|Dear Friends, |
Government recovery strategy announcement
Yesterday, the Government published its COVID-19 recovery strategy, which followed the Prime Minister’s speech to the nation on Sunday night. Step Three of the published roadmap, which outlines the possible lifting of restrictions currently in place, talks of an ambition to, “open at least some of the remaining business and premises that have been required to close, including… public places (such as places of worship).”
Although the earliest date this step would be implemented is given as 4 July, we can pray this is now the beginning of the journey towards the opening of our church buildings later in the year. Even when churches can be reopened they, like other buildings open to the public, will still need to meet the necessary health guidelines and it is envisaged by the Government that not everywhere will properly be able to facilitate social distancing. Equally, it is clear that the Government roadmap’s timescales are at this stage provisional and conditional on ongoing scrutiny of the latest scientific data in the fight against the virus. We will, nevertheless, continue to be in touch with parishes to support them ahead of the potential lifting of restrictions, so that they can be fully prepared.
People and finance
We previously reported that a significant number of diocesan office staff are on furlough, making an important contribution to reducing expenditure during this period of intense financial pressure. With the agreement of the Bishop’s Council and DBF Trustees, we have also asked our stipendiary training curates to consider taking furlough for a period of up to two months, further contributing to cost-savings in the short term. There are a number of key factors which have been considered in taking this step: Although clergy have duties as office holders, the training curate is the role which most clearly involves assisting with the discharge of their training incumbent’s duties. Curates who are in training make a valuable contribution to the life of the benefices. Other clergy and lay-ministers, with whom curates serve, will continue to minister in their absence.Furlough is taken voluntarily – this is something we have invited individuals to do, and not all have accepted, depending upon the circumstances of the individual and the benefice. A person on furlough is not allowed to continue working or take other employment, however they are allowed to undertake training and study. Curates on furlough will be able to work on their formational study and IME2 portfolios.
Although the government will pay 80% of their stipend, the DBF will top up the remaining 20%, so there will be no loss of income to individuals. The cost saving is a short-term one, but the wider impact is a contribution to the future security and sustainability of our mission and ministry across the diocese. In total, 14 curates have agreed to take furlough for varying periods between now and the end of June. We recognise that stepping away from ministry at a key time for the Church and in their vocational training is a challenge and a sacrifice, and we are tremendously grateful to them for that contribution. Taking these steps, however, is essential with the DBF predicting a large income shortfall during the COVID period of social distancing and isolation.In this context, it is worth noting that our diocese is not benefiting from the additional financial support announced by the National Church – this will be targeted at those dioceses most in need. The immediate steps we have taken to secure our finances have previously been outlined, but we may yet need to make further significant reductions in expenditure to address the long-term deficit from CMF shortfalls. We had already predicted a 10% shortfall (similar to 2019) before the COVID outbreak. We are also highly conscious that, on average, parishes gain 20% of their income from hall lettings and commercial activity, all of which have stopped. Meanwhile, 8% of diocesan income is derived from fees and a significant amount of this has ceased.
The figures are undeniably sobering. Our parishes and people, like the rest of the country, remain under huge pressures, social and economic – yet they continue to provide inspirational service, and sacrifice, for which we are enormously grateful.
Meanwhile, although the Government’s roadmap cannot answer all of our inevitable questions, it at least now allows us to plan together for a more hopeful future.
With our prayers for you all,
Bishop Tim, Bishop David and Bishop Debbie
And the Bishop’s Staff Team:
Andrew Robinson, Diocesan Chief Executive
Catherine Ogle, Dean of Winchester
Peter Rouch, Archdeacon of Bournemouth
Richard Brand, Archdeacon of Winchester
Mat Phipps, Bishop’s Chaplain