Money, faith and the Church of England

Screen Shot 2015-07-31 at 09.38.17It is always interesting when there is a report on finance, just as when there is a report on numbers (e.g. on attendance). The reason for that is not because we should be obsessed with either numbers or money (though some people clearly are for all sorts of reasons). It is because these are two issues on which it is very hard for us to evade cold, hard reality. It has been said that you know that someone is truly converted when their wallet is converted. More widely, thinking about e.g. an annual report of accounts is an opportunity to make sure that everything is being handled well—that there is, for example, no-one embezzling the accounts—but even more importantly it raises questions of where the organisation is going, whether there is a plan, and what sort of vision is present.

The Church of England has just published its summary financial information for 2013, and although there is something of a lag, it makes interesting reading. John Preston, who is National Stewardship Officer, makes some positive comments:

The latest numbers are out and once again show that Church of England members have increased the level of their giving. The average weekly gift for all planned givers is now more than £10, and for those who give under Gift Aid, it’s now £11.60 per week (excluding the Gift Aid reclaimed on their giving)…

Considering their giving to the Church alone this means church members are three times more generous than the population at large.  But church members also support other causes and charities – and surveys have shown that on average that only about half of church members’ giving comes to the church. This makes church members a staggering six times more generous than the average UK citizen.

That seems to be to me very significant at a number of levels—not least in offering a social apologetic for Christian faith and for the Church as a contributor to society. Faith makes a tangible difference in the lives of Christians. (I am not sure whether there is comparable data available for other faith traditions. I am not suggesting that this should be employed in a tit-for-tat debate, but it offers credibility to the claim that Jesus makes a difference.)

But, as John goes on to say, it is not quite good enough good news, at several levels. First, General Synod encourages church members to give 10%, half to the C of E, and half to other charitable causes. (Did you know the Church of England believes in tithing? Did you know that it had a definition of membership?!). Even though there is an increase this year, giving to the Church through parish giving is still at only 3.3% of income. (I am assuming that this must be estimated in some intelligent way.)

Secondly, increases in giving have not kept up with the (very low) level of inflation in recent years—see the chart at the top. Against this would need to be factored in the overall decline in attendance, as well as the impact of the recession.

But, thirdly, all these aggregate figures disguise some important disparities. In my experience, at a local, deanery and diocesan level (I am part of our Deanery Finance Group), there is a very wide variation in giving from parish to parish. I don’t have any figures or research to hand to suggest that these differences correlate with theological tradition, but I would be very surprised if they didn’t. As a Deanery, we have been thinking about the theological principles behind giving (which you can read here). Several of these relate to the fact that giving is largely shaped by theological understanding and vision—but it also clear that giving beyond local churches depends on mutual trust and understanding—a shared sense of common purpose.

Two weeks ago, the Church Times reported on an initiative by some evangelical churches to set up trust funds in order to support other ‘like-minded’ congregations rather than see their money disappearing to a central system which they no longer trust.

THE answer to questions such as “Why should I give up my skiing holiday to fund heresy?” can be found in “financial twinning”, a priest in the diocese of Southwark has suggested. The Vicar of St Luke’s, Wimbledon Park, the Revd James Paice, is a member of the Southwark Good Stewards Trust, which he describes as a means to protect poorer churches with an “orthodox Anglican ministry” from the threat of cuts to clergy.

In an article for the magazine of the Church Society, Crossway, he explains how knowledge of the existence of such trusts “puts a brake on the revisionist mentality that is threatening to destroy our Church from within”. The article, published in March, describes “intra-church trusts” as an “alternative to the diocesan quota system”. After paying the “total clergy cost” to the diocese, a church puts extra monies into a trust, from which they can then be given to a church “whose minister subscribes to an orthodox statement of faith, and which would like cross-subsidy”.

The predictable reaction of some will be that this is just wealthy evangelicals using their financial power to bully others into orthodoxy. But I am not sure that that accusation will stick.

The Bishop of Willesden, the Rt Revd Pete Broadbent, defended the scheme. “Dioceses have historically made Common Fund or Parish Share a tax on church growth, to which larger parishes responded by quota capping,” he said last week. “This is a better approach all round. Parishes pay their costs, and give money over and above to poorer parishes.

“It’s a win-win — the Common Fund gets paid; poor parishes get supported; the diocese doesn’t lose out; and good prayerful and missional partnerships grow between the rich and the poor. It’s only divisive if the diocese wants to control everything. Common Fund is voluntary — not a centralised command economy taxation system.”

In fact, you only have to see the relationship between trust or shared vision and giving by considering the opposite—that congregations give to central budgets without any sense of consultation or agreement. The suggestion is ludicrous.

