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Report of the Representative Church Body Presented at Synod

Report of the Representative Church Body Presented at Synod

The report of the Representative Church Body was presented at General Synod in its online meeting this afternoon (Tuesday December 1).

Presenting the report, Henry Saville, pointed out that Synod was meeting in unique circumstances and added that while he was presenting the report for 2019 which was almost 12 months out of date, its purpose was to account to Synod on the report for 2019 and the activities for that year.

He cited the origins of the RCB as the trustee body for the Church of Ireland which came into existence in 1870 as part of the Disestablishment process. The property of the Church which had previously been in state ownership was transferred to the newly created statutory trustee body. Since then the RCB has existed to hold and care for the assets of the Church, both physical and financial.

The effective management of the financial assets was a critical feature of the work of the RB and its staff, Mr Saville said, as the return on these assets is what funds so many of the activities necessary for the continuing existence of the Church of Ireland as we know it.

Looking at invested funds he said 2019 recorded a strong performance for the invested general funds; the total grew during the year from €167.7m to €190.2m. “These are indeed impressive figures but they are slightly off the target benchmark rate of return. And whilst I am not today here to talk about 2020 investment performance it will come as no surprise to anyone that follows investment markets that our funds were hammered in Quarter 1 of 2020 – along with all investment markets – as a result of the early impact of coronavirus and lockdowns; happily, the most recent figures indicate that funds have recovered to the recent peak figures recorded at the start of this year,” Mr Saville stated.

In line with commitments made at previous Synods, he reported that there had been a further increase in investment in forestry and renewable energy.

Services Provided and their Cost
Mr Saville outlined the services provided which include financial management and reporting, investment management, property and trust administration, clergy payroll and pension administration, safeguarding and human resource management and advisory, legal services, library and archive management, charities advisory services, GDPR and committee support. The cost of delivering these services amounted to almost half of the annual outgoings, he said.

It would be strange to finish without making some reference to 2020 and the impact of the pandemic on the activities of the RB, Mr Saville observed. The working envrionment for RB staff had changed radically with home working becoming the norm, he stated. All committees are meeting and doing business on Zoom.

“Like many others, we miss the personal interaction that is possible when meetings take place physically – and it is undoubtedly more difficult to deal with some business where the finer points of a discussion can be more fully developed when everyone is in a room together, but nonetheless most business of Church House has continued, largely uninterrupted, and services have continued to be developed and delivered,” he said.

He paid tribute to the staff for their commitment, input and support in enabling the continued delivery of the range of services provided by the RB throughout the pandemic and amid the totally changed methods of working.

Proposing the Report
Proposing the report, Bishop Andrew Forster (Derry and Raphoe), said that 2020 had been unprecedented and 2019 seemed like a distant memory.

“2019 was a great year. In 2019, the RCB built on the strong foundations it had laid for supporting parishes and dioceses. It busied itself making new resources available on the ‘Parish Resources’ section of the Church of Ireland website to deliver training and develop expertise. There was a particular focus, on the development of safeguarding policy, further development of data protection policy, there was training, and, in the meantime, the RCB Library offered online presentations, lectures and exhibitions of interest beyond our church. So, looking back, 2019 was a time of unprecedented activity for the RCB,” he said.

He added that 2019 was a time of change. It was the last year that Archbishop Richard Clarke chaired the RB and Trevor Stacey retired after many years as head of Property and Trusts.
He said there was no hiding the fact that these are difficult days as we negotiate the new reality of a world struggling to contain Covid–19. However, he highlighted the way in which the RCB had adjusted to its new circumstances. “The RCB may be doing things differently, but its mission remains the same. And we are enormously grateful to its committees and staff – our key workers – for helping us through these difficult times,” he stated.
Clergy and parishioners had also adjusted with large numbers attending church online and clergy reaching out to maintain community and fellowship. “The gospel that we preach is being preached over new media and hopefully to new listeners. But the message remains the same, the message of hope in the person and promises of Jesus,” Bishop Forster said. “I keep reminding people in Derry and Raphoe that we are people of faith, not fear. There are grounds for hope. The RCB and its staff are evidence of that. Our clergy, our select vestries and our parishioners are evidence of that.”

Discussion on the Report
Stephen Trew (Down and Dromore) commented on the investments. He said that the energy sector performance for 2019 had been the among biggest losers. He said he was pleased to read in the Book of Reports that the RCB is commited to divesting in fossil fuels by 2022 but asked for a firm commitment to the measures that were adopted at previous Synods.  

Mr Saville replied that the investment committee is totally committed to fulfilling the obligation in totally divesting from companies with fossil fuel activities. He said there were different ways of measuring some of these things and differences in understanding on how this can be achived. “There is a common understanding that we are committed to moving towards that goal. There is no pullback in terms of the commitment given,” he stated. He suggested that if there was confusion over understanding it could be dealt with via direct communication between Mr Trew and the investment management staff.

Motion No 3 relating to allocations was proposed by Canon Graham Richards and Seconded by Bishop Forster:

That the General Synod hereby authorises the Representative Body to make the following allocations from General Funds in 2020:

A.    Maintenance of the stipendiary ministry
   •Episcopal costs –  €859,975
   •Chaplaincy costs – €289,936
   •Miscellaneous – €98,661

B.     Pension related costs – €109,700
C.     Training of ordinands – €1,211,364
D.    General Synod activities – €1,050,936
E.     Miscellaneous – €16,047

Grand Total:– €3,636,619

The report of the RCB was adopted by members of Synod.

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