Last Sunday every congregation in the Diocese of Winchester should have had read to them in full, the Pastoral Letter issued by Right Revd’s Michael Scott-Joynt (Bishop of Winchester – pictured) and Trevor Willmott (outgoing Bishop of Basingstoke). It followed up the previous weeks Diocesan Synod meeting that made £1million+ cuts to the budget, by cutting a range of clergy and lay posts which I’ve posted about previously here and here.
I’m not sure if you can here the heartbreak in the words “we much regret”, but I am quite sure it is there. The hurt is probably in the fact that they feel they have no other choice. Certainly the Diocesan Synod had to attempt to balance the books. Where the cuts had to be made can, has and will be further debated I’m sure. It is good at least to see the acknowledgement that where possible other solutions will be sought.
I wonder how much those of us who sit in the pews of the Diocese can echo the sentiment “we much regret” with a reasonably clear concience, having contributed all they are able to the ministries that are among those most valuable to our shared mission in Christ in the region. This household has now increased its giving twice this year, most recently following all this news, but can’t go further. Whether or not you live in the Diocese of Winchester, your own church leadership are probably facing similar decisions to Winchester’s: can you help by responding with commitment?
What I wonder though is if the Pastoral Letter itself was used as effectively as it might be? I missed the reading of it here in St. Peter’s (I was preaching at HMP Winchester) but I understand from G that the most was not made of it at one service at least:
- the full impact of the cuts on our parish (we won’t get a curate next year unless unexpected giving allows the Diocese to rescind the cuts in stipendiary curates) was not explained;
- the congregation were not directed towards the inside features of our church newsletter ‘Crucial’ (bottom of page 2) issued that morning that highlighted some of issues and actions required to change the situation;
- there was not a call to prayer or action, but rather the service simply ended with a song.
There may well have been good reason for this, as I suspect the service leader was not privy to the contents of the letter and possibly not the background to it, so would have been ill equipped to respond appropriately (one of the problems in a parish with so much lay leadership is communications). But was an opportunity missed?
Further afield, but still within the Diocese, I now know that in one parish the vicar forgot to bring the letter with him, tried to give a precis of it, and didn’t attempt to explain any background, or suggest prayer or action. According to the first-hand source, the impact possible, was totally lost.
It is a pity that “proclaiming the mystery of Christ” costs money, but we have to connect that Gospel with the world we live in. Where is our commitment? Partnership in the Gospel surely requires us to make the most of every opportunity, and that our conversation be full of grace ? (Colossians 4:2-6) We have to live with the fact that ‘grace’, though freely given by God, is not always easy to either offer or receive.