, it comes as a pleasant surprise. Somewhat offsets the serial incompetent, Hammond’s, retention in the Cabinet.

  • David

    Osborne is unseated – hurrah ! Cameron has received his due reward – a lousy legacy, hurrah !

    But the new appointments contain promise, the selections seeming sound to me.
    Boris may make a very good roving salesman. Certainly he will understand the historical and cultural contexts of the questions far better than that wet thing Hague. He’ll have to behave maturely though, as he did during the campaign. David Davis is a good choice to the Brexit brief. Hammond is a safe pair of hands for The Treasury.

    So far I’d say things look promising. But now it’s all about maintaining that steely resolve to drive forward a favourable deal for the UK using the leverage of their need to sell us products, being far greater than our need to buy them from the EU. There other suppliers and the customer is King, as Farage so aptly said !

    I particularly relish the thought of regaining control of our territorial seas, rebuilding our fishing industry and kick-starting the economic revival of our beleaguered coastal towns. A more fruitful relationship with Russia seems more possible now with Cameron gone, though that will take time and patience as the Russian bear is rightly a cautious creature.