St Mary the Virgin - Braughing SG11 2QA
Future Ministry Arrangements for the benefice of Braughing, Furneux Pelham and Stocking Pelham 25 July 2022
As you will know, the Revd Julie Gawthrope is due to retire this summer after seven wonderful years of serving the people of Braughing, Furneux Pelham and Stocking Pelham. All of us are deeply grateful for all that Julie has given during her time with you and wish her and Nick all the very best for their future together.
Julie’s departure raises the question as to the ministry arrangements that should be made for your benefice into the future. It’s about this that I am writing to you now. I want to foreground all that needs to be said in saluting all that has been achieved in the parishes of the benefice in recent years. It has been brilliant to see the ways in which different people have worked together for good in support of your churches, your villages and your communities.
Nonetheless, a difficult reality that must be named is that the benefice has been struggling for some time to meet the full costs of the ministry of a full time priest. This is a situation that is present in a small number of other benefices within our diocese and has been heightened by the challenges of the pandemic and our recovery from it. Taken all together, the result has been to see our overall diocesan budget dip into deficit during the last two years – a situation that is expected to continue for a number of years more before we can return to the black. As a diocese we are taking a whole number of steps to address the situation that exists such as cutting the costs of our central administration, encouraging fundraising and maximising the return from our assets etc.
In this situation, difficult choices need to be made and I’m afraid I need to let you know that as things stand, it will not be possible for us to commit to replacing Julie with a full time like-for-like replacement. I know how much of a disappointment this will be for you.
In order to enable your benefice to move towards a sustainable footing for its ministry going forward, we believe that the best course in the medium to longer term will be to link your parishes with another benefice who together would share one priest. This will need to be thought about and discussed with other benefices in your deanery and I would emphasise that there is no ‘blueprint’ for such a move that has already been decided. We shall be taking forward discussions with your rural dean, other local clergy and the parochial church councils of other benefices.
Until such a medium term plan can be put in place, the short term priority is to sustain the existing ministry of your churches in the coming months. Towards this, your churchwardens are doing an amazing job of identifying priestly ‘cover’ for services and we are hugely grateful for all the hard work, patience and persistence they are putting into this. We also think that the work of the churchwardens could be aided significantly if it were possible for the congregations and communities of the benefice to think together about the potential that exists towards increasing the number of services and other activities that could be led by lay church members. At a recent meeting with your lay church leaders I suggested that one way our small diocesan team could help with this would be to facilitate a discussion day for you all to think about the future together. We agreed that this should happen in the early autumn with more details to be confirmed soon.
None of us want to face the situation that exists. All of us would much prefer simply to be able to replace Julie (if that were ever possible!) with a priest who would continue working under the same arrangements that have existed under her tenure. But we just cannot see that is going to be a sustainable option for the benefice and diocese going forward. Addressing this new reality is going to demand everyone’s contribution, prayer, creativity and help. We are highly open to all suggestions of better ways forward than those that I have suggested here – and if these occur to you please do not be backwards in coming forward with ideas.
Michael - Bishop of Hertford