Friday, 25 June 2021

Churches feel the pinch of diocese cash demands

CHURCHES in the Henley area are staring into a funding “black hole”, according to the clergy.

CHURCHES in the Henley area are staring into a funding “black hole”, according to the clergy.

The 26 members of the Henley deanery are expected to be more than £100,000 short of matching the £606,000 parish share they have been asked to pay to the Diocese of Oxford.

Clergymen believe they are being asked to pay too much and blame spiralling costs and less income from congregations.

Rev Kevin Davies, the Henley area dean, said the deanery was being asked to pay 137 per cent of the amount it costs to run the churches in the area, the third highest amount out of 29 deaneries in the diocese.

Sonning is top of the list with a 153 per cent rate. The lowest rate is 72 per cent in Cowley.

Last year, the Henley deanery paid £502,000, which was £86,000 less than it was asked to pay.

Rev Davies, who is part of the Langtree team ministry that oversees churches in Checkendon, Stoke Row, North Stoke, Ipsden, Woodcote and Whitchurch, said: “A number of churches had fabric repairs as a matter of priority. They haven’t got the funds now to meet the demands the diocese is making of them.

“We’re probably not going to be able to pay this year but it’s not that the churches are failing in any way. They are doing very well and put more than £500,000 into the diocese last year, which they will do again this year.

“Some parishes aren’t paying out of principle because they’ve been asked for too much and others are not prepared to dig into any more reserves. I do think we’re being asked to pay too much.”

The diocese works out how much each deanery pays according to the relative affluence of the area.

Rev Davies accepts that the Henley deanery is more affluent than others but believes there should be a cap of no more than 120 per cent of its running costs to subsidise other areas.

He said: “No one is arguing that we’re living in a hard-up area or that we need subsidising by other churches but a more realistic figure is needed.

“Some deaneries are well-subsidised and you could say that’s for good reason because there’s a lot of deprivation and then other deaneries just about break even. But we’re being asked for rather a lot.

“The diocese is looking carefully at its own spending patterns but it’s very difficult on the ground because in the end it’s all paid for by people in the pew. If they don’t have the money then the diocese will have to revise its spending plans.”

The Rev Canon Martyn Griffiths, rector of St Mary’s in Henley and St Nicholas in Remenham, said the two churches had “only just” been able to pay their combined parish share of £120,000.

He said: “It’s a problem that has been coming for some time because the parish share has being going up excessively over the last few years.

“The church authority is about to kill the goose that laid the golden egg. The Henley deanery is deemed to be an affluent area but sometimes the church congregation doesn’t closely reflect the affluence of the people who live around it.

“Unfortunately, our warnings have gone unheeded. If things carry on as they are, we will definitely be unable to pay in the future. We’re staring into a black hole.

“Not enough is being done to reduce central costs and to reduce bureaucracy — that’s the main gripe across the Henley deanery.

“If the problems persist, there will be even fewer parish clergy and therefore fewer people in the pews. Then the income will go down and we end up in a spiral.

“Everyone loses out but asking them to cut bureaucracy is a bit like a turkey voting for Christmas.” Rosemary Pearce, diocesan secretary, said: “We are aware that some of the parishes in the Henley deanery are finding it difficult to pay their share, although experience tells us that it is too early to make any firm predictions about the outturn of the year.

“The financial climate is tough for everyone at the moment and many churches across the country face similar challenges, especially where they are maintaining historic buildings.

“The Church of England depends on voluntary income from local people who pay — via the diocese — the stipend, housing and training costs of the parish clergy, which makes up the vast proportion of our diocesan budget.

“The Diocese of Oxford is extremely blessed by the exceptional number of people coming forward for ordination training but this adds to the ongoing challenge of keeping our other costs down.

“Our diocesan synod has approved a new share scheme for 2014 which should make the costs more transparent and the allocation fairer across the diocese.

“We are committed to mutual support, which means that those in wealthier areas pay more than those in the more deprived parishes.

“Meanwhile, we will continue to work closely with all our deaneries in the coming months and to look at ways of ensuring that our budget is sustainable.”

More News:

POLL: Have your say