Saturday, 12 September 2015

Paying for the church's mission

The Peterborough Diocesan Synod this morning debated a new way of paying for the church's mission in this area.  For 2016 that will be around £12m.  Although the church nationally has massive assets, these are either buildings which are being used, land which is providing an income, or are committed for pensions and other purposes.  The day-to-day running costs of the local church have to be found by the local people.  Collectively these are organised into dioceses (an area focused round a bishop) and the total budget to fund what that area wants to do, mainly made up of salaries, has to be found.

Each diocese asks the parishes for a contribution known as 'parish share'.  Some places have more money than others, because some churches have more people filling their pews (or chairs) than others and those people have different incomes.  In reality some parishes pay what is asked and some don't.  The collection rate for this 'share' has hovered around 93.5%.

Traditionally parishes have been organised into what is known as 'benefices'.  A benefice is a unit intended to provide the income necessary to support a priest (Vicar).  Some places are recognised to have such a level of deprivation that they need help.  Most places are assumed to be able to find the money needed.  In the main they do.  If they don't the diocese has to decide if they are going to fund it any way - from the money other parishes pay - or reorganise them with others so that they form a unit (a benefice) that can.

Over recent years the amount asked from each benefice has been allocated on a complicated system that has also taken account of the relative wealth of the parish and the size of the congregation.  This has been seen as penalising those who are growing and not providing incentive to do so.  The diocese has a policy of growing and 'employing' more clergy.  To pay for these, the share system needs to take account of the cost where it is deployed.  That is difficult to achieve if that place is paying for ministry in other places.  So a rethink has taken place.

From 2016 Peterborough is going to start moving to a system based solely on the cost of the diocese's mission.  This will be allocated between the benefices according to how many paid clergy they have (excluding training posts).  If the benefices are able to match this, then the system will work.  If they don't, then there is no one else to pick up the bill so the vision and planned mission will have to be rethought.

If everyone pays 100% of what is asked, the full cost to be shared out works out at around £57,500 per paid cleric.  So places with additional clergy will pay multiples of that figure.  Because we know that it is unlikely that 100% will be collected, the actual amount will be nearer £63,000.  There will be some transitional arrangements as we move from one system to the new one.

In the end whatever shape the mission of the diocese takes it needs to be funded.  The test of the new system will be in how it works.  If it proves unrealistic then it will be rethought - it will have to be.  If it works it will produce the money needed.  Many know this will be a challenge.

Levels of giving in church congregations vary enormously.  Some are very generous and commit their giving at a realistic level with thankful hearts.  Some are less realistic.  When people commit to the vision of the church's mission they literally buy into it.  What is needed is provided.  When they don't, it isn't.  There are costs and they need to be met.  The theory is that growing churches should be able to find the resources that are needed.

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