The simple truth is, we, in the Diocese of Dunedin can no longer afford a full time bishop. This year we are balancing the budget because the St. John's College Trust Board has recognised my role as a ministry educator and has allowed us to use some of the funding we use for educational work to be applied to the episcopate.
I have spoken of the reasons for the changes in our circumstances before. At our peak, back in the early 1970's there were about 10,000 people worshipping in Anglican Churches in Otago and Southland every week. Last year there were around 2,000. In other words, there has been an 80% decline over the last 40 years. The infrastructure of our church was developed to serve a spiritual environment which has changed beyond recognition, and now we cannot sustain it. The reasons for our decline are linked to the shifting patterns of religious behaviour in the Western world generally, and to the enormous social changes which have taken place in the Rural South Island over the last few decades. In many ways we have met these challenges quite well: many of our churches are quite buoyant, and our attendances at services across the diocese have actually risen over the last 3 or 4 years but this rise in attendance has not been matched by a rise in committed membership, or in giving.
I find myself in a very ambiguous position. I know this diocese better than anyone else: I have driven over 250,000 km, and travelled on almost every road in Otago and Southland; I have prayed in every church in the diocese and led worship in almost all of them; I have spent time in all of the diocesan service organisations and served on the boards of many of them; I have a reasonable grasp of our finances and I understand our canon laws; I have represented our diocese many times at national and international forums; I know the landscapes and I know the people, but I must now stand back and allow others to decide the future of this diocese I have lived in and served and loved for 18 years as priest and bishop.
On Tuesday our Archbishop will be here to help our diocesan leadership work through the issues which lie ahead. There are options for our future which are simply untenable: we can't just sit back and wait for things to improve; we can't imagine that if only we all dig a little deeper things can go on as they are. Things are never again going to be as they were. We must make significant changes to the way we operate or we must cease to exist altogether. And all who have a leadership role in our diocese are committed to the former scenario.
We face death and resurrection. And why should we be surprised? This is the way of the Gospel, after all. What we do know is that people are no less insatiably curious about the great questions of life than ever they were and people are no less open to spiritual experience. We in the Anglican church have such a wealth of riches to offer that conversation that our future is assured, as long as we have the courage to follow Christ through the ending of systems which have long since outlived their purpose to the newness beyond.