By Mark Michael

The Church of England’s Diocese of Liverpool announced that it will furlough a number of its curates for four weeks, beginning on April 27, to help manage revenue shortfalls resulting from the UK’s nationwide lockdown, which began on March 23. Clergy stipends are paid by the diocese in the Church of England, but are mostly funded by parish shares, large assessments paid by local congregations. The decision is part of a diocesan-wide plan that also includes furloughing staff at St. James House, the diocesan headquarters, which is expected to save a half-million pounds over the next three months.

Curates, mostly newly ordained priests who serve as assistant ministers in parishes, were slated for furloughs, the diocese said, because of “the technical, legal status of their ministry.” Furloughs will be entirely voluntary, and those who decide to participate in the plan will be eligible to participate in the UK’s Job Retention Scheme, which pays furloughed workers 80% of their salaries, up to £2,500 per month. Starting monthly salaries in the Diocese of Liverpool are £2,116 ($2,616), among the lowest of all Church of England dioceses.

‘The diocese of Liverpool has always sought to be realistic about how to manage this crisis,” the statement said. “Our aim is not simply to survive for a short period of time. We are clear about the financial challenges we face. We have to look at all ways in which we not only come through this crisis but have a platform to be able to continue to build the church and sustain a Christian presence.”

The diocese, which was formed in 1880, is relatively small for a Church of England diocese, with only 211 parishes. It lacks the large endowments possessed by some of the Church’s ancient dioceses. Liverpool diocesan officials expressed thanks to some parishes who had offered advances on their parish share payments, and noted that they are in talks with the Church of England’s central authorities about receiving direct assistance.

The Church Times reported that Archbishop of Canterbury Justin Welby had convened a working group in late March to address financial pressure across the church created by the current crisis. Officials expect that local parishes will suffer seriously from the lack of Sunday collections, though the growing use of standing bank orders for individual giving may mitigate this to some degree. The Church Commissioners manage a £8.3 billion investment pool, which has been seriously impacted by short-term declines in financial markets.  Welby said that the working group hoped to address appeals for assistance from dioceses and cathedrals in the near future.

Liverpool bishop Paul Bayes said, “This is new territory for us and for the national Church. I continue to thank God for the way in which colleagues in the diocese are exploring a range of different approaches to the present crisis, including this one. As with so many aspects of this situation we have been humbled by the gracious and generous way in which these efforts have been received and by the understanding shown.

“Despite the human and economic stress of these present days, Liverpool Diocese remains faithful to its call to bring the Gospel to present and future generations and to make a bigger difference in the world. That plays out in our lives in so many ways, and in this instance, it is about staying home, staying safe.”

Liverpool, a port on the Irish Sea and the heart of a metropolitan area of more than 2 million people, is about 200 miles northwest of London.