Church leaders warn of “crisis” in parish finances

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A PARISH vicar has sent his parishioners a sobering New Year message saying church finances are at ‘crisis point’.

In his monthly column in the Kirdford with Plaistow Parish newsletter, the Rev Paul Redparth, says the parish is running at a loss of £1,124 a month due to rising costs and a continuing reduction in subsidies from central reserves.

He writes that the Church of England is not rich, but relies on the ‘courageous and often sacrificial’ donations from congregations to pay its staff, its bills and all the life-changing work it does in the community.

He warns: “The crisis point is here now and individual parishes are being asked to forget about historic subsidies - it’s all down to them now.

“And this is hard. A colleague in a nearby village parish told me just before Christmas that his parish is running at a loss of just over £800 per month and he has no idea how he and his small congregation are going to be able to overcome this. Their small ‘rainy day’ fund has now almost gone.

“The alarming thing for me to contemplate is that we are in a worse situation than his congregation.

“Currently we are running at a loss of £1,124 per month and that obviously cannot continue very long.”

He says that the Church of England’s ‘historic wealth’ people hear about is largely tied up in listed buildings which are ‘difficult and costly to sell’ as well as being very expensive to maintain.

Any investments the church has are used to “provide small pensions for clergy who have often spent a lifetime serving the community”.

But, speaking to this newspaper, he said he hoped this crisis would not lead to the closure of the churches.

“My letter was strong and its message intended to be two-fold. Firstly to send a message to the extended community that we, The Church of England, are not subsidised by the Government and we do not have huge legacies as we once did.

“Secondly, it was a message to the existing congregation to give them a bit of encouragement in what they are doing in keeping the show running, as it were.

“Many churches are experiencing these kinds of problems because of rising expenses of ministry and upkeep of the buildings.

“Contributions from parishioners are still coming in, but it’s the ministry costs.

“Churches will not close. The worst thing that will happen is that there will be fewer full time, paid clergy.

“They will be non-stipendiary [unpaid] ministers, readers and volunteers.

“Paid clergy will leave through retirement and natural wastage.”

John Sherlock, local church resources officer for Diocese of Chichester confirmed Rev Redparth’s views.

He said: “The Diocese of Chichester roughly covers East and West Sussex, including Brighton and Hove. Despite being one of the wealthier corners of the globe, there are still areas of serious deprivation, not just in our towns but in some rural areas as well.

“The Diocese will continue, so long as it is able, to fund Christian ministry in these areas, but the idea that ministry funding across the county all comes from some huge central pot is a complete myth.

“Christian ministry in Sussex is funded by the generosity of Sussex people - and they are incredibly generous: they give, of their own free will, some £25m across the county.

“So the ideal - something we’re aiming for - is that in the wealthier parts of the county, churches pay for themselves and a bit more, while in the more deprived areas ministry will be subsidised.

“Church closure really is the last resort - but ultimately if the money runs out it’s inevitable - we are not immune from the normal rules of good housekeeping.

“It is also worth noting that Chichester diocese is a net subsidiser - over half a million pounds a year - to other parts of the Church of England.”

The Rev Redparth said a proposal to set up a stewardship campaign will be discussed by Kirdford with Plaistow Parochial Church Council next month to help raise their church funds further.