In the end, such financial arrangements could be very helpful—in clarifying exactly where different churches and traditions really stand on key issues. If this becomes widespread, one thing will be certain: financial reporting for the C of E will never look quite the same.

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17 thoughts on “Money, faith and the Church of England”

  1. Of course Pete Broadbent doesn’t see a problem: neither he, nor his friends, are likely to fall foul of heresy policing. If this fund shifts money away from the diocese, it’ll make financial support contingent on “right” belief, as defined not by the church as a whole, but individual congregations.

    There’s of course alternative ways of funding — many Anglican churches require congregations to be self-supporting — but if the Church of England’s gonna shift over to those, it should do so officially, not piecemeal, while allowing congregations to draw benefits from a diocese from which they’re withholding funds. That’s the worst of all worlds.

    • James, I love your comment ‘it’ll make financial support contingent on “right” belief.’ This highlights the problem: in the C of E as it is, it appears to a good many people that there is little insistence anywhere on ‘right belief.’

      I am not sure anyone is asking for a which hunt…but any kind of discipline on the grounds of belief seems to be entirely absent. So it is not surprising that people are planning these kinds of moves.

      There would be a simply way to prevent it: hold people to account in relation e.g. to their ordination vows!

      • Ian, if the church starts heresy hunting, it’ll hurt everyone, evangelicals included. Once theses forces are loosed, they’re beyond anyone’s control, and those accused will hit back. D’you really want to spend your time defending against tit-for-tat complaints, for everything from not wearing robes, to skipping liturgy, to preaching penal substitution?

        Moreover, if you wanted to join a confessional body, why join what you knew to be a broad church, running the spectrum from those one step away from exclusive brethren to the Sea of Faith? If it’s ’cause Anglicanism’s the best boat to fish from, it’s a fair motive, but the berth carries a cost.

          • Ian and Clive, even accepting that “right belief” should be policed, its boundaries should be decided corporately by the church at Synod, not unilaterally by the holder of the purse strings.

            The Southwark Good Stewards Trust demands assent to the Jerusalem Declaration or to the Reform Covenant, both way narrower than Anglican ordination vows.

          • Dear James

            The ideas you portray are surprisingly contradictory.

            To ask any synod to decree some-sort of boundary or ideas for the “broad church” creates the very mulch disliked in the various response.

            Let’s simply try “Christian” as the requirement with Jesus telling the truth for all time and so what he says in Scripture is also relevant. Therefore the founding charter for the CofE of the XXXIX articles is pretty good.

      • I think church twinning is fine as long as the church is meeting whatever it’s obligations are to the diocese.

        However I also think that choosing who to give money to based on belief is completely unbiblical.

        Let’s face it these are reform churches who, if not actually outside of official church teaching, are pretty close to the edge. So I think there is a grey murky mulch here where it *could* be the case that well behaved churches are having funding withheld because they are too close to official teaching

  2. Ian, I chaired the Southwark review of our Fairer Shares System and the report we produced (Root and Branch 1st Report) can be found on the diocesan website. Pete Broadbent said it was an excellent report. Part of the process involved in engagement with the Good Stewards Trust who were keen that the new system was not the tax on growth that the old one clearly was. James Paice was the most active minister in contacting me throughout my chairmanship. What emerged from the process (membership of the group included a member of Reform and one of the most vocal Evagelical critics of the old system) was both much more biblical and, with the exception of allowing parishes to give to other parishes directly (on the basis of theological congruity), everything James and the other GST people asked for. But since we adopted this system, there has been no willingness by GST to engage or accept the biblical system we have now adopted. They have moved the goalposts from “this is an unbiblical system” to “we will not support a heterodox (sic) diocese. I think they are dishonest, and were never going to accept whatever was offered, because this is about politics not biblical principle. James’s article is disingenuous and competely misleading.

  3. Many richer parishes will accept paying for clergy costs, other parish ministry costs and wider church responsibilities, even if they don’t totally agree with the “other clergy” they are contributing towards. But what about the building maintenance costs of the poorer parishes – listed buildings galore – which are a much more significant burden? I know we (at least in Southwark) don’t ask the richer parishes to subsidise that also, but should we?

  4. Lots to ponder here, especially coming from a province where ‘you get what you can pay for’ which sees opportunities for ministry collapsing across whole Dioceses.

    I do wonder what idea of the Church is operative here? If we affirm the three fold order, in what sense are parishes operating a ‘trust’ system in effect out of communion with their bishop??

