It soon became clear that some of the challenges of the pandemic were also opportunities both for service and for reaching out in new ways. As priests ensured that the Mass continued to be celebrated every day, many of them joined with deacons and lay people in helping to bring solace and practical help to those in great need, to the hungry and the homeless.
Significant charitable activities were undertaken during the year, including:
Some 75% of parishes have begun to draw down funding for projects established as a result of the Alive in Faith appeal. These range in scope from refurbishment and repairs for church buildings, to installation of photovoltaic panels in schools, to supporting young people and the elderly, to helping the homeless or to support family life. The total amount pledged to Alive in Faith stands at over £6.3 million.
The Covid-19 pandemic meant that Catholic churches were closed for public worship on Friday March 20. They reopened for acts of collective worship on Saturday July 4, 2020. This closure, along with ongoing government regulations limiting the size of religious activities had a deleterious impact on many aspects of parish life, which is reflected in the annual statistics.
Baptisms reduced by more than half, from 807 in 2019 to 396 in 2020. First Holy Communions reduced by a third to 683 (1,051 in 2019) while Confirmations reduced by almost half to 405 (396 in 2019). There was a fall in marriages from 197 to 78.
Sunday Mass attendance, counted in September/October, was 9,400 compared with 22,975 in 2019. This does not include those people who participated in the liturgy at home through watching Mass with at least half of our 52 parishes offering some form of live-streaming during the year (compared with just two at the start of the pandemic). Weekday Mass attendance rose in many parishes, as some parishioners preferred to attend Mass at the less busy services.
The total Catholic population now stands at an estimated 109,000.
At the end of 2020, the Diocese had 84 active priests, 24 active permanent deacons, eight seminarians and three students for the permanent diaconate.
The total income of the Diocese decreased from £7.48m to £6.08m during the year. Total expenditure for the Diocese also decreased, from £7.33m in 2019 to £6.06m in 2020.
The activities of the Diocese are largely undertaken through its parishes. Of the overall diocesan finances, parishes account for over 72% (2019: 71%) of income and approximately 57% (2019: 68%) of expenditure. Some 67% (2019: 65%) of the Diocesan charity’s net assets being held at parochial level at £22.49m with parishes out of total diocesan funds of £33.78m
The main expenditure headings are provision of worship (£1.43m), clergy and parish support (£3.1m), pastoral care and community support (£327k) and schools programme (£1.15m).
The main sources of income are donations, legacies and grants (£5m), charitable activities (£132k), income from other trading activities (£236k) and investments (£352k).
Response to Covid-19
In view of the developing Covid-19 situation, it was decided to close the Diocesan offices in March 2020. The government later instructed all places of worship to shut completely. Parish employees were placed on furlough leave, as were two employees working across the Diocese. In May 2020, Trustees agreed an updated budget for 2020 with reduced expenditure. Work to assess the level of future income from offertory resulted in revised budgets for 2021 and new projections for future years.