Thursday 7th November 2013 10:48 AM
"It may come as a surprise to many who know our streets aren't paved with gold," said the article in Isle of Man Newspapers, "But the Isle of Man has been placed in the top 10 by the World Bank out of 214 international economies in terms of Gross National Income per head of population. We are listed in eighth place ahead of the UK and [the] US … The Channel Islands come in at ninth position.
The article goes on: "Latest figures are for the year 2011-12, which show it was the 29th successive year of growth for the Manx economy. Growth was lower than expected at 2 per cent in real terms, but indications are that the economy has grown again since then, with a 3 to 4 per cent increase forecast.
"However, the World Bank statistics are not a ranking of personal income, that is, the money in our pockets. … The strong economic performance has been underpinned by continued growth in a number of business sectors, including e-gaming and engineering. But while e-gaming showed strong growth of 16.6 per cent in real terms, and engineering up 10.9 per cent, other sectors have fared far less well, with construction down 5 per cent and retailing down nearly 20 per cent."
The Bible has a great deal to say about economics. On this Island, I have learned that the most effective way for the Bishop to raise ethical issues about finance is to go to my Tynwald colleagues, in groups and individually.
We all know that roughly 1% of the Island's residents are super-rich, and that the majority, on middle-incomes, are a very broad spectrum of people. Those who are low earners benefit little from the low rate of income tax, and the cost of living hits them hardest. Our level of unemployment is a good deal lower than in the UK and Ireland, but remains a problem for some young people and those who've been unemployed for a long time. There is also a real but hidden human crisis in residual homelessness - it is estimated that this affects about the same number of people as those at the other end of the scale who benefit from the tax cap.
The gospel has a very clear bias towards those who are poor. The Old Testament prophets and our Lord Jesus himself make this abundantly clear. Is that our bias?
I have got to the point in my ministry where I question why so much of my time is spent discussing buildings, their finances and their regulation. For instance, in 2009 we agreed to make our buildings serve the people of our communities. One suggestion was for drop-in centres around the Island, another was places where parents, children and elderly people could meet locally: great possibilities for the buildings to be used throughout the week. For the most part, despite every encouragement, very little has happened. From what I hear, that's mainly because we want our buildings left alone, though in some cases, I know it's because other people want us to leave our buildings alone! The desire to use our resources (like our buildings) for the Kingdom of God is in many places too weak to result in action, the resources are rotting by under-use and many churches are four years closer to closure.
Frankly, I have spent five and a half years watching the energy and resources of the Church drain away into many buildings that (unless they can be found additional uses) will soon be forced to close, and it has exhausted me. It seems that, for a number of people, bricks and mortar matter more than the Kingdom of God. If that's the philosophy - and we need to label it as 'heresy', because that's what it is - my attempt to enable the diocese to use its buildings better is at and end.
The Budget and Diocesan Secretary proposal
At the Summer Synod we are obliged, among other business, to examine the diocesan accounts from the previous year. At the February Synod, we focus on a theme and keep business to a minimum: in 2014 we will have a working session on ways towards new growth. At this Autumn Synod we discuss and agree a budget for the following year.
The budget originally drafted had a 7.6% growth in the Shared Ministry Fund. (As an aside, we use the new name for what we used to call the Quota because the fund is shared and it pays for ministry.) This was reduced to 4.8% in the papers you have been sent but I am pleased to tell you that, by extremely careful work on the figures, we can reduce it to half of that increase, in other words to just 2.4% for 2014, roughly equivalent to the rate of inflation. This is no mean feat, given that the Diocese is now engaged in a significant programme of renewal of our housing stock.
Unfortunately we still are not in a position to propose a new formula for allocating the fund but we are close, so this year the formula is as last year, taking account, of course, of the changes in parishes and giving PCCs the power to sub-allocate on a local basis.
The budget - at 2.4% rise - includes a sum for the setting-up costs and ongoing funding of the post of Diocesan Secretary. In the other 59 Anglican dioceses of England and Wales there are diocesan offices, some with very small staffs, some with large, all led by a Diocesan Secretary. In each diocese, including ours, the bishop has an office to deal with his business (much of which will be outside the diocese, which is why it's paid for centrally) and archdeacons have part-time secretarial support. In this diocese, the additional workload has gradually mounted up, particularly on the offices of the bishop and the archdeacon, and we have reached overload.
The overall Purpose of appointing a Diocesan Secretary would be to support me and the Leadership Team in delivering the six priorities for growth by offering expertise in strategy and policy, administration, resource management and general communication. So we seek to appoint a part-time Diocesan Secretary and set up a single-room office with hot-desking facilities for our voluntary diocesan advisers and officers to use.
I believe this role is required because the Church has needed to comply with good practice and current legislation. The increase in administration - much of it from very good secular legislation to do with how we treat children, vulnerable people and those whom we employ - means that existing staff have had to shoulder the additional burden. For instance, Common Tenure involves statements of particulars, parsonage houses, being able to show evidence of continuing ministerial development and best practice in health and safety, safeguarding, and so on.
An office is needed because the Bishop's Office is not the Diocesan Office, the Archdeacon's office is also a vicarage study, we should not expect the Treasurer to give up a room at home for diocesan finances and we need somewhere to store files.
Since the role of Diocesan Secretary would be a new post, setting it up is achieved by a decision to support the budget in which the proposal is included. However, in order to ensure that this is a decision made openly one way or the other, I will propose the matter in Agendum 7. If we agree to this proposal, we can discuss the budget unamended. If we do not agree, then you will be asked to agree the budget with the diocesan office removed.
If we agree to the proposal, the next move would be to put the job descriptions of the Registrar and the Synod Secretary and a draft job description for a Diocesan Secretary together, and effect a sensible distribution of duties. Finally, the office will in due course come under the authority of the Synod.
Given that the Board of Finance has managed to pare down the budget to 2.4% and also to provide for setting up the diocesan office, I hope very much that you will support this initiative and the revised 2014 budget proposals.
[The Synod subsequently accepted without dissent the proposal and the revised budget.]
Asking healthy questions about ministry.
Each year bishops are encouraged to review the promises they made when they were ordained deacon, priest and bishop. So much of a bishop's ministry is spent countering the view that 'church' is a personal possession, one of the most serious heresies of all. Where in those ordinations were the questions about faculties and measures and damp courses and heating systems and pews? All these things existed long before I was first ordained, but they don't get a mention! They have all become a dreadful distraction from the calling of public ministry to enable worship and mission.
One of the questions put to all candidates for episcopal office is this:
"Will you be gentle and merciful for Christ's sake to those who are in need, and speak for those who have no other to speak for them?"
The response is: "By the help of God, I will."
In the eighth-richest nation on the planet, there are just three words for me and for the Church here:
Lord, have mercy.