Addressing the clergy this week, Bishop Stephen revealed the perilous state of diocesan finances and the steps that are already being taken to address the growing problem.
As the impact of the pandemic becomes clearer, there are still many questions in the Church about the ‘new normal’ and, in particular, the Church’s future after lockdown with attendances at Mass still limited, not only by social distancing, but also insecurities about the effects of the virus in the longer term. At an early stage during lockdown, Bishop Stephen made a financial appeal, his first in 42 years as a priest, for support for parishes and the wider Church community. With the churches closed, collections have fallen dramatically and new methods were needed to be set up for online giving and contactless payments in our churches.
Bishop Stephen said, “As you will know, the Diocese in recent years, for all sorts of reasons, has been plunging deeper and deeper into debt. Over the last twenty years and more, both state legislation and the Church have required the Diocese to implement a number of costly measures – seventeen in all.”
These demands on the Church’s resources include – property repairs; OPAS (online parish accounts) and gift aid management; assistance with parish accounting; employment law; health and safety; insurance requirements; safeguarding; charity law; company law; GDPR (data protection); human resources expenditure; payroll and pensions management; professional fees and legal and accounting
Traditionally these Diocesan Curial costs are met from levy on the parishes which is set in proportion to each parish’s population and potential income. The basis for the calculation of this levy has remained unchanged for over 20 years – despite changing populations, falling roles, and other demographics.
With sights set on a fairer and more sustainable system, Bishop Stephen said, “the Diocesan levy has not been touched for over twenty years and, due to the above-mentioned increasing demands on financial resources, the annual deficit has become unsustainable at around £350k-£400k over the past decade or so.
Bishop Stephen indicated that part of this deficit would be made up by making substantial savings at Diocesan level, in the Curia, and that these savings were already in hand. “We have made redundant several posts in the Curia making substantial annual savings to the diocese.
Bishop Stephen added, “I am deeply grateful to these colleagues for what they have achieved in the diocese in the past and thank them for their contribution”.
Further, “Plans are in place for this slimmed down Diocesan Curia to be transferred to the single storey building of St Anne’s on the edge of the current diocesan estate from mid-June 2021. This will also give considerable further savings on utility and maintenance costs over the present Pastoral Centre and Curial building.”
“The Immaculate Heart of Mary Sisters are to move from Lawside to the church house at St Mary’s Forebank, within the city of Dundee.”
“The activities normally carried on in the Diocesan Pastoral Centre will also move to the extensive hall complex of St Mary’s Forebank, Dundee, which will be equipped with the audio/visual equipment from the existing Pastoral Centre – together with the recently donated public address system from St Joseph’s Chapel. Our live streaming capability will be moved to St Andrew’s Cathedral.”
These moves will now mean that the Diocesan Pastoral Centre and Curial offices, formerly St Joseph’s Convent, Lawside, are now to be prepared for sale and a commercial property company has been engaged to market this valuable real estate.
Fairer parish levy
“Since this necessitates a discussion of viability, and what that might mean, an audit of parish demographics, the physical state of parish properties and the affordability…
Bishop Stephen added, “Some months ago a financial sub-committee was convened to examine the problems thrown up by these extra diocesan financial burdens brought about by increasing State regulation and other mandatory activities.”
“This major piece of work is now complete, and an attempt has been made to distribute fairly the extra expenses incurred over these years on the basis of the ability of a parish to contribute to them, rather than impose an ‘across-the-board’ levy increase.”
Towards the future
Beyond these immediate measures, the diocese has set up a Strategy Group to examine Pastoral provision across the whole Diocese, and will bring their findings to parishes, deaneries and to the Priests’ Council for consultation.
Initially, the key concern of this Strategy Group will be to conduct an audit examining the viability of parishes, according to a number of criteria:
– the number of practising parishioners; the number of non-practising parishioners; the overall parish income; the condition of parish property; the distribution of priests; the viability of any Mass centres which may be attached to parishes; the changing population demographics in parishes, deaneries and across the diocese; any particular pastoral challenges in individual parishes; provision of priests in parishes and across a deanery; and the population and age demographics of priests; the pastoral provision of Masses and sacramental celebrations, including any over-provision of Masses provided for a particular town or area.
Obviously, these cannot be the only criteria to be examined in the discussion of the future of a parish, as many other factors have to be taken into account. But the physical state of parish property and the economic state of a parish can be an early indication that the long-term continuity of a given parish community may be called into question. This is obviously a work in progress, and as a work in progress, the results will go before the various consultative bodies for assessment and consultation, as and when things become clearer.
Bishop Stephen has called for prayers and reflection during the months ahead whilst this research and these consultations take place.
It was once said that ‘we stand on the shoulders of giants’. The history of the Church in Dunkeld owes so much to the vision and foresight of its forebearers. We owe it to them to pass on what we have received in a sustainable state.”