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Synod – Time Of Transition

On the final day of Diocesan Synod transition dominated the agenda. Diocesan Registrar Aiden Hargreaves-Smith reported on three important changes. He outlined how the Clergy Discipline Measure which applies across all dioceses covers Europe, although it operates slightly differently from English dioceses. From July one aspect of the Diocese in Europe Measure, which has recently been given Royal Assent, takes effect and this will mean that Diocesan Synod is the main decision making body rather than, as previously, Bishop´s Council.

A second change effected will come into force in January 2014 the Church Commissioners will have the powers to grant funding to the Diocese. One request which has been made is for funding four 4 full-time Archdeacons to offer improved pastoral care for the existing 7 Archdeaconries. Because the outcome of this request will not be known until late Summer or the early Autumn Synod members had expressed anxiety about the practicalities, not least with the retirement of Bishop Geoffrey in  November.

The Bishop told Synod:

"Following the opportunity of conversation with Andrew Brown from the Church Commissioners, who spoke to us yesterday, and after consultation with Bishop David and the Archdeacons, I believe it would be helpful to Synod that I make a further statement about where we are in the transition from part-time to full-time archdeacons.  It is not necessarily where we might wish to be in a perfect world, but this is not a perfect world, either in terms of timing or of process. I want to make and underline the following points.

I, as Diocesan Bishop, am awaiting - as we all are - a decision from the Church Commissioners over the possible allocation of additional funding in the current triennium.  If, as we hope, funding is available, the DBF expects to be in a position to appoint up to four full-time Archdeacons. Archdeacons are at present in post, and are performing their canonical functions in full.  Their employment - in formal HR and legal terms - is principally as chaplaincy priests, though this does not, of course, reflect the full extent of their current workloads.

The Archbishops’ Council and the Church Commissioners rightly insist that the creation of any new appointments made by the DBF should be a proper process carried out in accordance with the rules of the Church of England. I am having to deal with a complex situation.  I cannot make any prior commitment about the precise arrangements that I or my successors will make, when we know what funds are available and we are in a position to make formal appointments.

I can, however, assure you that I (and, I am sure, my successors) will have some key principles in mind:

a) The need to act properly and fairly to all clergy currently in post, including the existing archdeacons.

b)  The need to act correctly with the agreement and support of the Archbishops’ Council and Church Commissioners.

At this point, I cannot say much in greater detail.  This is simply not a time for making final decisions, and I would not be discharging my pastoral and legal responsibilities properly if I tried to anticipate issues that cannot be resolved at this point. I believe, as does Bishop David, that it is essential that there is continuity through the Vacancy in See period and beyond.  There needs to be stability in pastoring the diocese.  Because of the logistics of location and housing, interim appointments are not realistic.  I am also aware, and Synod needs to be aware, that all this places considerable burdens on the archdeacons who have served and do serve the Diocese. These are not abstract questions but affect faithful serving priests and I want Synod to be aware of this.  As I have already said, Bishop David and I are determined to maintain the good governance of this Diocese throughout the Vacancy in See period. While we are in a process of transition, we need continuity. I am confident that Synod will understand and concur with this."

In response to questions later the Bishop assured members that the present interim arrangements will remain in place until the outcome of the funding request is known and transition plans can be taken forward.