The Bishop’s Diocesan Council (BDC) has issued a robust response to a demand for a halt to deanery plans.

At a meeting this month, BDC members strongly backed parish leaders and unanimously rejected a demand for a moratorium on the deanery plans.

In response to an agenda item introducing a dossier from local campaigners, members proposed, and unanimously passed, a motion to ‘strongly support the approach taken by the diocesan leadership with groups concerned with the policy and direction of the diocese’.

Robert Perry, Chair of the House of Laity representing lay members across the diocese, proposed the motion. Robert said: “On The Way was considered separately by all our Deanery Synods and has received strong support throughout the diocese. We recognise that not everyone is happy with what is proposed, and Church House staff and other members of the diocesan leadership are always happy to discuss specific aspects with parishioners. But we must remember that single-issue pressure groups are rarely representative of anyone other than their members and lack the democratic credentials of the church’s synodical system.”

Speaking after the meeting, Bishop Hugh Nelson, said: “Episcopal College and the Bishop’s Diocesan Council carefully considered the request from Susan Roberts, Neil Wallis, Martin Saunders, and Patrick Newberry, to pause the implementation of the deaneries’ shared plans.

“The clear and unanimous view was that such a moratorium would harm the mission of parishes across Cornwall and prevent us from doing the work, investing the money, and making the changes that churches have chosen to make. Work on implementing plans will therefore continue, as we work for the fruitful and sustainable future that we all long to see in every parish.”

The 12 deanery plans were two years in development, with hundreds of people from across the diocese working tirelessly to ensure their churches would go into the future fruitfully and sustainably. Every plan was signed off by the relevant deanery synod and Episcopal College. Even more people are now engaged in making these plans a reality. A halt would have left many parishes currently in recruitment processes, without a priest for a considerable amount of time.

‘Minority group are seeking to ride roughshod’

Jeffrey Terry, BDC member and Priest-in-Charge of the Camel Allen Benefice, said: “A minority group are seeking to ride roughshod over the structures and procedures of the Church of England. I fully approve of the way in which Bishop Hugh and the diocesan officers have responded to this undemocratic challenge.

“The demand to place an immediate moratorium on the implementation of the deanery plans is, frankly, staggering. This was not imposed by some sort of top-down diktat: it was a democratic, bottom-up process where each deanery produced its own plan after wide consultation. The plans were formulated within each deanery and approved by both the deanery and diocesan synods. Dissenting voices were heard and taken into account but did not prevail. That is democracy at work.

‘Ignorance of the difficulties being experienced’

“This was not some sort of hatchet job on clergy posts. I was personally involved in the formulation of the Deanery Plan in one deanery and was an adviser to another. In neither case did the emerging plan result in cutting the number of clergy posts. Indeed, funding from the diocese was granted in order to maintain clergy numbers. The 10-year Diocesan Plan is to spend £22M from reserves largely to maintain and, if possible, increase stipendiary clergy posts. The demand to immediately fill vacant clergy posts merely indicates an ignorance of the difficulties being experienced nationwide, and especially in Cornwall, in filling such posts.”

The diocesan plan, which is built on these deanery plans, makes a clear commitment to stop the 30-year decline in the number of stipendiary clergy and, wherever possible, to increase those numbers. At the same time, it commits the diocese to connecting with children and young people, who have become increasingly disconnected, and to focussing more fully on poorer and more deprived communities. This plan, which was also carefully consulted on, was supported by an overwhelming majority at Diocesan Synod in May.

Over the next 10 years, the diocese will invest £11 million into the life and work of parishes, schools and deaneries across Cornwall.

Bishop Hugh added: “Acknowledging the challenges that face us, we are confident that these plans are good plans and that, working faithfully together towards the fruitful and sustainable future that they describe, will help the church in Cornwall grow in faith, numbers and service.”