The Diocesan Synod met on 7 May 2016.
In his address, the Bishop of Bristol commended Richard Fosters book, Money Sex and Power and reminded the Synod of Jesus words that it is more blessed to give than to receive.
In a compelling message which prepared the way for the main item of business on Parish Share, the Bishop asked the question, How can we best use our churches to add value to the world? He encouraged members to think of finance as a tool for adding value in the major task of connecting with our communities, sowing more seeds, and he stressed that Parish Share is Mission Giving.
Parish Share Proposals
In the light of the budget and the projected shortfall in Parish Share, new proposals were brought forward to give confidence in increasing levels of Parish Share in the future.
Bruce Finnamore, a member of the Parish Share Review Group and Bishops Council, introduced the proposals. Bruce admitted that Parish Share is a difficult topic for many but one that should be seen positively as the key way to resource mission and ministry. As such it must be a priority.
Underpinning the proposals are three biblical principles: responsibility, generosity and faith.
We should do all we can not to burden others with the ministry afforded to us This means each parish striving towards, meeting or exceeding the costs associated with their share of ministry.
We must respond to God's generosity as much as we are able and even beyond our ability. This means we can carry each others burdens and contribute to ministry elsewhere.
When we give generously, we can have faith that God will provide. We must also have faith in other parishes to take responsibility and be generous so the church will grow.
Synod members discussed the proposals in facilitated groups. The included setting clear expectations for what parishes might give according to these principles, supporting parishes in responding to those requests and putting in resources to help parishes increase their approach to giving.
The groups highlighted strengths and weaknesses and suggested improvements. These contributions were summarised to inform a plenary debate. The motion was passed with 84 in favour, two against and three abstentions.
As a result, the Synod authorised the Finance Committee to finalise the proposals in the light of the debate. The final proposals and an outline of how and when they will be implemented will be shared with parishes later in June 2016.
2016 Revised Budget
In the light of the Parish Share proposals, the Chairman of the Board gave a presentation to explain the main changes in the proposed budget since the last meeting.
He explained that in response to the Synods debate in December a number of parishes had improved their share and the suspension of permanent appointments had also reduced the expected deficit to 266K. The Board of Directors recommended a deficit budget on the basis of the Parish Share proposals and with the faith and expectation there would be additional gifts given in the current year to reduce the deficit.
A debate followed, during which a number of questions were answered about the recruitment freeze over the past six months, including the fact that a vote in favour of the motion would mean resumption of recruitment to permanent posts.
Synod approved expenditure of 8,287,000 in respect of items in the budget for 2016. The motion was passed
Support for Creating Connections
The Archdeacon, the Ven Christine Froude, drew attention to the Vision and Priorities leaflets and to the recent Connected Conference which had been attended by 275 leaders from across the Diocese. A short video from the conference was shown, which included extracts from the main speakers and activities from across the Diocese.
Christine reminded members of the vision and priorities and emphasised that the things we make our priority are the things to which we give our attention. The current resources which are available to support these priorities and share best practice are: Creating connections toolkit, Connections newsletter, How-to guides, Training and support brochures which explain what diocesan training and support are available.
Members were encouraged to take away the resources and share them widely.
Bishops Council & Board of Directors Report
Revd Canon Mat Ineson spoke to the written report which encompassed the three meetings held so far this year, the first two of which had included establishing ways of working with a new and smaller Bishops Council that relates to a larger Diocesan Synod.
The first meeting had been externally facilitated, enabling members to explore their different skills, gifts and approaches and how they could be most fruitfully brought together in the Bishops Council.
At the second meeting further work had been done to express simply the role, principles and behaviours expected of the Council to guide its work together.
The majority of business at the meetings had been to discuss and prepare for the financial matters which were now being addressed at the Diocesan Synod.
General Synod report
Revd Paul Langham spoke about his experience of the Synod, referencing some of the business at the last group of sessions. Among the topics being looked at were Renewal and Reform and Shared conversations regarding human identity.
Paul reminded members of the role and responsibility of the General Synod in bringing forward good legislation and asked members to pray for all General Synod members.