Members of Diocesan Synod have overwhelmingly shown their support for the Diocesan Plan for Change and Renewal.

Meeting at St Martin’s Church in Liskeard and online, members voted 42 in favour, three against, no abstentions, to note the plan following a lively debate and a failed amendment motion.

An amendment by Vivian Hall, General Synod and Trigg Major deanery synod member, was proposed which sought to have the original motion dismissed until the plan had gone for a consultation process with every PCC.

Lively discussion

What followed was a lively discussion with several deanery lay chairs speaking.

David Fieldsend, lay chair of Carnmath North Synod, said: “We feel that we have really made significant progress in trying to adapt the resources we have with the vision of getting fruitful and sustainable. And we, I, very much welcome this plan because it brings together what’s been proposed by all the deaneries and because it starts moving the money to where the plans of the deaneries are. I don’t think there would be a great purpose in asking people to consult again. There’s been a lot of engagement as part of the On The Way process. I think that we should note this report.”

Speaking next, Michael Rowe, Lay Chair of St Austell Deanery, said: “Throughout the whole On The Way process, one of the things that we realize is that communication is the biggest thing that we have to address. This plan is made up from all the deanery plans. As a synod member here we should be feeding this back to our deanery synods anyway and then, deanery synods should be reporting back to PCCs. So that communication channel is there and we must use it. And in that way, deaneries can get feedback from the PCCs and deaneries can feed it back to their DIT [Deanery Implementation] teams who can feed it back to the change and renewal team. So I agree we should vote against this amendment.”

“We have been consulted with until we can almost drop”

Sarah Vinson, lay chair from Trigg Major Deanery, said: “I would agree with my colleagues in that we’ve been through a pretty traumatic couple of years or more. We have been consulted with until we can almost drop. And if my deanery is typical of others, then we’re always feeding stuff back from this synod to deanery synod for general synod and we’re accepting and feeding things back up. And I would encourage all deanery synods to behave like that.”

Mike Sturgess, West Wivelshire Deanery Synod members, Liskeard PCC treasurer and Chair of the Board of Finance, said: “When we look at the three initial priorities as to why we were writing this plan, the third one was for submitting bids to the Church commissioners and the way this [amendment] is worded sounds as if we can’t do anything with that until we’ve had the feedback. We need to crack on with this plan now, not wait further.”

Speaking in support of the amendment, Mary Wooding, who sits on deanery synod in Penwith, said: “I think the amendment should be passed and I will support it. My huge concern is that there’s no point in us feeding back any objections, the plan is going to go on regardless. All his [the bishop’s] talk of consultation and participation sounds rather weak and limp to me. And I would prefer to have a formal directive that the [draft] plan should be discussed. We had too much experience during On The Way of being told that we could write to the bishops and object and raise concerns. We’ve learnt to our cost that our views weren’t taken into account. The bishop’s Motion that the plan should be noted means that we give up all real possibility of making any change to it.”

With the amendment proposal lost, there was further debate in relation to the original motion. Questions ranged from when work began on the diocesan plan to how it would be resourced, whether there would be review periods and the situation around oversight ministers.

In answer to question of when work began on the plan, Bishop Hugh explained that the proposal to write a Diocesan Plan for Change and Renewal was first brought to the Bishop’s Diocesan Council on July 14, 2022. A more detailed process for preparing the plan was then taken to Episcopal College on July 25, 2022. It was outlined at the September Diocesan Synod last year and work on the content of the plan began at that point.

He went on to clarify that the draft diocesan plan has been on the Bishop’s Diocesan Council agenda each time it’s met. “It has also been on the Diocesan Synod agenda each time we have met, including in depth presentations at the meeting that took place in November 2022.”

While the bulk of writing took place between October 2022 and March 2023 and included away days with members of the BDC and a further day spent with Rural Deans, there were also numerous formal and informal conversation had at the bishops’ deanery visits and at deanery synods which Bishop Hugh has been visiting over the last few months.

In answering a question around consultation on the full plan and not just diocese selected elements, Bishop Hugh said: “The process of On The Way was a two-year process of not just consultation, but plan development and those 12 deanery plans, each approved by their relevant deanery synod, are now in place.”

The bishop went on to point out that the consultation that has taken place in the diocese was unusual in the Church of England and the plan was publicly available to all.

“It is a plan for a long period of time and so it’s going to change and we expect that. As we discover what’s really going on, what’s working and what isn’t, of course it will change and we do seek feedback all the time in the ways that have been described, through the synod structure but in lots of other ways as well.”

Mrs Wooding raised one last point: “My concern from the experience that the deanery has been through with On The Way is that we are being excluded from participation in what is obviously a far-reaching plan. And that not having made the process open makes it irrelevant that you should consult now. Because where is it going to take us? We’ve been presented with this plan and expected to note it but work is carrying on regardless of what we think about it or whether we agree with it or not. That’s just my concern.”

