On 9th October 2019 Diocesan leaders met with a representative of Anglican Insurance and Risk Services (AIRS) who manage our insurance. The news was not good: we are facing increases in our property insurance premiums of over 500%. At present we pay $124,000 for our public liability insurance and approximately $501,000 per annum for insurance premiums, including two of our schools. Our property insurance is due to increase to $2,650,000 on 1st November 2019. This reflects a number of factors:
• Our premiums until recently were subsidised by the larger members of AIRS; however, four of the largest dioceses have withdrawn from the scheme
• We have made some large claims this year especially following the monsoon downpour over Townsville
• It is assessed that adverse weather events are likely to be more frequent in North Queensland and accordingly we represent a high risk
Public liability insurance is a very small part of our current insurance and is increasing slightly (from $124,000 to $140,000). The substantial increase in our insurance is therefore for our buildings. Discussions with other churches and with local businesses indicate that large hikes in insurance premiums for property and buildings throughout North Queensland, with insurance for many businesses and churches, at least doubling or tripling. Having said that our increases are exceptionally large.
Where insurance premiums are being increased there are a number of ways in which the increase might be reduced. These come down to four strategies:
• Better rates elsewhere – that is, shop around.
• Shift the risk – the Diocese will no longer pay upfront but will ask ministry units, schools and other insured entities to pay the insurers directly when the premiums are due on 1st November 2019
• Assume the risk – this might be done by underinsuring (which is to assume a proportion of the risk); increasing the excess; or by only insuring for removal of debris rather than replacement of the building. AIRS recommends against underinsurance and has indicated that increasing the excess will have a limited impact on our insurance premiums. However, it is possible that the insurer will offer the option of choosing to have some of our properties insured only for public liability and for the removal of rubble and debris. That means that people continue to be protected but the building is not.
• Reduce the risk – sale of properties that are surplus to need or which will produce negative returns with increased premiums
The Diocesan Executive has considered all these approaches. There are currently negotiations going on which might reduce premiums and the Diocese will shop around. Ministry units and entities are also encouraged to shop around: feel free to see what might be available locally. Unfortunately, there is little to indicate that there will be a substantial decrease in premiums as all the evidence is that there are widespread and substantial increases across our region but on an individual basis your building might be a better risk and attract lower insurance.
As you also know in the past the Diocese has paid the insurance premiums upfront and then sought reimbursement from the ministry units and other entities by monthly installments over the succeeding year. This will no longer be possible: we simply do not have this amount of cash in the Diocesan coffers. We will therefore have to shift the risk directly to the ministry units and other entities and require them to pay their insurance premiums upfront.
We have therefore asked AIRS to have the insurer give each ministry unit two insurance quotes. The first will be for public liability insurance and full property insurance as is currently covered by insurance. The second will be for public liability insurance and no property insurance apart from the removal of debris. If a ministry unit accepts the second premium it means that if the building is damaged they will have to meet the cost of repairs themselves; and in the case of substantial or total destruction the insurer will only pay for removal of the debris but not replacement. All that the ministry unit will be left will be an empty block of land.
This is a very serious choice to be confronted with: any building only insured for removal or debris is effectively being seen as excess to the requirements of the Diocese. This then takes us to the last of the strategies for reducing premiums – which is to reduce the risk. Effectively, this means the sale of properties. For commercial properties such as rental properties and office buildings, this means that we must assess if the building returns a profit or a loss after taking into account expenses such as insurance and likely capital gains. For church buildings it means a decision as to whether or not we want to retain the building.
This then leads onto a fundamental question as to what it means to be church. Why do we have buildings? Some buildings – like rectories, stores, and office buildings – are there to support the ministry of the church through housing ministers, raising income, or allowing for administrative support. These buildings can be largely assessed in utilitarian terms and their disposal is a relatively uncomplicated matter. Schools and aged care facilities also operate on a business model, although they have students, residents and staff to consider and care for. However once again the calculus as to whether a building is retained is fairly utilitarian.
Church buildings are different. They are places set aside for the worship of our God; for fellowship; and for the community. Even now they are a focus for the local community and a very visible sign of the real Church which is the people who meet therein. They are steeped in history and are place where the stranger can meet God. In declining rural towns it is often the church that is the last public building that remains and its closure marks the demise of a once thriving community. The deconsecration of a church building is a sad and sorry thing.
Yet the church building is not the Church. The Body of Christ, the people of God assembled – that is the Church. The Greek word we translate as “church” – ekklesia – means an assembly. So the building is not the Church but rather the people of God are the Church. The building should allow the people of God to carry out their mission: it should be a base for mission, rather than a prison. Where the building inhibits the mission of the church then we must think about whether the building is retained. Where the cost of the building through repair and maintenance – or through insurance premiums – drains the church of the resources to carry out its ministry then this is a serious matter.
Already in some parts of the bush we have entered into cooperative arrangements with other Christian denominations such as the Catholic Church and the Uniting Church to share church buildings and ministry. Clearly this enables a reduction of costs and maintains a presence in smaller communities. We might need to enter into such arrangements on a more systematic basis, choosing from among the three denominations the best church building in town and moving in together. This will not be an easy process but the challenge we face might mean it is possibly the only choice in smaller communities.
