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Update from March Synod

First published on: 30th March 2023

Last Saturday, Bishop David welcomed Synod members to their first meeting at St John’s House, Bury. In his opening address, he talked about Archbishop Stephen’s recent visit and his encouraging feedback about the work going on across our diocese. We were able to be open with Archbishop Stephen about what has worked really well and what we are still struggling with. Our new deaneries, along with their Area Deans and Lay Chairs, are adding real value to how we work better together; the vast majority of our mission community leaders are in place; and we continue to grow vocations to lay and ordained ministries. Bishop David reflected that much of what has gone well is because we have consulted on important new developments and been ready to explain the decisions that have been taken. Accountability is an important dimension of a well-functioning society and a well-functioning Church, and is hard-wired into our very understanding of God.

This led into a session in which Synod members were invited to reflect on the progress in the diocese over the last three years, and our most important priorities for the next years, as we continue to develop and implement our 2020-2030 strategy. An updated strategy document, based on this and other feedback, will be presented to Synod in June.

Joanne Haslam, Man Dio Growing Faith Early Years Adviser, led the worship with a creative session based on her work with children, that encouraged Synod to think about lay and clergy mutuality.

Synod was updated on the diocese’s approach to Lay Development and Discipleship – our response to Jesus’s commandment in Matthew 28 to “go and make disciples of all nations, baptising them in the name of the Father, of the Son and of the Holy Spirit”. Our vision is as clergy and laity working together across the diocese, to see all lay people deepening their personal faith, becoming confident in their calling as disciples of Jesus Christ and actively living out faith in church and in the world. Key milestones for the year ahead are to: establish a prayer community for the diocese; develop the #MoreThanSunday programme so that all mission communities can participate; provide support to church officers at deanery level; increase the number of people engaging with ALM training; and appoint the first round of focal leaders.

The financial results for 2022 were presented, showing an operating deficit of £900k. It’s a serious concern that the diocese continues to operate with such a large deficit and that there hasn’t been any significant recovery as we’ve come out of the pandemic. Parish Share has fallen by over £1m since the pandemic and we are one of the worst performing diocese in terms of recovery since 2019. Parish Share was lower in 2022 than in 2021. Over the last five years we’ve moved from a position of 90% of parishes paying Parish Share in full, to fewer than half our parishes paying in full. In 2023, there will be a big focus on working together to understand the reasons for the shortfall and to increase Parish Share paid. Although a commitment has been made for the diocese’s operating deficit to be funded from reserves for the short-term, given that Parish Share pays for clergy, if we are not able to turn this situation round together, there will need to be further reductions in clergy numbers in future years.

Abby Ogier and The Revd Vinny Whitworth fed back together on February’s meeting of General Synod and in particular the debate on Living in Love and Faith. They recognised the challenging nature of these discussions which had confirmed that opposing points of view are deeply held. They also talked about the need to journey together in love and hope as issues around human sexuality continue to be explored in the Church of England.

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