The nation is still coming to terms with the stark news, delivered by the Prime Minister last night in his televised address. While it has been increasingly likely from the scientific and public health data in recent weeks that further restrictions to our daily lives could come, that reality is now here. Even a ‘new normal’ suddenly seems a long way off, and the emphasis is now on the next six months, and prospects for the winter ahead.
The Government has emphasised that places of worship remain open. One significant change is that the maximum number able to attend a wedding will be reduced from 30 to 15 from Monday 28th September and the National Church, over the coming days, will continue to work with Government departments to update the guidance available to churches on other aspects of ongoing church life.
The country as a whole faces the prospect of prolonged economic pressure, mounting national debt, and significant unemployment. Undoubtedly it will be the vulnerable and marginalised who will be most affected by what is to come – and those are often the same people most at risk from the virus itself. We will continue to serve our communities in whatever way we can, providing hope, prayer, and support, and we pray that the action being taken now will ultimately save lives and protect the NHS.
The entire Church, as you know, has also inevitably been impacted by the wider economic picture facing us all. We too have had to act now, to secure this Diocese’s future. Earlier this week, the Winchester Diocesan Board of Finance approved a package of measures, designed to put us on a stable footing for the coming years, in the light of the pandemic and growing deficit. This involved a number of difficult decisions, all of which have been carefully considered and weighed up over the past four months by the Diocesan Resilience Taskforce (DRT), led by Bishop Debbie.
The WDBF agreed that £2m of savings are required and must be implemented by the middle of 2021 in order to balance future budgets. They will be met by a combination of central savings in the Diocesan Office, and through a decrease in the number of incumbent stipends, which will go to the Joint Mission and Pastoral Committee, before detailed consultations with deanery leadership teams.
None of this is easy to say. We realise it will be an extremely unsettling period, and we will support everyone as best we can. Everyone across this Diocese continues to work tirelessly for their communities and colleagues alike. We remain so grateful for your service, particularly amidst the challenges that lie ahead.
Finally, the Archbishops have this morning written to the Bishops, and we would like to offer the following words from their letter to you:
“Most of all we need to draw close to Christ, and continue to offer the hope and stability of the gospel. It is this gospel joy, even in the darkest times, that alone can help us through this crisis, bringing hope and an eternal perspective to the very pressing trials of the moment.”
With our prayers for you all,
Bishop Tim, Bishop David and Bishop Debbie
And the Bishop’s Staff Team:
Andrew Robinson, Diocesan Chief Executive
Catherine Ogle, Dean of Winchester
Peter Rouch, Archdeacon of Bournemouth
Richard Brand, Archdeacon of Winchester
Mat Phipps, Bishop’s Chaplain