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Norwich Diocese looks at cuts as Covid hits funds

The Diocese of Norwich is facing a significant fall in parish income in the light of Covid-19 and has announced a review which aims to cut costs and reduce both clergy numbers and the number of churches open for regular worship. Keith Morris reports.

With the Diocese facing a significant shortfall in Parish Share income – which funds clergy posts and central services – work has begun to look at how the mission and ministry of the church can flourish whilst financial costs are reduced, says the Diocese.
A review into paid clergy is being led by the Bishop of Thetford, the Rt Rev Alan Winton, with a call for ‘honest conversation, prayerful reflection and hopeful action.’
Local consultation with deaneries and benefices will guide the overall aim of reducing paid clergy numbers by 10 per cent – around 15 posts – and it is expected this reduction can be achieved as clergy retire or move on to new posts. Across the Diocese, priority will be placed on areas of deprivation with the lowest income communities, as well as areas of high population.
Central support costs are also being reviewed says the Diocese, with a view to making substantial savings and working towards achieving a balanced budget.
In addition, as the Diocese with the highest number of medieval church buildings in the country and the second largest number of church buildings of any diocese, action will need to be taken to address the increasing burden these buildings place upon many benefices.
With fewer stipendiary clergy, there will need to be a reduction in the number of church buildings that remain in regular use for worship, with some buildings designated as Festival Churches where they are not required for regular worship but remain a local asset.  Honest conversations about the mission potential, viability and alternative uses of its church buildings will be part of the local discussions says a statement from the diocese.
Talking to Radio Norfolk, the Bishop of Norwich, the Rt Rev Graham Usher, said: “We have seen a drop in income and need to recalibrate accordingly as many other charities and businesses are having to. But people have also been incredibly generous – a lady in Cawston has been making hundreds of face coverings and selling them to make money for the local church there.
“We are having to look at the number of clergy which we can afford going forward on a reduced income. We are not looking to make any redundancies but are looking to reduce about 15 clergy across the whole patch. But also looking at where we need to invest in more clergy particularly in Great Yarmouth and Earlham in Norwich – big populations in highly deprived areas which need more clergy or lay people.”
There have been also been positive signs for the future though, said Bishop Graham: “Online worship has flourished and there is a groundswell view that we have to look at how things are done differently in future. Some of our congregations are looking at how they might gather together more rather than being in very small numbers in often very cold and damp village churches.

“But village churches are treasure boxes of memories and jewels in the history and landscape of Norfolk and we have got to do all we can to enable them to thrive where they can. When you come together for the great festivals and special family events, that is when these buildings can really celebrate what they are.”
You can listen to Bishop Graham talking on BBC Radio Norfolk.

You can download the deployment review paper which reflects upon the challenges and opportunities and draws out seven guiding principles in response. 

Pictured above is a graphic of benefices across the Diocese of Norwich.

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