Barbara Roberts, our church treasurer, received a lovely present from the Diocese of Lichfield just before Christmass. It was the notification that the parish share for Sneyd Parish has now increased by 5% for 2019. This is an increase of £1,248, bringing the total to £26,244 per annum.
We have to find £2,187 every month. This is about £511 per week.
On top of that is the cost of heating, lighting, maintenance of the building, teaching materials, insurance, vicar’s expenses and sundry other outgoings.
When I came to the parish in 1983, the parish share was £2,100.
Why has there been such a massive increase? Partly because wealthy parishes used to subsidise the poorer parishes. Wealthy parishioners in the shires, even though they had to share a priest with neighbouring towns and villages, were expected to pay a share often three times what we are expected to pay. This has now changed. Rather like the payment of taxes, the wealthy find ways of avoiding paying what is their due. The notion of the church having a bias to the poor no longer holds sway. This can be seen in the management of many of our cathedrals. A member of the congregation was shocked to see a recent programme about Canterbury Cathedral. The number of clergy. The cost to get into the blessed building! The income from properties held by the cathedral chapter. The fact that cathedrals do not pay any share. Part of the parish share contributes to the training of clergy. Cathedral clergy are trained within that same system. This must mean that parishes are, therefore, subsidising the cathedral clergy.
The problem is this. The Church of England argues that it costs upward of £50,000 to have a priest in a parish. This comprises the cost of the priest’s income, pension contributions, housing, clerical back-up, not to mention the so-called support staff to help parish clergy do a better job. (This usually means endless statistics forms and other e-mail nonsense.) This figure is, however, based on the number of clergy in any post divided by the number of clergy in parishes. It is only the parish clergy and their congregations who raise the money required. No one else is expected to fund-raise or up the regular giving. In addition, it is the parochial clergy who conduct weddings and funerals – and who don’t keep the fees involved. What used to be clergy fees are now termed diocesan fees. Looking at the number of funerals that Father Stather and Father Swift conduct, I would hazard a guess that their cost to the diocese must be well below the going rate.
It is a fact that some churches are always going to attract weddings and funerals. S. Werburgh’s, S. Paul’s, Sneyd Church do not. The magnet church in this neighbourhood is Swan Bank. S. Saviour’s is very much the church in the Smallthorne community – as is Christ Church Tunstall. Odd Rode, Barthomley, and Astbury are the big wedding churches. This means that the clergy contribute to the diocesan income and the parishes pay their share with help from the funeral and wedding fees which the church retains. (The fees are divided between diocese, P.C.C., heating, vergering, and music costs.)
You may well be asking “What about the Church Commissioners millions?” Apart from the fact that umpteen millions were lost in some speculation many years ago, not to mention the discovery that properties in the King’s Cross area were being let for dubious purposes, it is simply the case that clergy and their widows (widowers, more recently – not a sex-change but the advent of women clergy) are living too long and using up the pension pot. There are more retired clergy than there are clergy in post!
Then there is the cost of bishops and their staff, not to mention the astronomical cost of maintaining The General Synod.
In all fairness, the Church Commissioners have handled their assets well in recent years – far better than many other organisations. Nevertheless, the fact remains that the Church of England continues to spend money unwisely, continues to house bishops in ridiculously opulent properties (even if they only use a small part of the palaces and castles concerned), continues to maintain a “shop front” while the beleaguered clergy in money-poor parishes (together with their treasurers, wardens and church councillors) foot the bill.
Happy Christmass everyone!