The Bishop of Derry and Raphoe, Rt Rev Andrew Forster, spoke passionately about the value of curacies during debate about the RB Report presented to the General Synod on Friday 10th May 2024.

“We’re finding it more challenging for parishes to have curates,” Bishop Andrew said, “and it’s mainly for financial reasons. And the formation of curates – I’m convinced of this – the time spent in curacy models what happens into the future. So, what you learn as a curate, how you’re formed as a curate, really dictates the way you end up spending your ministry. So, it’s so important that we have good, positive role models as rectors and good, formative parishes to provide that experience of curacy. And it’s becoming more and more challenging for parishes to do that, mainly because of the cost imperative.

“What we see in the RB is a body that wants to resource the mission of the church of Jesus Christ, resource ministry in the church of Jesus Christ, and as they look at the future of curacies and examine it this year, I just plead for wonderful, abundant generosity.”

Proposing the RB Report, the Vice–Chair of the RCB Executive Committee, Lyndon McCann S.C. explained that the Chairperson, Henry Algeo, could not be present to propose the report as he had experienced a life-threatening medical event last October. He reported that Henry was having a remarkable and wonderful recovery and had been reelected as one of the coopted members of the RCB.

Mr McCann explained that the RCB is the trustee body for the Church of Ireland. It manages the Church’s investments, administers over 18,000 trusts, pays the stipends and pensions of clergy and performs a myriad of other financial and administrative tasks but its principal mission is to provide financial support for the core work of the Church, he said.

He said that the it was a “formidable and daunting range of activities” for any charitable organisation to handle but it was undertaken with commendable professionalism and dedication by the staff at Church House and a range of lay and clerical volunteers.

𝐅𝐢𝐧𝐚𝐧𝐜𝐢𝐚𝐥 𝐏𝐞𝐫𝐟𝐨𝐫𝐦𝐚𝐧𝐜𝐞

Mr McCann reported that global markets had performed well in 2023 after a weak 2022 and this was reflected in the fact that total funds available to the RCB increased by 6.5%. Over the past five years there had been an increase in General Funds from €191m in 2019 to €235m by the end of 2023.

The RCB relies on General Funds to generate income to pay for allocations and operational costs. Mr McCann said that during 2023 General Funds achieved a Total Return for the year of 9.8%. The RCB’s income for the year was €7.8m while expenditure was €7.2m, leaving a surplus of €600,000.

Based on this, a sub–group reviewed the basis of the calculation of the sustainable withdrawal from General Funds (for the first time in five years) and proposed a modest increase in the allowable withdrawal from 3.5% of the previous five–year average opening General Funds balance to 3.6%. This will release approximately €200,000 additional monies to fund the Church’s activities. Given market and interest rate volatility, this will apply for two years only.

Referring to RB General Unit Trusts, Mr McCann reported that, reflecting the general upturn in the performance of their investments the Unit Price increased in RI from €4.21 in 2022 to €4.54 in 2023. In NI the unit price increased from £4.13 in 2022 to £4.25 in 2023. The RB General Unit Trust recorded an annual increase of 10% in each jurisdiction.


Mr McCann stated that half of all expenditure goes on staff costs with other main items of expenditure relating to CITI and theological training, the episcopacy, and General Synod and its committees. He said this breakdown would change in the coming years as new strategic initiatives are undertaken, including the introduction of Pioneer Ministry and potential changes to the funding of curacies and safeguarding.

𝐒𝐭𝐫𝐚𝐭𝐞𝐠𝐢𝐜 𝐅𝐨𝐜𝐮𝐬

Each year the Executive Committee holds a Strategy Away Day. At its Away Day last June the Executive reiterated that the primary objective of the RCB is to support the mission and ministry of the Church of Ireland, he said. Key focus areas include: providing a funding model for curacies, developing a funding strategy for third level chaplaincy, integrating Pioneer Ministry into the formal structures of the Church, developing a property and library strategy, extending the MindMatters mental health programme, developing a succession planning programme for the committees of the RCB.

He outlined a number of these strategic initiatives. Mr McCann said the RCB was committed to supporting Pioneer Ministry financially. The funding of the National Leadership Team is expected to be about €0.2m per year. It is forecast that five initiatives per year will start at an anticipated cost of up to €0.5m per year when the programme is fully operational.

He said that the MindMatters initiative was one of the most important projects supported by the RCB in recent years. During 2023 the Church Fabric and Development Fund committed €50,000 towards the second phase of the project and consideration will be given to the possibility of increasing the financial assistance.

Substantial monies remained in the Church of Ireland Flood Appeal Fund, he said and encouraged affected parishes to find application forms on the Property section of Parish Resources on the Church of Ireland website.

He highlighted the priorities of the RB Climate Change Policy: Energy usage, Transportation, Waste and Biodiversity. He stated that each of these is considered by the RCB as it develops policies for the life of the Church and as it manages its own operations.

He outlined developments in the Clergy Pensions Fund and the increase in the Pensionable Stipend.

Regarding Dignity in Church Life Policies, Mr McCann reported that there had been three successful applicants for admission to the Clergy Permanent Health Insurance Policy with another application pending. None had been rejected.