    I admit to an axe to grind here. Whilst a C of E priest in three struggling north of England rural parishes,
    One day I went to spend (precious) time with fellow evangelical clergy at a London conference – where a well known evangelical went on at considerable length about how full his urban church was, about its great ministry amongst its youth, how folk were flocking in, and how his church didn’t pay into the Diocesan pot. (From the pulpit)

    I rarely get angry, but I blew up. There’re many good people grinding it out in tough unglamourous situations highly dependent on money from Dioceses to maintain a foothold for the gospel. It seemed to me that what he had said inferred that such ministry wasn’t worth funding.
    When the large and often comfortable churches try and fix things in this way my experience is that they do so from a position of ignorance regarding much good work in tough conditions across the country, and much ‘deserving’ ministry gets missed

    Regarding heresy, the church has always been full of them. Some basic church history wouldn’t go amiss, but failing to discern the body is itself I suggest heretical. In other words trying to run the ruler over one doctrine may well find you in an heretical position – and I suggest that with what is described above, the attitudes displayed are on shaky ground.

    It rains on the righteous and the unrighteousness
    The weeds will be sorted out by the Angels

    In a sense the ‘trust’ scheme reads as practical atheism in the light of the Gospel

    As to ‘why should I give up my skiing holiday . . .

    • Great comment, Eric: illustrates how even impeccably orthodox ministers and congregations can fall fowl of others holding back diocesan funds.

    • Eric

      I read your post and it strikes me that these larger churches are also sucking congregants away from their local parishes. When I first moved to the area I went to the local parish church (big, city, boasting about how many people went there), but they told me I was one of very few people who lived in the parish. Most were coming from outside the city – probably from village parishes.

      This creates the twin problem of leaving village churches to be financially supported only by those without a car (probably poorer and needing more pastoral care) and an outreach problem because there’s no motivation for the larger churches to want to attract actual parishoners.

      I have no idea what the solution is to this. I don’t advocate making people go to the church in their parish!

      My own church looks very successful on the face of it. I have no idea of actual figures but new people come in three flavours – people moving to the area, people attracted in from other churches and new christians. I suspect the “new christians” is the smallest number numerically. That is not to talk down my church as I think they do have a focus on mission (and my personal conversion counter sits at minus one!) but I wonder if larger churches should be encouraged to focus on mission in their own parishes rather than attracting like minded Anglicans from other parishes. I suspect this would have a side benefit of improving unity because different flavours of Anglicanism would be unable to build up their power blocks

  5. And my profound apologies if I’m way off beam here or misrepresenting what is happening – grace, free and undeserved is at the heart of the gospel, so I ask forgiveness if I have erred

  6. Having read the comments here and your truism about wallet conversion (and considering their constant threat to leave if they don’t get their own way) I wonder if reform have already broken away from the cofe in their hearts.

    Although I agree with the ABC that unity is important I actually think we would be much more united without them. They would still be united to us through the body of Christ. Sure there would still be disagreements on doctrine, but hopefully these would take a more civilised tone with less attempt to invoke public scandal

    • Nobody is threatening to leave if they don’t get their own way.

      By contrast the liberals are threatening to significantly change what it means to be Church and force everyone else to leave if the liberals don’t get their own way.

  7. A few thoughts.

    According to their latest accounts (at the Charity Commission website), in their first three years of operation the Southwark Good Stewards Trust has raised less than £70k over the whole three years, and £33k last year. However, they disbursed less than £1,500 last year, which appears to have been a single grant of £900 plus their own operating expenses. In other words, they have not raised enough money to fund a single post.

    3. Besides the accounts with the charity commission, the dealings of the Southwark Good Stewards Trust are completely secret. The launch event was by invitation only to specific clergy in the diocese, and no further details are available. Their accounts do not include information on who has funded them and who they are funding. This seems a deeply unhealthy position.

    I, for one, can’t see the practicality of such schemes. I’m not sure if they are suggesting they will be paying for incumbent posts, but it seems very difficult to do so as it would either require an incumbent to somehow withdraw from the diocese in order to be paid directly, or for a new appointment to be funded by a trust. At that point I assume the diocese would not recognise the post as filled and there would be a nasty fight.

    So I assume we’re talking about associate vicar posts, church plants which are not the parish church, or other ministry posts at existing churches. For all of these, there is no reason at all why they could not be funded by trusts, but it would be madness for them to do so in the long run. It is never a good idea to fund salary costs from an annual charitable grant, as this means that you have to apply for funding again every year and risk the whole thing imploding. This is particularly true if you are trusting a trust with the rather flimsy financial history of the Southwark Good Stewards Trust.

    So I assume further that we’re talking about seed funding for plants and other ministry posts from a trust.

    Well that’s no bad thing at all. I don’t much like the idea of having to sign up to the Reform Covenant or Jerusalem Statement as a precondition for funding (as the SGST insist) – in the good old CofE we prefer the 39 Articles, BCP and the Creeds – but I guess they are entitled to set whatever criteria they want.

    But that isn’t exactly what is being billed, is it. Ultimately, I can’t see this going anywhere, and it would be better if their efforts (and rhetoric) were better directed elsewhere.


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