Diocese near 'collapse'

Kelvin Wright.
Kelvin Wright.
The Anglican Diocese of Dunedin is "two years out from a crisis" and must restructure to become sustainable, its Bishop, the Rt Rev Dr Kelvin Wright, says.

He informed ministry units and clergy about the situation by letter late last month, before posting it on his blog on Friday.

"For many years, the diocese has been in decline on any parameter that could be named ... attendances, numbers of families served and the real level of giving have all been steadily dropping over the years to the point where several of our parishes are on the very edge of ceasing to exist altogether," he said in the letter.

The economic crisis had resulted in a drop in investment income which may have sustained the diocese, and despite paring the diocesan budget back "as hard as we dared ... we have not been able to balance the annual budget".

The Anglican diocese had become "so starved of resources" it could not do what parishes required of it and was, in its present form, "at the point of collapse".

The diocese, which covered Otago and Southland and included 30 parishes, had been in decline "since the 1960s", like other mainstream churches, but Bishop Wright told the Otago Daily Times it was the Christchurch earthquakes which prompted recent action.

Between them, the 30 parishes owned about 60 churches, along with several halls, all of which had to be inspected for earthquake strengthening, at a cost of between $1500 and $4000 each.

Insurance for its buildings had also increased about 60%.

An inspection of St Paul's Cathedral had yet to be conducted, but some buildings had already been inspected and work for one was estimated to cost $200,000, which the parish would have to pay.

"Where is that going to come from?

"We've got to ask the hard questions. These people go to church for spiritual and social reasons. They did not sign up to be the custodians of historical buildings," he said.

A scheme to inspect the remaining buildings would start from next year, but Bishop Wright said the "realities" of the buildings would have a "major impact on the way we reshape ourselves as a diocese".

"In some ways, the building thing might be a blessing in disguise because once they are relieved of looking after an expensive piece of real estate, they may be stronger for it.

"We are about two years out from a crisis, but we've got to make the changes now while we've still got a bit of wiggle room."

The diocesan council was reviewing its operations. All roles and positions were "open to re-evaluation", Bishop Wright said. It was too early to specify what the changes would be, but there was no threat to positions at the parish level.

"It's not panic, but we are going to have to move fairly quickly. We are not very well endowed, but we do have some historic investments we could use . . . but it would be irresponsible just to soldier on as usual without asking the hard questions."

A restructure had already started whereby clusters of smaller churches would co-operate more by supporting a smaller clergy between them.

"I think people are committed to change, and realise that change has to happen. I think everybody has known this is coming."

He described the opportunity to restructure as a "once in a lifetime chance" to rebuild the diocese to better serve the modern Church.

"I'm not stressed by it; it's actually quite energising. We will be able to reshape an Anglican Church that I think is going to be more authentic."


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