Rochester Faces Crisis

By John Martin

Downton Abbey held up a mirror to contrasting attitudes to shrinking finances. While some of their peers lived in denial and eventually had to give up their estates, the Crawleys stayed alert to financial realities and retained their historic home.

Three years ago, three dioceses in the north of England (Bradford, Ripon, and Wakefield) faced acute financial realities. They amalgamated to form the Diocese of West Yorkshire and the Dales, known too as the Diocese of Leeds.

A contrasting situation is looming in the southeast. The historic Diocese of Rochester announced last week that it had run out of cash. The diocese has operated with deficits for several years and now its financial reserves have run out. Its budgeted deficit for 2016 was £557,000 (about US $720,000). The deficit for 2015 was £604,000 (US $780,000). It has frozen clergy stipends, staff recruitment, and vicarage repairs and it hopes to rent out vacant clergy housing.

The Rt. Rev. James Langstaff, Bishop of Rochester, said in a letter to parishes that these are just short-term expedients and there is a hard road ahead as the diocese strives for a balanced budget. His letter said financial measures needed to include increasing giving by parishes, sale of surplus property, and reduction of parish clergy.

The diocese was founded in the seventh century, when St. Augustine consecrated St. Justus to plant a church in the Medway towns of Kent. It has always had a close and dependent relationship with the Diocese of Canterbury.

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