Report of the Representative Church Body presented to General Synod
The report of the Representative Church Body was presented at General Synod on Friday evening (October 1). The report notes that total funds available increased by €5 million to €208 million in 2020. Expenditure from General Funds in 2020 decreased by €100,000 to €7.1 million. Allocations have been set at €3.7 million for 2021.
The RCB supports shareholder engagement in the area of environmental sustainability and does this through its membership of the Church Investors Group (CIG) and the Institutional Investors Group on Climate Change (IIGCC). Engagement and shareholder resolutions have been undertaken with a number of companies to achieve increased transparency and reduced CO2 emissions.
The RCB’s Investment Committee has divested from companies involved in the extraction of thermal coal and tar sands as these companies are unlikely to be able to align with a future that limits temperature rises to a level that is well below 2° Celsius above pre–industrial levels. It has also sought to increase exposure to renewable energy assets where the risk/return profile is attractive. Following a recent review of the remaining energy exposure, the Investment Committee has agreed to implement additional restrictions for fossil fuel companies involved in the extraction of oil and gas (identified by exposure to reserves), and has set a target to be fully divested from such stocks by 2022, in line with the resolution on this issue approved by General Synod in 2018.
The report was proposed by Canon Graham Richards.
Speaking on the RCB report, chairperson of the RB Executive, Henry Saville prefaced his traditional comments with an acknowledgement to all the RB staff in Dublin and Belfast for the manner in which they had adapted to and coped with the exceptional working environment imposed on everyone over the last 18 months.
Mr Saville said he indicated last year that, after a very difficult start to 2020 in terms of volatile investment markets, triggered by the start of the pandemic, the values of invested general funds had recovered significantly and this held true to the end of the year; at 31 December 2020 the value of invested general funds had reached € 196million (2019 €190million).
Investment performance has continued to be very strong in 2021 across all areas; at the end of August general funds had grown to €230 million but there has also been strong performance in both the unit trusts and also the Clergy Pension Fund portfolio, he reported. Whilst these latter categories had recovered some of their early losses by the end of December 2020 they had not, at that point, returned to the levels that they had been at previously; but he was pleased to be able to report that all categories were now at peak levels. “A word of caution however – investment performance has been strong across virtually all markets in 2021; continued growth at current levels is not sustainable and some correction must be anticipated,” he said.
In the area of allocations, Mr Saville said the significant areas of expenditure were in three main categories: ministry, training of ordinands and General Synod activities. Each of these categories required funding of something over one million euro annually and each of them was critical to the continued life of the Church, he stated. Other areas included: Property; Trusts; Safeguarding; HR; Legal services; Library and archive management; and Charities advisory services.
Outlining Covid supports, he pointed to the grant to dioceses to fund live streaming and broadcasting, support and advice given to parishes, the Return to In–Church Worship protocols, the Diocesan deferral scheme, and interest free loans to cathedrals.
Other activities in 2020 included the decision to outsource management of invested funds, the MindMatters COI mental health project with a significant grant from AllChurches Trust, and the rationalisation of the delivery of payroll services.
He said that over 2021 a number of issues had been considered by the Executive Committee. Firstly, there was no adequate church–wide scheme to deal with clergy who may be suffering from long term illness and are no longer able to occupy a post that would provide an income. Secondly, he said discussions had started at Executive level on desirable outcomes following the expiry of the current funding proposal for the now closed Clergy Defined Benefit pension scheme.
Seconding the report, Bishop George Davison (Connor) acknowledged that the report covered a very challenging period for the church in all its parts. In the midst of the huge disruption to our life together as a Christian community, he noted that Mr Saville had outlined what could justifiably be described as a successful year for the RCB.
He said that in responding to the pandemic we all learned new skills and adapted how we communicate with one another in parishes, diocesan committees and central church meetings. While electronic meeting platforms may have their limitations, they had enabled us to continue to meet, he said adding that while we look forward to face to face meetings, remote meetings reduce travel time and costs.
Another benefit the bishop noted was the accelerated ability of the RCB to deliver remote training. This was particularly important in the area of safeguarding training but there has also been training in charities governance. He highlighted the Parish Resources section of the Church of Ireland website which contains a useful and accessible body of resources.
