Sheffield clergy numbers set to be slashed as dwindling congregations and crumbling buildings force rethink

The number of clergy in the Sheffield diocese is set to be slashed as church leaders struggle to balance the books.

Wednesday, 27th February 2019, 18:05 pm
Updated Wednesday, 27th February 2019, 18:12 pm

Dwindling congregations, the cost of maintaining ageing buildings and existing budget deficits are blamed for the dramatic cut to its ranks.

The number of stipendiary clergy would fall by more than a quarter, from 103 to 75, and the number of deaneries would be halved from 12 to six, under plans being drawn up.

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The planned cutbacks were recommended by a task and finish group commissioned by the Bishop’s Council to look into the diocese's finances.

Pete Wilcox, the bishop of Sheffield, described the challenges facing the church as a ‘four-headed beast’.

In an update posted on the diocese website, he wrote that attendances were ‘still falling, or at best are barely holding their own’, congregations were getting older and most parish budgets were in the red.

He added that in many places church structures, which he described as buildings, rules and compliance regulations, were ‘not what we would choose’.

Bishop Pete said the reduction in clergy numbers would ‘not take place overnight’, and the church would instead ‘inch our way towards a new model’.

He said the task and finish group was expected to present detailed proposals next month for consultation, and a final plan should be published this autumn before the changes begin next year, should they be approved by the Diocesan Synod.

Writing about the group’s work, he wrote: “It has been wrestling with the fact that, while at the end of 2018 we had 103 stipendiary incumbents in the Diocese of Sheffield, in fact (were it not for the sale of three properties), we could afford only 90 this year. 

“But what is especially challenging for the Bishop’s Council is the knowledge that we cannot be certain of our capacity to maintain income levels. 

“For this reason, the Task and Finish group is working on a plan for the deployment of our stipendiary clergy which assumes only 75 stipendiary incumbents and a drop from 12 to 6 deaneries.”

Bishop Pete said he was personally visiting every deanery during the first six months of this year to discuss the situation

He added that while the church was having to respond to financial pressures, he felt the ‘real impetus’ was coming from the Holy Spirit.

“I am confident that, in God’s grace, this process will enable all of us, lay and ordained, to fulfil our callings more fully, so that the Church of God in the Diocese of Sheffield can fulfil its vocation more fully too,” he concluded.

Sharing the news on its Facebook page, St Timothy's Church in Crookes wrote: “Please do pray for our bishops and senior staff, and for the life of the Church of England in South Yorkshire.”