Breathing Space for Parishes?
In the order of business of General Synod, Question 83 was not reached and received a written answer only. It might not therefore have come to the full attention of members. The Question is worth noting by all who value local parish-based ministry across our land. It concerns the significant asset growth of the Church Commissioners in 2020, a financially-challenging year for many parishioners and churches. According to the written answer, from the funds realised in 2020, £586m was retained as growth in assets, after management fees, pension monies and other commitments had been accounted for. This represents a growth in the Commissioners’ assets of 7.0%.
The Revd Dr Ian Paul, who asked the Question, has pondered this answer more fully on his blog psephizo.com: “I struggle to understand how, in a period of historically low interest rates, and comparatively low inflation, growing the asset base by 7.0% whilst refusing to subsidise the dioceses any further through the effects of Covid and lockdown can constitute a ‘balance’ between the needs of current and future beneficiaries. To make this a little more concrete: had the Commissioners decided to protect the future value of their assets by holding onto a growth of 5% instead of 7%—which is still pretty conservative—this would have released a further £167m, enough to contribute a further £4m to every single diocese in this one year, which would go a long way to buying more time by eliminating deficits and discouraging the cutting of stipendiary posts.”
Dr Paul’s suggestion is worthy of consideration. At a time when Government budgets have been overstretched to provide funding to business through the Covid-19 pandemic, might not central church be able to provide from its surplus to the front line as a one-off payment this year, in recognition of these unprecedented times? It would give parishes and clergy breathing space to regroup, refocus and consider the future. This proposal deserves a wider hearing.
Justin’s First and Second Apology
November has been a month of apologies for the Archbishop of Canterbury Justin Welby. His first apology came at the COP-26 Conference at Glasgow, after he pronounced a curse upon leaders who did not heed environmental warnings, likening them to those who were deaf to warnings about Hitler in the 1930s. This remark can be understood as something said rashly in the heat of the moment with a BBC microphone thrust under one’s nose. The subsequent apology came almost immediately.
The second apology, issued during the week of General Synod, addressed a longer-term grievance and is more considered, not being merely of the moment. Archbishop Welby finally withdrew his unfortunate remarks about the late Bishop of Chichester George Bell: “I do not consider there to be a ‘significant cloud’ over Bishop George Bell’s name. Previously I refused to retract that statement and I was wrong to do so.”
While both apologies are appropriate, this later one is especially welcome as it seeks to heal a wound that had been left open for too long. The Archbishop is to be commended for the clarity and charity in his words, and for righting a grievous wrong.