Therefore your Diocesan Executive recommends the following approaches in order to continue our ability to carry out ministry in the face of this unprecedented increase in insurance premiums:
1. Shopping around and taking other action (such as requesting the assistance of our elected representatives) in order to reduce the overall increase in premiums
2. Passing on insurance premiums directly to ministry units and other entities rather than the Diocese paying upfront
3. Giving ministry units the option of full insurance or having premiums that only cover the removal of debris
4. Identifying properties that are not commercially viable or are excess to use.
None of this will be easy but we are simply unable to absorb an increase in insurance premiums of this magnitude. It dwarfs in magnitude even our worse expectations of sexual abuse claims or other expenses we might envisage. Perhaps the time has come to be liberated from our buildings but it will be a painful process. May God be with us at this time and may the Spirit give us the wisdom to follow the path of Jesus.
Originally I was due to go on leave this week for holiday followed by a week of work in the Solomon Islands sorting out arrangements for shared ministry with the Anglican Church of Melanesia. However due to the insurance issues I have canceled my holiday and will be in the office until the weekend. From 19th to 29th October I will be in the Solomon Islands. Whilst there I am best contacted by text message on +677 738 9953: recorded voice messages are unlikely to be received.
In my absence the Diocese will be administered by Archdeacon Chris Wright. The Archdeacon has also agreed to coordinate our response to insurance given his detailed knowledge of the issues involved.
Synod Dates 2020
For your calendar for next year: Synod will in Townsville from Friday 14th to Sunday 16th August. This date is a little later than usual due to the Lambeth Conference being held until 2nd August.
Dare to be Holy
Fr Clive Brook’s challenging new book, Dare to be Holy, is now available through Koorong Books. Clive also now has a web page featuring all three of his books: http://clivebrook.com.au/. Please visit and see all that is on offer.
On Sunday 29th September during Evensong at St James Cathedral three of our very active lay persons were installed as Lay Canons: Maureen Mossman, Anne Watkins and Mary Gallagher. Sam Blanch was appointed as a Lay Canon Emeritus. All four are very much involved in the ministry of the Cathedral and the ongoing work of the Diocese and are to be congratulated on their election or appointment.
Also congratulations to the twenty young people who were confirmed at St Alban’s Yarrabah on the afternoon of Sunday 6th October 2019: they were prepared for ordination by students from Wontulp-bi-Buya and presented for confirmation in the presence of Bishop Arthur Malcolm. May they continue to be active in the Church and may God continue to bless everyone at St Alban’s.
Around the Diocese
At the beginning of October I was able to attend a conference of Torres Strait Islander Clergy and Laity and we enjoyed great fellowship on Thursday Island. I will have a longer report on this meeting in a future bulletin but it is clear that the Church in the Torres Strait is starting to gather momentum and looking forward to taking its rightful place in the broader church. On the evening of 3rd October the Reverend Daniel Tibau Stephen was made a Deacon amidst much rejoicing and beautiful Torres Strait Island singing.
Looking ahead, on the evening of Friday 22nd November at 6 pm the Reverend Karen Allen will be commissioned as the new Rector of the Atherton Tablelands; and on the morning of Sunday 15th December at Sarina the Reverend Mervyn James will be ordained (God willing) as a Priest. All those who are able to travel and attend are welcome at both services.
On the morning of Sunday 29th September I was present at Ayr for a farewell service for Fr Dway and Leeza Goon Chew. The church was overflowing which is a remarkable tribute to Dway and Leeza who are now on their way to the Parish of Tweed Heads in the Diocese of Grafton.
And finally – on how to disagree gracefully
On Sunday 6th October I was able to call in at the Good Shepherd, Edge Hill. In their pew bulletin was a very handy guide prepared by the Reverend Cameron Wills on how to talk politics inside the Church. I think it applies to almost any discussion in the broader church, including discussion of theological differences and I am grateful to the Reverend Trevor Saggers for permission to reproduce it here:
Politics (& many other issues) are often talked about, and those conversations can be very unhelpful or downright ‘feral’. However … Here are 8 suggestions for discussing politics and other issues in good ways:
1. Leave your ego at the door: when ego takes over tempers flare and God can be dishonored.
2. Show grace instead of outrage toward those you disagree with: this is the way of Christ (even if it’s not that of Social Media).
3. Don’t assume the worst of those you disagree with: especially about their intentions. Give others the benefit of the doubt.
4. ‘Play the ball not the man’: we can and should question ideas, without attacking the person who holds them. Don’t belittle people whom you disagree with.
5. Work hard to first understand what the other person is saying. Even the same words or phrases are understood to mean different things by different people. Ask, ‘What do you mean by that?’
6. Move the conversation ‘upstream’: talk about their beliefs undergirding their views. Asking, ‘How did you come to that conclusion?’ can be a good way to do that.
7. Don’t argue against ‘Straw Men’. Don’t argue against views you believe others hold but which in fact they don’t. So, do Number 5 (above).
8. Give the other person the last word. Don’t you hate it when someone always wants to have the last word! Often wanting to have the last word is wanting to make sure that ‘you win’ the argument, instead of being gracious.
Earthly politics and other issues are important. But they must never compromise our faithfulness to Christ. Especially when it comes to loving our fellow believers. (This is an abridged version of an article from The Gospel Coalition Australia website: https://au.thegospelcoalition.org/article/talk-politics-without-dividing-church/
There are many wise words above, which I commend to you. With every blessing.
The Right Reverend Dr Keith Joseph
Bishop of North Queensland
Sexual Abuse contact line: 1800 242 544 or 07 3835 2216