We continue to live in extraordinary times. This Advent, as we wait expectantly and prepare for the celebration of the birth of Jesus at Christmas, Christians recall again the sheer generosity of God in our lives. Our response to God’s gift is to mirror that generosity through our lives and by the way we share our resources.
I have been so encouraged to hear of all that is being done by local churches at this time, everything from virtual Christingles, Christmas tree festivals, and online Advent calendars to providing food, clothes and gifts to those most in need.
Despite the unknowns of lockdowns and tier system levels, so much work has been put into planning services, reflections, and practical support for the communities we serve. The work our clergy and lay people are doing is so inspiring to see and hope filled.
I am also conscious that for some people, this has been the hardest of years with the loss of loved ones or work or opportunities. Many are struggling financially and some of our communities have been hit very hard.
Being part of a community of faith means to care for others and to support those individuals and communities who are struggling.
This care for others, even beyond your own community, has long been part of Christian teaching. St Paul wrote to the young Church in Corinth to encourage a collection for the Church in Jerusalem many hundreds of miles away, saying, “You will be enriched in every way for your great generosity, which will produce thanksgiving to God through us.”
As has been reported, we are facing financial challenges in our parishes and as a diocese. I have a deep concern about our ongoing income that funds the local ministry of the Church. I am grateful for everyone’s efforts in ensuring that this situation isn’t worse. It is still a deeply challenging situation but with prayer, the seeking of wisdom, and carefully planned actions we can come through it.
This isn’t unique to us; many charities are feeling the pinch and are having to change what they are doing and how they do it. Earlier this year I asked for urgent work to be done to look at how the mission and ministry of the Church can flourish whilst financial costs are reduced.
This includes a review of the deployment of paid clergy which will guide the overall aim of reducing numbers by around 15 posts, and it is expected this can be achieved as clergy retire or move on to new posts. But it is also an opportunity to ensure that we continue to serve communities with the highest deprivation and populations with the right number of clergy. That might mean an extra minister for two or three of these places.
Central support costs are being reviewed with a view to making substantial savings and working towards achieving a balanced budget. I want to ensure that each central post is supporting and contributing to the flourishing of the local church.
We shall seek to have honest conversations about the mission potential, viability and alternative uses of some of our church buildings. They are treasured places of memory and holy places in our landscapes; jewels of architectural and significant for their history. Sadly, in some places there are too few people coming forward to maintain and support them. Many of these issues have long been with us but the pandemic has focused the need for local discussions about options.
At this time of year many charities are appealing for support. I am conscious how exhausted many of us are, but I wanted to lay out the situation and encourage you, where it is practically possible, to give in support of the mission and ministry of the Church in your community.
You can do this direct to your local church, or by using the online giving platform www.dofn.org/donate which enables you to give directly to support the ministry of a particular church of your choice.
Above all, thank you for all you are doing and for your generous part in enabling the Gospel to be proclaimed afresh this Advent and Christmas, and in the years to come.
The Rt Revd Graham Usher
Bishop of Norwich
Bishop Graham is immensely grateful for the hard work and sacrificial giving of so many. He has felt the need to highlight that we are facing a potential shortfall of between £1.7 to £2.1 million this year. By the end of 2020, we will start to borrow from the bank to fund routine expenditure, but that cannot continue indefinitely. You can read more about the clergy deployment review and central services reviews here.
In the coming weeks, if your benefice has its own online giving method then please highlight it, and for those benefices without that online functionality please promote the diocesan online giving platform so that your benefice can benefit. You could, for example, share a giving link alongside a Zoom invitation or underneath a YouTube service suggesting that “you may like to give in support of the mission and ministry of the Church”? You can read more about the diocesan platform here.