The following is a letter I sent about two weeks ago:
To All Ministry Units and Clergy.
Dear Sisters and Brothers in Christ;
I am writing to inform you of the grave situation in which our Diocese finds itself.
The Bad News
At our Diocesan Council meeting on Friday May 25 it was my sad duty to appraise the council of a fact which many of us have known for a while; namely that the Diocese of Dunedin in its present form is unsustainable.
For many years the Diocese has been in decline on any parameter that could be named: most significantly, attendances, numbers of families served and the real level of giving have all been steadily dropping over the years to the point where several of our parishes are on the very edge of ceasing to exist altogether. In recent years the worldwide economic downturn has meant a drop in the investment income which might otherwise have sustained us. The lack of parish income has been reflected in an increasing inability of many parishes to pay their share of the costs of running the Diocese. We have pared the diocesan budget back as hard as we dared, reduced our staffing levels and made cuts to service wherever we could but still we have not been able to balance the annual budget. Some have advised me to appeal to the parishes to increase their giving to the diocese, but I know that this is simply unrealistic. With no change in the overall pattern of decline, with the imminent prospect of massive increases in the cost of insurance and the inescapable task of earthquake strengthening, the pressure on parishes over the next year or two will be greater than ever. In fact, I expect that some of our parishes will cease to exist in the near future.
As far as the local activities of your parish are considered, there is no need for concern, but the diocesan structure we now have is so starved of resources that it cannot satisfactorily do what the parishes need of it. However, even in its pared back form we cannot afford to maintain it. The crisis we have all been long expecting is finally here. The Diocese, as it is presently constituted, is at the point of collapse.
The Good News
This is not a time for despair. We are called to be here; God has placed us in our present positions, you and me, for just such a time as this. Our present diocesan structure might not be sustainable, but for as long as we have Anglican churches South of the Waitaki River we will have a diocese of some sort.
Some of our congregations are very healthy indeed, and several are growing. We have recently begun to develop new ways of ministering on a regional basis and the early signs from these innovations are very promising. We have some extraordinarily talented people in our midst, including might I say, the staff of the Diocesan Office. We have some fine buildings and a long established and well respected public profile. We have the Holy Spirit present with us and we have not been abandoned by God.
The present crisis is not so much a threat as an opportunity. Our current Diocesan structures evolved in decades past to serve a church which is rapidly ceasing to exist. With the demise of our accustomed ways we are given the once in a lifetime chance to rebuild the Diocese of Dunedin in ways which will better suit it to serve the church which is emerging.
We in the South are used to coping with adversity and thinking laterally, and it will be no surprise to you that our Diocesan council responded to news of the crisis with courage and vision.
The Way Ahead
By using some of our reserves we can sustain things as they are for perhaps another two years, and the diocesan office will continue to provide its current level of service until we accomplish the task of restructuring. Rather than begin yet another review of the type that many of us have experienced in the past, the Diocesan Council have themselves accepted the responsibility of designing and implementing the way forward and have already begun the task. In imagining the way ahead, they know that there is nothing that should be taken for granted. We need, effectively, to redesign a diocese from the ground up and all Diocesan roles and positions, including mine, are open to re-evaluation. We need to accomplish this design and implement it within the space of two years. At a parish level, no positions are threatened and there is no threat to the continuance of parish life.
There are two immediate tasks for us to do together as a Diocese. One is for us to pray. I ask that in all our congregations we seek God’s wisdom and encouragement as we face the future. Very soon I will also invite you to gather with me in specific places and at specific times to seek the wisdom of the Holy Spirit.
The other task is to do what is required of us by law, namely, to arrange for the inspection of all our public buildings in order to determine what, if any, earthquake strengthening they will require. A process to enable us to do this is already quite well advanced in planning, and will be ready for presentation at our synod in September. Some parishes have already arranged for their own inspections, which is commendable, but we will have a Diocese wide scheme operating from early 2013 onwards. It is an unfortunate fact that however it is done, the inspection is going to be expensive. The realities of our buildings will of course have a major impact on the way we reshape ourselves as a diocese.
My personal commitment is to use whatever gifts God has given me as we walk together through this critical time. I will do my best to listen, to pray and to be present with you whenever necessary. I know that a wilderness such as the one we have now entered is never an easy place to be, but as we look to the examples of scripture, we see that it is a necessary step before any major change. In fact, God is more present in the wilderness than in the mountaintop experiences, and we can confidently expect that this time of transition will prove to be one of the spiritual highlights of our Diocese’s long history.
With every blessing,
Saturday 26 May 2012.