The Bishop’s Roadshow

Michael Hinman, Reader, reports on the recent roadshow

Bishop Donald Allister has led four roadshows across the diocese this year and the local one was held at Greetham Valley Golf Club on April 29th, attended by a fair number of Rutland and district clergy, lay ministers, churchwardens and others. Along with two members of the laity, the Bishop gave four addresses, on Vision, Realism (two talks) and Confidence.

Particularly in the Vision section, Bishop Donald referred to texts from Paul’s letter to the Ephesians, an epistle which sets forth God’s big picture for his faithful people. The Bishop wanted us to see the big picture because at the parish level we can become disheartened and have too limited an idea of what the church is about and what it is for when congregations are small. This was the most ‘spiritual’ section because the Bishop argued that not only did God raise Jesus from death to live in the spiritual realm where all things would become subject to Him, but that they would be subject to Him for the church’s sake; the church’s purpose was to make the spiritual forces aware of God’s wisdom and plans. Also, we are ourselves part of the spiritual realm insofar as the Holy Spirit dwells within each ofus.

The first Realism section brought us back down to earth because it was about money (the Bishop left part of the address to a layman). Whereas congregational members only give 3.1% of income to the church, we were encouraged to give 5% of our income to the church and 5% to other good causes; ideally, this should be gross rather than after we have deducted what we pay in taxes, but the widow’s mite was not despised. Average giving in the diocese is £10 per head (the 3%) when it should be £16 (the 5%), so the Bishop was hoping that giving would increase at least by 5% per annum over the next five years. It was explained that in this diocese the laity pay clergy pensions so that the ordained have more ready money with which to buy somewhere to live when they retire; removal expenses are paid, and there are some grants towards refurnishing vicarages. In this diocese, curates are paid for out of diocesan funds rather than at parish level, and Bishop Donald was keen to maintain the number of clergy because, in his experience, if you reduce the number of clergy and keep on merging parishes the number attending church declines. In answer to questions, the Bishop said that reserves should only be maintained if earmarked beforehand for a particular project (for example a kitchen or toilets in church). Where a parish was served exclusively by a Self Supporting Minister, it did not have to pay its full parish share. Although vacancies helped to fund the deficit, the Bishop’s policy was that a parish ought not to be without a priest for more than five months; this was less than had been the case, which meant less money for the diocese, but it was better for the parish.

The second Realism section examined ministry. The Bishop stated that only attending to the faithful flock did not grow the congregation, so clergy ought to interact with other people beyond it. The clergy ought not to try to do everything in a church but have a shared-ministry team where others’ greater gifts were exercised, whether or not by licensed ministers of whom there were now 250 in the diocese (in our benefice’s case they are lay readers, parish evangelists and a lay pastoral minister). Rather than being a one-man band, the priest should be like the conductor of an orchestra who draws out talents while keeping things together. The diocese hoped to establish a branch training centre in the former Saint Mark’s church in Peterborough because it was inconvenient for people from our end of the diocese to have to travel to Bouverie Court in Northampton for training.

The fourth session (on Confidence) moved back towards higher things with an acknowledgement that the clergy have a special, sacramental ministry. We should be aware that we are sinners and apt to fail, but God has used people like us since Old Testament times We are to believe that the local church is God’s way to bless the local community and that God blesses the spiritual realm though the church.

Michael Hinman