25 June 2015, The Tablet

Brentwood lays off staff in diocesan restructure

Brentwood diocese has made 10 people redundant, and closed down most of its commissions, in an attempt to reduce a spending shortfall and to pursue a new way of evangelising, it announced this week.

Its newly-appointed episcopal vicar for administration, Fr Andrew Headon, said the last few weeks had been “a very difficult time for all”, especially those who had been told they would no longer have jobs, adding: “They have given so much to the diocese, from two years to 20 years’ service.”

The job cuts came in a diocese that had a growing rather than a declining population, pointed out Fr Headon, saying: “We’re a growing diocese, and there aren’t many of those. But the problem is a growing operating deficit at the centre, and that’s what we had to address.”

With the arrival of a new bishop, Alan Williams, last year, the decision had been taken to evangelise in a new way, and to cut costs at the same time.

“The Pope has become our new global parish priest, and we have lots of new ways of communicating with one another, from email to Twitter,” said Fr Headon. “There was a layer of bureaucracy that wasn’t needed any more.”

Diocesan commissions that will be cut include those for youth, justice and social responsibility, said Fr Headon, explaining that “from now on every parish will take responsibility for these roles: we are asking volunteers to step up to the mark throughout the diocese to do that work”.

He said there were “one or two things” that would no longer happen in the diocese, but that in general the same work would continue, only now it would be devolved and decentralised to the parishes.

“It’s the biggest restructure for 35 years,” he said. “It’s a wonderful opportunity for a new beginning, and it’s great that it coincides with Proclaim 15, which is about parishes becoming more missionary.”

In a statement, Brentwood diocese said its guiding vision was to proclaim the Gospel, a vision that had to be shared across its 83 parishes in a way that addressed the challenges of today.

Fr Headon said the funding deficit was a result of a combination of factors including spending on new arrangements to meet new safeguarding and health and safety regulations, as well as increased pension needs. In addition, diocesan revenue from capital investments had been reduced in recent years.

Fr Dominic Howarth, who is responsible for youth provision in the diocese, said it would be a mistake to think the work would not be continuing, adding: “It’s a new way of working, but all our work will definitely continue.”

The new arrangements would involve significantly more laypeople than had been previously involved in the provision of the commissions’ services. What the restructure was about, he said, was a more effective way of operating, and a way of empowering laypeople.

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