Diocesan budget needs more than ‘minor tweaking’

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ACL Conference webpage

A conference on future funding of diocesan bodies has been told the Global Financial Crisis provides a great opportunity for change but not in the form of ‘radical congregationalism’.

The Anglican Church League organised an open forum on the Draft Statement on Funding Principles and Priorities for 2013-2015, presented to last year’s Synod by the Mission Board. Speakers at the Chapter House on February 18th included Dean Phillip Jensen, who was on the sub-committee which prepared the draft, GAB Chairman Bruce-Ballantine Jones, ACL Chairman Dr Mark Thompson and Senior Ministers Sandy Grant of Wollongong, Peter Lin of Bossley Park/Fairfield and Craig Roberts of Neutral Bay.

Dean Jensen told the gathering the diocesan budget did not need just “minor tweaking - we don’t live in that world anymore.” But he also cautioned against what he called ‘the politics of suspicion’. In order to turn the crisis into an opportunity for effective change, the Dean said “...what you need are cool heads, what you need to do is consult widely, listen carefully, think wisely and pray often and earnestly.”

At issue is whether there would be a return to assessments (or taxes) on parishes, removed in Sydney in the late 1990s but still in force in other dioceses. Since assessments were removed, diocesan operations have been funded solely by the two endowments, the Endowment of the See - for Archbishop and Bishops, and the Diocesan Endowment - for diocesan bodies and ministries.

GAB Chairman,Canon Bruce Ballantine-Jones, in a paper circulated at the meeting, said “While nobody likes paying taxes any fair‐minded person would accept that if there are not enough funds available from the DE and other endowments to do what  the  Synod wants to do,  the parishes must pay the difference. The  key  questions  are:  how much and for what?” 

The Draft statement put costs into six categories - Anglican essentials, Archbishop’s responsibilities, network essentials, Diocesan training, high priority Mission drivers and high priority Mission support.  Much discussion centred on which funding sources should fund which activities.

Rev Craig Roberts said since the diocese could be described as ‘episcopally led and synodically governed’ endowment funds should first be used to pay for those costs. He said mission costs should then be put to parishes. “If we can persuade parishes, that is the Synod, to fund mission work, we will have converted their hip-pockets and we will have a missional diocese like none other.”

Both Mr Roberts and Rev Sandy Grant disagreed with parishes being labelled ‘the front line of ministry’. “An Archbishop giving away ‘The Essential Jesus’ in a taxi or explaining the gospel on the radio, a chaplain visiting the dying and sharing the news of the resurrection hope, are engaged in the spiritual battle although they are centrally funded. But the fundamental, most basic ministry unit is the local church” Mr Grant said.

Rev Peter Lin, who comes from a church struggling to pay for ‘local essentials’ said the draft statement could downplay mission in the diocese.  “When we say look, there’s just not enough money and so our only other option is to go to the parishes, which are like our missionaries, I fear the beginnings of us leaning towards institutional thinking first.”

Canon Ballantine Jones said the categories in the document were  “too  complex  and  arbitrary. More  to  the  point,  there  is  no  inherent  mission  strategy  explained  or  implied  in  the  model,  just  categories  of  expenditure.” Mr Grant agreed much more discussion was needed “I’m not a radical congregationalist but we need to persuaded that every dollar spent on centrally funded ministries and services has a good likelihood of being more valuable than those dollars remaining in the local churches for local ministry, evangelism and generosity elsewhere” he said.

The committee which authored the draft, which also includes Bishops Hayward and Lee, will receive submissions from the meeting and a summary of points raised by discussion groups on the day.

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