Bishop of Lichfield's Focus for 2012

Published: 1st January 2012

When we were moving into our last parish a drunk called on us, demanding money. I got him to paint some bookshelves and paid him for it. I always regretted that because he left terrible streaks of paint on the shelves. Dave became part of the cycle of church life in that parish, a bit like Colin in Rev! He would be away for months as a guest of her Majesty and then return without warning. When he was sober he deeply regretted hurting his mum and would ask for prayer at the back of church. When he was drunk he would throw books at the lesson reader and disrupt the service. Thirteen years later when we left that parish and packed our streaky bookshelves Dave turned up and said to Jane, Hey,Babe! We go back a long way. It certainly felt like that. I expect most parishes have a Colin or a Dave.

But first, a big Thank you to all of you. Thank you for your faithfulness to the Gospel, your continued ministry in this Diocese and for continuing to give financially to support the mission and ministry of your own local church, and other churches throughout out large and diverse diocese. Its wonderful that in the depths of a recession when many are seeing their incomes fall, and outgoings rise, you have continued to give. This has meant that the parishes have contributed almost all of what we asked of them, and we have been able to pay the clergy stipends. Although the figures show that we are in a stronger position than many other dioceses, five issues concern us:

  1. Statistics project that 40% of our clergy will have retired by 2020.
  2. Pensions are costing more and more of our expenses.
  3. The Lichfield share of the old pension surplus of around 650,000 p.a. will cease next year; there is no indication as yet that parishes are willing and able to raise that extra money.
  4. Parish Share is taking a large part of parish income and so parish reserves are eroding.
  5. Because some parishes have paid their Share only at the last minute we have had to borrow money—because we dont want the clergy to have to wait until the end of the year before being paid. If more paid more by direct debit we wouldnt have to pay to borrow.

So as a diocese we have a simple choice. Either we give more, or we will have to make some cuts in the number of stipends. The figures are not huge. On average we each give 3.2% of our money away, which is a great deal less than a tithe or tenth. And our situation isnt driven by finance alone. With the number of retirements expected within the next decade, we also need people to respond to the call of God.

Of course we are all called to ministry of one sort or another, the question is, who, in your parish or benefice, is being called to ordained or authorised lay ministry? Could it be you? A year ago we launched the Plain Speaking process so that every deanery and PCC would be able to see where they are on a grid which measures resources on one axis and mission on the other.

The results have now come in and will enable everyone to make comparisons about sustainability and how much we should step out in faith for particular parishes. It will be up to each PCC and each Deanery to come before God and pray for guidance about where, as a diocese, we should place our resources, and where our clergy should be deployed. If the current financial situation remains, we are looking at a reduction of at least 13 clergy over the next two years. This is a small number out of the 300 stipendiary clergy in the Diocese and small compared with the much larger cuts being made elsewhere, but it is large for a diocese which has been going for growth.

However we have always known that pruning is part of healthy growth. We have time to bring before God our requests and to ask him humbly to provide the extra resources we need. So my message to you is not a despondent one, nor is it about decline or shrinkage, because God is doing great work among us, and we are listening out for His guidance. Have you noticed that the Four Primary Purposes have been refreshed into five themes, partly prompted by the visit of the Archbishop of Canterbury last year? They are:

  1. Discovering the Heart of God. (The Rule of Life card and the new Community of St Chad are two initiatives designed to revive our worship and prayer life.
  2. Growing Disciples. As we look ahead to a changed church by 2020 it is clear that in many places our lay people are a largely unused resource. For over 40 years we have emphasized the calling of all the baptized to be the Church. Ever since the Tiller report we have spoken of moving from a static view of church, as a priest with a congregation and a beautiful building, to a dynamic view of a group of Christians being trained for the Kingdom and building a loving community.
  3. Reaching New Generations. One of my deepest wishes is to bring more children and young people into our churches and to a living faith; and I have asked for a new youth strategy to be developed this year.
  4. Transforming Communities. We are making new ,exciting connections between the world of work and our faith and to address the global need for a more moral market. 
  5. Practising Generosity. God has given us more than enough resources to be his Church—and these resources are in our bank accounts! We trust that these five themes will help us prioritise, and will guide us as a diocese in our discipleship and faithfulness. You can find them on the Rule of Life Prayer card or on the Diocesan Website.

So I invite all churches to set aside a suitable date as a day of prayer for renewal and growth in Lichfield Diocese. A few weeks ago, out of the blue, after 15 years, we received a letter from Dave the Drunk. Did we remember him? Yes we certainly did! He told us hed moved to a new town, hed been dry for 12 years, hed become a Christian, and now spent his time in an agency helping others come off drink. In Gods mercy apparently hopeless situations can change. And we are called to be agents of hope for God, in all our churches. May 2012 be an exciting year, as we face the challenges of our time with courage and determination. Heavenly Father, send your gracious Holy Spirit upon us, so that we can discover your heart; grow new disciples, reach new generations, transform communities and practice generosity together.

Through Jesus Christ our Lord

Amen - Jonathan Gledhill

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