Bishop Hugh did point out that there was a very good opportunity now to discuss the plan in both its detail and its broad direction of travel and noted that if any Synod members consider the plan to be different to their own view or the view of their church about what would make for a fruitful and sustainable future, then they should vote against noting the plan.

Not having a plan ‘simply not an option’

Bishop Philip also highlighted that not having a plan at all was simply not an option. “The really bad thing to do is not have a plan at all. To fail to plan is to plan to fail and we mustn’t do that but this is not set in stone. It has not been delivered to us on tablets. It is a working document. We will receive feedback. It will make a difference, but we do need to have a plan and a direction of travel.”

Nicolas Herian from Penwith deanery asked how the plan would be resourced and whether that would be from diocesan funds or nationally funded.

Bishop Hugh used this as an opportunity to discuss diocesan assets. “One thing that the plan absolutely commits us to is a period of very explicit consultation on the use of our diocesan assets over the summer. There will be some suggestions about the release of more assets towards supporting the life of the local church and some of the extra things we want to do, for instance, engaging with children and young people. We don’t know what that’s going to be like yet because we haven’t written it, because we haven’t consulted on it. So that’s an area both of consultation and an area of working towards these kinds of big, bold outcomes. It will also be a significant part of our conversation and then bid for national church funding. So the resources will come from both diocesan and national.”

Commitment to regular reviews

Bishop Hugh also highlighted the commitment to regular reviews. “There is a board for Change and Renewal which is made up of a mixture of people from the diocese. These people hold particular scrutiny roles. There are also others who have experience of significant change in big organisations and who help us to check in on this on a very regular basis.”

The issue of small churches and church buildings was also raised with the bishops pointing out that these were both areas that would need consultation on as it was the people in the small churches and in the parishes who would best be placed to say what would be most helpful in terms of resources and support.

Roger Smith, representative from Trigg Major and Bodmin deanery, said: “Whilst I can see the merits of the oversight minister and local minister model, my question is what degree of confidence have we got that there is a sufficient pool of qualified people who can carry out the oversight ministry role both within our diocese at the moment and likely to be attracted from elsewhere in the country?”

Bishop Philip responding saying: “First thing I want to say is this isn’t a particularly new thing for us to talk about oversight ministry. We were advertising for Oversight Ministry posts back in 2016 but I think we haven’t been intentional about it. We’ve just assumed that people can move from a more traditional mode of ministry into something else and we haven’t resourced that and we haven’t reflected on it, we haven’t particularly accompanied or enabled people in that. So people have accidentally moved into oversight roles and some have suffered in that process.

Almost all the ordained clergy in this room are already exercising oversight ministry

“I would say that almost all the ordained clergy in this room are already exercising oversight ministry in one form or another. What we are now doing, and we are advanced in our plans for this, is to offer training internally through our accompanied ministry development programme to help people who are already exercising ministry to reflect on it and to grow and develop other people into this ministry. So it’s not a new thing, but we haven’t been as intentional about it as we should have been and we do absolutely want to be more so in the future.”

Bishop Hugh added: “It maybe worth saying that in the vast majority of deanery plans there is no significant change to the pattern of parish or benefice boundaries and there is no change to the number of churches that clergy will be vicars of. There are some deaneries where that’s changing very significantly, a small number, but in the majority of deaneries, those patterns are not changing.”

Supporting the Oversight role, Andrew Prince, Powder lay deanery synod member, said: “We have recently appointed an oversight minister and although it’s early days for us, it looks very positive from the way things have gone in in our deanery.”

The final questions were around Rural Deans with Mrs Wooding querying what the post of Rural Dean would be in the future.

Bishop Hugh candidly admitted that this was an area that was still be discussed. “We’re not a hundred percent sure yet because we’re still figuring out what we think it will look like.

“There’s some legal stuff that they have to do. They will probably be responsible for more than one deanery, for leading the process of deanery planning, of implementation of deanery plans. They will work alongside clergy, lay leaders and congregations and focus on the stuff of change because as people have said it is one thing to say that we need to do some stuff that’s going to look different, it’s a whole other thing to kind of feel like that’s an okay thing, or a safe thing, or a good thing, to do and that change is really difficult and we know that.

“They’ll need to be people who are good at the facilitation stuff, the helping people to talk to each other, to figure out what the future might look like, to do that kind of good leadership work that enables people to step boldly into a different kind of way of doing things. But that’s in some deaneries. There are Rural Deans written into deanery plans and as in those deanery plans, that that will carry on as is. But for those places where that’s not the case, that’s what we think it will look like.”