Synod met online on a moist and misty Saturday morning.

The agenda included


PRESIDENTIAL ADDRESS

“...transformational change takes time, energy and resources. We have much more to do in the coming months. This will require us to continually monitor the progress and impact of these projects that are already underway and some that will need adapting as we learn from this work.

“And, we intend to communicate more frequently and in more detail about what is happening, not only to keep the diocese informed, but I hope, because I believe this is what God wants, to create a sense of excitement and momentum about what we are doing, because the work of the gospel is exciting.

“It is so exciting to see people coming to faith in Jesus Christ, as I've had the privilege of seeing just in these past couple of months. I'm particularly thinking of a visit to Humber prison, where the amazing work of the chaplaincy there, is seeing prisoners coming to faith. I'm thinking of a confirmation in Thirsk, where I met young adults who have come to faith.

“This is all very good news. And there are things to celebrate amidst the challenges and the worries. And we do want every parish and every person to be involved.”


LIVING CHRIST’S STORY

Diocesan Director for Strategic Transformation Sam Nicol introduced a paper updating Synod on progress with each of the streams of the strategy agreed and adopted by Synod a year ago in November 2022. Implementation of Deanery plans was under way with new appointments being made within re-shaped structures to incorporate forward thinking and, where needed, reductions in stipendiary clergy numbers. Planned changes in discernment and training for lay ministries were already proving popular, while digital transformation was starting make headway in the central support services for the diocese and within local deaneries and parishes. A new diocesan website was expected in the spring of 2024.

Despite these reports of progress, the financial outcomes of 2023 and the proposed budget deficit for 2024 indicate that the Diocese of York has not made the progress to deliver Living Christ’s Story that was hoped for, and the Diocese was advised that there was insufficient strategic plan detail or evidence to support the next bid for central Church of England funding. There was however an opportunity to bid for further capacity funding to support short term posts and initiatives to help develop specific aspects of the strategy.

Sam’s paper ended, “Living Christ’s Story is about each of us as individuals and local church communities becoming more like Christ and learning together what it means to be a missionary disciple, so that we can reach those who do not know Jesus.

“Whilst this paper provides an update in activity around funding and supporting that task in parishes and deaneries across the diocese, it is important that we don’t lose sight of (and celebrate) the “front line” local initiatives and engagement in many guises, which is leading to growth in confidence, in numbers and in sustainability in many of our worshipping communities."


HEARING THE VOICE OF YOUNG PEOPLE

Diocesan Director of Education Andrew Smith reminded Synod of its commitment to hear the voice of young people as well as discussing them.

He outlined plans to replace Dr Carolyn Edwards who has recently moved from her post as Diocesan Children & Youth Adviser to a national appointment, before introducing a short video featuring a number of young people from church youth groups around the diocese.

We learned that young people want churches to express and practice inclusion, diversity and welcome; to offer activity and worship for younger people in every church, and to strive to improve the churches’ image on social media.

So do churches make provision for young people even if none are currently present, asked Andrew? Are there places and spaces specifically for young people? And how can they feel part of a church where they are not the only young ones? It takes a whole church to raise a child, he said—a church of all ages.

Diocesan Discipleship Adviser and Strategy Enabler Sammi Tooze introduced the GROW programme which is enabling and encouraging young people to lead church provision for their age group themselves. Aimed at 11-16 year-olds, GROW enables young people to grow in their faith and live it out in life; similar in approach to the Duke of Edinburgh’s Award Scheme, GROW promotes missional discipleship and focuses on six themes and the diocesan Rhythm of Life.

GROW will be piloted in the first half of 2024 in Northallerton, Selby, Malton, Beverley, York and Helmsley, with participants gathering for four two-hour sessions and completing faith activities between sessions, supported by a mentor. It’s hoped they will be commissioned as Youth Ambassadors within he Diocese of York at the end of the programme.


FINANCIAL ITEMS AND 2024 BUDGET

Diocesan Director of Finance Kathryn Rose reported that 2023’s results to date are in line with the projected £2.1 million diocesan deficit; while incoming Free Will Offer payments to our Common Fund are in line with amounts pledged a year ago, the total amount pledged is £145,000 below the amount anticipated in the budget approved by Synod in November 2022.

The draft 2024 budget reflected that overall Free Will Offer is not growing as anticipated, even before the rising impact of inflation is taken into account. The anticipated deficit in 2024 is £2.48 million.

Expenditure will reach £16 million of which 63% is the direct cost of parish ministry (stipends and housing).
Free Will Offers of £7.4 million are anticipated compared with a planned figure of £7.3 million in 2023; however, the increases planned as part of the Living Christ’s Story programme have not materialised and Free Will Offer continues to lose value in real terms. Parishes are shortly to be asked about progress towards the agreed target of 2026 for each Ministry Unit to cover the direct (housing and stipend) cost of the ministry it receives.

Diocesan financial reserves are now expected to drop to the minimum acceptable level (equivalent to four months’ expenditure) by the end of 2024. Reserves will drop well below this level by the end of 2028 unless we begin to sell assets (eg housing) which either support ministry or generate rental income.

Diocesan Secretary Canon Peter Warry commented on the overall financial picture that it is not at present a cause for panic; but that if the diocese begins to spend its assets then a growing burden will fall on local churches as central resources diminish.

Chair of the York Diocesan Board of Finance Rodney Barton proposed the motion to approve the 2024 budget; it was carried by 94% with 4% against.


GENERAL SYNOD REPORTS
July 2023 sessions

General Synod Member Dr Neill Burgess reported from the July 2023 sessions of the Church of England’s General Synod, which had considered matters including safeguarding, the environment, how to increase the involvement of young people in synod affairs, revitalising the parish system for mission, and an update on the Living in Love and Faith process ahead of the debates at November’s Synod.

November 2023 sessions
Since the November 2023 sessions’ major business was to consider the content, status and pastoral provisions emerging from the Living in Love and Faith process around prayers and services for those in same-sex relationships, and this had clearly revealed a divergence of views within the church, two of the Diocese of York’s General Synod Members were invited to report and reflect from their differing perspectives.

Sammi Tooze (her report presented by the Revd Canon Liz Hassall) and the Revd Dr Christian Selvaratnam reported on a demanding group of sessions in which the Synod debated the Living in Love and Faith provisions for nine hours.

Their reports summarise the Synod’s journey to a finely-balanced decision to continue the process overseen by the House of Bishops carefully to move towards optional use of some prayer and liturgies while continuing to explore possible new services, alongside pastoral reassurance for those hurt or distressed by the process of change.