You don’t expect the Chair of the Blackburn Diocesan Board of Finance to tell you up front that his job is not about money … but that is exactly the way in which David Barlow describes his role.
David, a qualified accountant, lives in Clayton-le-Woods and is a Reader and Treasurer at St John's Parish Church in Whittle-le-Woods.
He took over the hot seat from Canon John Dell last summer bringing extensive business experience to the role at Blackburn Diocese (The Church of England in Lancashire). This experience includes time working for the Archdiocese of Liverpool as Financial Controller and a lengthy spell as Finance Director of Career Connect on Merseyside.
Now, with six months or so as Chair under his belt, David has more of a handle on what the role is about and what he sees as his responsibilities moving forward: “I don’t think my role is purely about finance at all,” he says. “A few months in and I am still on a learning curve. Part of that learning curve is to try and understand how the Diocese does things; in other words, having made decisions, how do we implement them?
“I come to the job with an immense respect for the progress that has been made by the Diocese over the last few years; the stability we enjoy, the commitment of the people I have met and work alongside.”
For any senior officer in the Diocese, relations between the central teams and the parishes always loom large in the thinking.
David elaborates: “I was quite happy working at parish level as treasurer, but since becoming involved at a Diocesan level I can see the gap in understanding that can exist between people in parishes and those at the Diocesan Offices.
“We need to close that gap: recognising there are different challenges and working out how best we as a Diocese can respond to those challenges; identifying what we believe to be best for the whole Diocese and its parishes and moving forward together.
“We have to step up our willingness to listen to what people are saying throughout the church family. I don’t have all the answers but with fresh eyes I can question more easily.”
Picture (right) shows Rt Rev Julian Henderson, Bishop of Blackburn; new Chair of the DBF David Barlow; Canon John Dell, David’s predecessor and Graeme Pollard, Diocesan Secretary
David feels the Diocese’s Vision 2026 initiative is a strong motivator adding: “The engagement of the whole Bishop’s Leadership Team and staff at the Diocesan offices with Vision 2026 is excellent. They support Vision 2026 because they believe it’s the right way forward; while I find there is a real engagement with Vision 2026 in parishes across the Diocese.”
But David also sounds a note of caution: “Parishes will find it hard if there is a feeling of disconnection with the Diocesan leadership and organisation.
“While we have a responsibility as parishes to help one another, whether it’s with finance, expertise or prayer; two-way communication from the Diocesan offices, reaching all clergy and ‘people in the pews’, is always a challenge.”
David cites the current ongoing Clergy Study Days taking place across Lancashire with the theme of ‘Generosity, Gift and Grace’ as an example of good practice in this area.
“These face-to-face events are an opportunity for members of the Bishop’s Leadership Team to meet and talk with clergy for an extended period; encourage them in their work and give advice and insight on how to engage with congregations on the topic of giving their time, talents and money in the service of Jesus Christ.
“I personally attended a recent Study Day in Leyland and was struck by what Bishop Philip said when he spoke of how our starting point for generosity should first be what Jesus has done for us; not straightforward requests for cash to fix a leaky roof!
“Bishop Philip also said giving should not be about ‘propping up’ an institution; rather it should be about our relationship with God and we should collectively be looking at the whole concept of giving in a different way – not giving what’s left over to Him but giving to God first before anything else.”
As he begins to settle into the role of Chair of the Board of Finance, David also now finds himself reflecting on what his responsibilities are going forward. He says: “I feel that my biggest strength is not having all the answers; instead I am looking to encourage parishes to come forward with their own ideas and contributions.
“Meanwhile, another of my aims will be to challenge the timescales of how we get from idea or policy to implementation and results. People need to see that they are being listened to through practical action as well as supportive words.”
So how does the new Chair rate the financial health of the diverse and challenging organisation that is Blackburn Diocese?
“We are stable; but it’s always nice to have a bit more money available,” David says. “The rate of Parish Share contribution (the amount of money that each parish is asked to contribute to support the mission and ministry of the Church in the Diocese of Blackburn) undoubtedly needs to improve.
“In that context it is encouraging to note, in addition to the ‘Generosity Gift and Grace’ study days for clergy that fresh efforts are also under way as part of a renewed ‘focus on discipleship’ across the Diocese to work towards increasing giving; encouraging people to consider giving more of their time, talents AND money towards furthering the Kingdom of God.
“It’s a balance. We know what the challenge is, and I fully agree with the idea that the way we improve our finances is by focusing on discipleship, but it must also be a personal response. Our discipleship responsibilities must include making sure we have adequate resources to pay our way.”
David is also a great believer in parishes communicating the financial facts of life to church members directly.
“We should be giving people regular updates on the financial position of the parish,” he says.
“The post of parish treasurer is crucial: there aren’t many people who want to take it on, but timely and accurate information for the PCC and the congregation has been proven to improve the financial health of parishes.”
“My own church gets a written report on where we are every couple of months; to make sure that everyone knows how we stand. This can be an important feature in encouraging giving: not by asking, just informing.”
“People have every right to ask where their money is going and at all levels of the Diocese we should be upfront and transparent about our finances.”
It doesn’t have to be complicated. David recalls his own experience of presenting a Bible study on giving 18 years ago to the house groups at St John’s Church in Whittle-le-Woods.
He says: “I stuck to the set text each time and didn’t deviate from the simple message I wanted to convey.
“The one thing that struck me about the feedback I received afterwards was the number of people who said to me: ‘You know, I’ve not thought about this for years - I need to go away and think about it”
“As a result we saw a significant increase in giving.”
While the road ahead remains challenging, David believes the foundations are strong for The Church of England in Lancashire and the Diocese represents good value for money. But he wants to hear what YOU think.
David says: “I would be delighted to receive invitations to listen to the views of PCCs across the Diocese; just to listen to what people have to say. I want to be visible in this job, not in terms of telling people what to do, but just to listen.”
Article written by Mark Ashley