Turning to the consolidation of trusts he said that over the last number of months a team of solicitors operating on a pro bono basis had been working with the Property and Trusts Department with a view to bringing forward proposals at a diocesan level to amalgamate so of the over 18,000 trusts placed with the RCB into new trust funds which would operate in each diocese under four main headings: education, relief of property, support of stipends, and maintenance and upkeep of churches, parish properties, graves and graveyards.

Finally, he said that in the year ahead the future needs of the RCB Library would be addressed.

Drawing his remarks to a close, Mr McCann said none of this work could be done without the invaluable input of two groups of stakeholders: the staff of Church House and the members of the RCB. He recorded a number of changes to the staff including the retirements of Pauline Dunlop as Investment Administration Manager and Kate Williams as Head of Finance and IT and the departure of Special Projects Manager, Rebekah Fozzard. He thanked a number of staff who had retired and left during 2023 and welcomed new arrivals.

Seconding the report of the RCB, Dean Nigel Crossey, recalled that the RB Executive Committee had met eight times during the year and each meeting had been reported to the Representative Body of the Church of Ireland allowing members to ask questions and challenge any of the proposals from the executive committee. This, he explained, provided a transparent governance framework in compliance with the Charities Governance Code.

Dean Crossey said in setting the Executive Committee’s priorities there had been a noticeable shift from maintenance towards mission, from preservation towards outreach.

Highlighted areas of the RB report, he said that Pioneer Ministry was one of the significant and exciting initiatives that the RCB would be supporting over the coming years. Pioneer Ministry is an initiative to establish new ministry communities and church, he explained. Training for pioneer ministers is to be provided by the Church Army through the Church of Ireland Theological Institute. Pioneer ministers are supported by the Pioneer Ministry National Leadership team, with oversight by the Pioneer Ministry Council, and funding is provided by the RCB. It’s an initiative intended to enable and invigorate the mission of the Church, he added.

The RB had also recognised that there was also a need to support parish ministry which he said remained foundational to the life and witness of the Church. In this area the executive had been considering the provision of grants to support curacies.

He highlighted the advice and service provided by the staff of the RCB on issues surrounding compliance and safeguarding. During the year, he reported, the staff of the RCB developed a paper addressing the division of roles and responsibility between the RCB as policy developer and advisor and the dioceses having a responsibility for implementation. The Safeguarding Board have requested an external independent review of the governance of safeguarding and this review will be considered by the Safeguarding Board and the Executive Committee.

Dean Crossey also drew members’ attention to properties as the RCB is the primary trustee for the properties of the Church of Ireland. The executive has identified the need to review the property portfolio to determine their most efficient and effective use.

He also pointed to the staff organisation of the RCB and observed that with the refocusing of the Church’s priorities towards mission he would expect that over the coming years the RCB staff structure would need to evolve to address these changes.

Contributing to the debate on the report, Bishop Andrew Forster said it was good to see that the RB Report reflected that the RB was at the heart of the mission of the Church of Ireland. He said he was in awe of the expertise that is brought to the table of the RB as something of the discipleship of those members.

Addressing Bishop Andrew’s comments on the resourcing of curacies, the report’s proposer, Mr McCann, said, “In terms of the funding of curacies, I think, Bishop, you’ll find you’re preaching at an open door in relation to what you said on the funding of curacies. There is, I think, an unfair dichotomy in the parish itself having to bear the entire financial burden of sustaining a curate.

“Of course, there is an immediate and proximate benefit of the parish having an extra member of the ordained minister on the team; that, perhaps, has to be reflected some way financially. But the training of the curate is something that impacts on the long term health and survivability of the church as a whole, and I think it’s probably unsustainable to suggest that into the future that the entirety of the financial burden should have to rest with the parish in which the curate finds himself or herself. But, it is a work in progress and we will report back further in relation to that in the fullness of time – the ‘fullness of time’ being hopefully the Synod of next year.

Canon Andrew Orr, on behalf of Eco Congregation, thanked the RCB for their funding which enabled them to resource parishes in their climate related work at a local level. He said energy usage was the trickiest area for parishes to work at. He said there was not a lot of expertise but Eco Congregation was putting together a panel which could answer the questions of people from parishes who are addressing their energy usage.

Bishop Ferran Glenfield said there were churches all over Ireland orientated East/West and they all had rooves. He suggested that the rooves could be an asset for parishes with solar panels. He said there were opportunities to create energy for parishes and for their communities. “It is a no brainer … it is something we could contribute in urban and village streetscapes and even in rural parts,” he said hoping that parishes throughout the Church of Ireland could realise an energy dream.

Archdeacon Peter Thompson spoke about the age distribution of stipendiary clergy with a large proportion over the age of 56. He said the numbers coming in and going out don’t stack up and asked how the Church was planning for the future. He predicted that the shortfall in stipendiary clergy would be around 50% in six or seven years’ time.

General Synod approved the RCB allocations motion as follows:

That the General Synod hereby authorises the Representative Body to make the following allocations from General Funds in 2024:

A. Maintenance of the stipendiary ministry

• Episcopal costs €1,047,776

• Chaplaincy costs €317,328

• Miscellaneous €126,266

B. Pension related costs –

C. Training of ordinands €1,152,292

D.General Synod activities €1,205,048

E. Miscellaneous €16,461

F. Pioneer Ministry €241,377