On Monday 27th April a number of volunteer curates across our diocese will start a four week period of furlough.
In a first for the Church of England the pilot scheme is part of the many prudent actions we are taking to manage our finances through the current crisis. It enables the diocese to use the Government’s Job Retention Scheme in the same way it has furloughed staff at St James House. We believe this decisive, prudent action will mitigate the financial impact of the crisis and ease pressure on parish share.
We have only chosen to consider a voluntary scheme for furloughing curates as this is new territory for us and for the Church of England. We are able to consider curates because of the technical, legal status of their ministry. It is not a value judgment on the ministry of individuals or of curacy in general. Nor is it a judgment on the parishes. And if a curate or their training incumbent has not wanted to be furloughed then that is perfectly fine.
The diocese of Liverpool has always sought to be realistic about how to manage this crisis. Our aim is not simply to survive for a short period of time. We are clear about the financial challenges we face. We have to look at all ways in which we not only come through this crisis but have a platform to be able to continue to build the church and sustain a Christian presence.
We have considered this prayerfully and carefully. Through this we will be able to explore the impact of taking an absolutely key group of people out of frontline ministry so that if we had to take similar measures in the future when the situation would undoubtedly be more acute for us, we will know the best way to do this to serve and protect our ministers, lay people and churches.
This is a limited action with a limited aim. We have not made any decisions about furloughing other clergy. If we did start to think about that we would look at wider consultation with colleagues, parishes and worshipping communities across our diocese. But the learning from this pilot would be crucial to that wider decision-making process.
The diocese of Liverpool has been very honest about the financial implications of the crisis. As a small diocese with limited historical reserves we are accustomed to sensible financial management. As with any diocese our stipendiary budget is the biggest source of expenditure and mitigating costs here is a big financial boost. This action is part of a package of cost savings of c. £0.5 million in the next 3 months, including furloughing staff at St James House, salary sacrifice of staff at St James House and a range of other cuts in other expenditure lines. These actions considerably ease our short-term financial pressures; furloughing curates is a small but significant element of this package.
Our financial prudence has been supported by the generosity of parishes who, while facing their own local challenges, have offered advances on their parish share payments. We are also in constructive talks with the national church about how we, like other dioceses, can be supported by the national church.
Mike Eastwood, Diocesan Secretary commented “whilst fundamentally this crisis is a health crisis and we must all stay safe if we are to maintain a Christian presence into the future the steps we take now are crucial. The willingness of so many to take a step in partnership with our diocese is tremendous. As a diocese we will continue to be prudent and practical in our response and honest about the challenges we face.”
Bishop Paul added “This is new territory for us and for the national Church. I continue to thank God for the way in which colleagues in the Diocese are exploring a range of different approaches to the present crisis, including this one. As with so many aspects of this situation we have been humbled by the gracious and generous way in which these efforts has been received and by the understanding shown.
Despite the human and economic stress of these present days, Liverpool Diocese remains faithful to its call to bring the Gospel to present and future generations and to make a bigger difference in the world. That plays out in our lives in so many ways, and in this instance it is about staying home, staying safe.”