A short drive to Winchester, and I arrived outside the Guildhall the setting for the special synod to discuss the diocesan budget.
I was greeted by my Assistant Tom and John, one of the students. There to remind synod of the existence of chaplaincy.
The meeting opened with prayers and then we turned to the matter at hand. The diocese had a budget shortfall and the a new budget had to be approved.
It was the Bishop of Basingstoke who stood to present the proposal, he spoke of our calling as a diocesan family. He spoke of the future and of resourcing what me are called to do and not doing what we can resource. He then turned to the Budget and the cutting of posts as proposed. It was exactly as the Church Times had reported there were a number of clergy posts being cut, of course my post was one of them.
The Bishop dealt with that fairly swiftly, pointing out that in Prison chaplaincy it is the Home Office that funds the post, and that no one should accuse the Church of pulling out of chaplaincy. They simply were looking to rethink funding.
There was then several people who responded. Everyone who stood spoke in favour of the retention of posts, and I had hope of success, but when a woman from Romsey deanery spoke about the fact that we were just going to 'have to pass' the budget I realised that it was going to be almost impossible to secure the funding for my post. Over coffee I overheard one person saying "There are 24,000 students and we're paying for them to have a chaplain, there are 22,000 people living in our deanery and we have 6 vicars and the students aren't paying a penny for one of them."
'Cock' I thought.
As the debate wore on there was increasingly a desire to see more money given, there was increasing talk of communicating with the diocese what was needed, it was noted to reverse every single cut proposed today each and ever member of the church in Winchester Diocese had only to give 88p per week(gift aided). There was some considerable disquiet about cutting the curate posts from 9 to 7 for one year only, people noted this was the future of the Church and one vicar offered to take a £1,000 pay cut in order to ensure that does not take place.
There was some complaint that the diocese did not know what was being considered because the document was kept secret. The Bishop responded that it was confidential not secret and that he wished it would be shared within the diocese with anyone who wanted to know.
Finally I rose to my feet to speak.
I knew what I had to say needed to be good, I spoke without notes and without preparing. I had been praying for guidance as to what to say.
I addressed the Bishop's comment about the need to partner with the institution and ecumenical partners. With the removal of all the money in what sense can we say we are partners? What are we offering? The Bishop responded 'Housing'.
I read to synod from 2 Corinthians 3 and stated that I wanted to be judged only on the work that I had done these 4 and a half years. On the people I had worked with. I spoke about the petition by nearly 850 people to retain my post, it was the first time it had been mentioned. I spoke about the nearly 1,000 students who had joined a group asking for me to be kept in post. The fact that head of one department of the University has e-mailed me to let me know the department were 'praying for me'.
I spoke of the many students who are interested in ordained ministry and I spoke of the many offers I have had this week, from individual students, from parents and from alumni. Offers of prayer, but also offers of money to help fund the chaplaincy.
Finally I said, that if the church would not fund me I would stay in post unpaid and trust God for the finances. An offer I do not make lightly and so I repeat publicly here. Perhaps we need a demonstration of living by faith and I am happy to do that by lived example.
As I sat the synod erupted into applause.
But then we moved quickly to a vote.
First there were two amendments, one to retain the Chaplain to the Deaf and another to retain a University Chaplaincy. Synod was told that since these amendments did not contain a proposal for cutting the amount of money needed to provide the expenditure necessary they were 'uncosted' and therefore could not be considered. Both amendments were withdrawn. One had been tabled by a mother with two profoundly deaf children.
In the end the synod had been given an opportunity to express its opinions but the vote when it came was on the budget as a whole. The Bishop of Basingstoke made it clear that we could not in any way pick apart the budget and look at individual proposals or posts. The thing had to be looked at as a whole, he said.
The Diocesan Secretary noted that without a budget the Diocese would not be able 'to spend a penny' and as a result, it would seem, the entire work of the Diocese would ground to a halt on 1st January 2010. A prospect that would have many a vicar 'spending a penny'.
Thus it was hardly surprising that synod passed the budget nearly unanimously.
The funding has therefore been withdrawn for my post, and unless alternative funding is found, somewhere in the region of 350 people giving £5 a month (or between $8 and $9), I will be made redundant.
I need more than 350 people not to give, but to pray.