Diocese forced to make cuts amid Covid funding fall

Revd Julie Oddy-Bates take the service at Kirby Cane church where 4 candles were lit to remember tho

Revd Julie Oddy-Bates take the service at Kirby Cane church where 4 candles were lit to remember those who died in the Gillingham helicopter crash.Photo by Simon Finlay. - Credit: Archant Norfolk

Falls in parish incomes amid the Covid-19 pandemic could see a reduced number of clergy moved from rural parishes to urban and deprived areas and some church buildings closed to regular worship.

The Diocese of Norwich is reviewing where vicars are deployed after seeing a significant shortfall in parish share - the income that funds clergy posts and central services.

Church service during pandemic.

Worshippers during the coronavirus pandemic which has seen parish incomes fall. - Credit: PA

Led by the Bishop of Thetford, the Rt Rev Alan Winton, local consultation with deaneries and benefices across the county is seeking to reduce stipendiary clergy numbers by 10pc – around 15 posts.

The Rt Rev Graham Usher, Bishop of Norwich, said: “Like many charities we’ve seen a drop in our income, and we need to be wise stewards of the resources we have available to us.

“We’re not looking to make any clergy redundancies but will be reviewing posts as clergy retire or move to positions outside the diocese. 

Bishop of Norwich Graham Usher becomes Patron of Norfolk Community Foundation. Picture: Norfolk Comm

Bishop of Norwich Graham Usher. - Credit: Archant

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“We are looking to reduce the overall number of paid clergy serving the diocese by about 15 posts in the coming years, whilst also looking at how we might encourage vocations from those who can undertake ministry without receiving a stipend.” 

"We are also reviewing our central services, knowing that that this needs to be smaller and work differently.

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"People have been incredibly generous, even during these challenging times. They are supporting the life of the Church which in turn supports their local communities the length and breadth of the diocese.

“I want us to be in the best position to help local churches across Norfolk and Waveney to flourish. This means enabling parishes and their leaders to have the right support for their mission and ministry so that more people are reached with the message of hope that we find in Jesus Christ.

“We need a reality that's tempered with a hopefulness that the future will be brighter."

In future priority will also be placed on areas of deprivation with the lowest income communities, as well as areas of high population.

It is likely to see a rebalancing of clergy from sparsely populated rural parts of the county to more urban areas like Norwich, King’s Lynn and Great Yarmouth. 

Map of Norfolk parish, benefice and deanery areas.

Map of Norfolk parish, benefice and deanery areas. - Credit: Diocese of Norwich

Writing about the review in a consultation document, Bishop Alan states: “We currently have one benefice with a population of over 20,000 being served by one stipendiary priest, whilst there are a number of other benefices of less than 2,000 people also served by one stipendiary priest.”

Central support costs are also being reviewed with a view to making substantial savings and working towards achieving a balanced budget.

Historic England has awarded an exceptional grant of £280,000 towards the repair of Grade I listed S

The Diocese of Norwich has the highest number of medieval church buildings in the country, including Grade I listed St Mary’s Church in North Tuddenham.  - Credit: Archant

Meanwhile as the Diocese with the highest number of medieval church buildings in the country, it is also seeking to reduce the “increasing burden these buildings place upon many of our benefices”.

Bishop Alan added: “With fewer stipendiary clergy and pressure on resources, we need to agree a significant reduction in the number of church buildings that remain in regular use for worship.

The Bishop of Thetford and acting Bishop of Norwich Alan Winton. Picture: Ian Burt

The Bishop of Thetford Alan Winton who is leading the review. - Credit: IAN BURT

“Some buildings will need to be designated as ‘Festival Churches’, not required for regular worship, but remaining a local responsibility and asset.” 

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