Aside from the pandemic, another feature of the past year was climate change. Severe flooding, drought and wild fires has challenged us on our individual and corporate stewardship of God’s creation, he said. “In the main, the RCB’s focus has in the past been on our investments, but that focus is expanding to consider how the church as a whole can realign its activities to minimise our impact on the environment. Most of us, as individuals, are becoming used to considering what we can do to reduce waste, our carbon footprint and the destruction of our natural resources, and increasingly we are recognising that we need to consider the implications of those priorities for our life together as church communities too. I am pleased to hear that the Church Fabric & Development Fund has approved funding for a climate change conference next year and I hope this will initiate a church wide discussion on this important topic,” he said.
He paid tribute to Henry Saville as he steps down from his role as chair of the RB Executive Committee stating that he had given unstintingly of himself for the last five years. He welcomed Henry Algeo as the incoming Executive chairman.
Speaking to the report Joan Bruton (Meath and Kildare) referred to the Women’s Ministry Review. At a conference a female member of the clergy said she had returned from sick leave but said she had not been sick but had been pregnant. She hoped that the Women’s Ministry Review group would deal with this and looked forward to hearing their review.
Dean Stephen Forde referred to the Cathedrals Loans Scheme and said that tourist income dried up as a result of Covid and they were faced with having to make savage cuts to choirs. The RCB listened to the cathedrals and churches with choral foundations and ensured that the choral tradition was maintained, he said.
Canon Patrick Harvey (Cashel, Ferns and Ossory) addressed the Library and Archives section and spoke of an ancient chalice and two pattens from his diocese. He said the pattens and chalice are gone. They were recalled by the RCB to be displayed in the Crypt in Christ Church Cathedral. He said they would now sit behind glass not being used, having been used in the diocese up until their recall.
Stephen Trew (Down and Dromore) said that achieving divestment from all fossil fuel extraction companies this year is an exceptional result. He said he believed this amounted to about €50 million being moved from fossil fuels over the last decade and there had been no negative impact on the RCB investment performance. He thanked Mr Saville and the investment committee and the staff of the RCB, particularly Sarah Dunne, for their work on achieving this target from the private members motion in 2018.
He also thanked Methodist President Dr Sahr Yambasu for his reminder that in many issues, the poorest and most vulnerable suffer the most and that our world is our family and that we must cooperate to respond to these justice issues.
“This is not a bandwagon, it is an integral part of our mission and all of us need to sing from the hymn sheet of justice. Some of us might be a little out of tune but when we act together we can act in harmony,” he commented.
Referring to the Archbishop of Armagh’s Presidential address, he said it presented a real challenge to every diocese, every vestry and every follower of Christ that our mission must include action in response to the climate crisis. He also welcomed Bishop Davison’s comments in his seconding of the report.
Archbishop Michael Jackson, chairing the debate commended Mr Trew on his hard work on the issue over many years.
The Revd Trevor Sergeant said he was honoured to be following Stephen Trew for his consistent, enlightened and prophetic work in the name of Jesus Christ for a holistic and just ministry in the church which the RCB report echoes.
He said that the term stranded assets is a term used more and more in economic circles and it was a useful image to get into our heads that some of our assets in the past will be stranded in the future as the transition into a low carbon world and a low carbon ministry gathers pace. He hoped that the example of the RCB, would trickle down to parishes. He said he knew this was difficult. He said that Eco–Congregation Ireland finds that it runs into a brick wall when it comes to encouraging parishes to embrace sustainability – for example repair work in churches that would reduce energy consumption it became too expensive. He wondered if the funds provided by the RCB could be incentivised to encourage low carbon initiatives. The Church’s financial incentives needed to point in that direction, he said.
Bishop Michael Burrows (Cashel, Ferns and Ossory) sang the praises of the RCB Library and staff. The role of the library has expanded enormously and he discerned that as the library emerges from Covid that it is stretched staff–wise. He reminded the RB that the adequate staffing of the library is a priority.
The motion on allocations was carried by Synod and the report of the RCB was adopted by Synod. The motion on the membership of the Pensions Board was carried.