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Bishop Richard's Weekly video Message - Transcript 18.04.2024

Video for April 18th, 2024

Hello everyone and welcome to this week’s video.

The church of England is a very confusing beast. It’s a complex web of interlocking independent charities and associated missional organisations.  Each one has independent, but also interdependent financial relationships.  I’m filming this in Switzerland at the Intercontinental Church Society annual conference. We've had a foot of snow in the last 12 hours. I’m the Chair of Trustees, a role I’ve enjoyed, but from which I’m stepping down this year to give more time to other responsibilities.  You’d probably be quite upset if your parish contribution was paying for this. Fortunately, although this charity has indirect links with the Church of England, its their own funds that enable me to be here.

We are relational beings and its understandable that the most energy is devoted to those closest to us.  In church life that inevitably means parish comes first, benefice second, deanery third, diocese fourth and the national church if it enters consciousness at all, consumes little energy. We are part of all of these things, but the distancing means its easy to caricature and ‘other’ different parts of the organisation.  We make judgements about what they get up to without necessarily having all the facts.  It’s a persistent myth for example that parish contribution funds central activities in the diocesan office alone.  The fact is that parish contribution funds only about 60% of what it costs to provide ministry.  Virtually no parishes fully fund what it costs to provide a vicar.  Being part of a larger diocesan family means ministry can be provided everywhere because of diocesan investments. Part of those are because glebe land resources were pooled in the 70’s. Prior to that there was an injustice.  Some parishes had loads of money; others had none. Unsurprisingly the ones who had loads sometime still gripe about the loss, but the sharing of resources enables a more equitable distribution of ministry.  If it hadn’t happened large swathes of the country would have had no vicars and small numbers could have been funded for nice holidays in Barbados. Nationally there is still an inequity. Some dioceses have a lot of historic assets, others have very few.

Parishes are independent charities, that’s why the parish contribution is described as a voluntary ‘offer’. The contribution to diocesan funds means ministry can be provided. Dioceses are independent charities but receive some support from the Church Commissioners for ministry in deprived areas.  We make contributions to central funds which are used to pay clergy through a centrally run payroll system. The Church Commissioners make their own decisions about how to spend their money independently from dioceses. I recognise continuing disquiet, in part fuelled by erroneous reporting and social media hyperbole, about how they are funding some posts to address racial injustice in the Church of England.  If you want some more background please watch video 192 released on March 21st.  I do wish we could park that as part of parishes prayerful consideration of their parish offer for 2025.  There is a saying that holding on to bitterness is like taking poison and hoping the other person will die! Threatening to withhold parish offer as a mark of protest has no effect whatever on the Commissioners. All it does is damage, potentially really seriously, our capacity to provide mission and ministry in our own diocese. I believe there is a case for a serious re-distribution of financial assets within the wider church ecosystem and I shall be bringing a motion to that effect to Diocesan Synod later this month. There has been a net transfer of assets from dioceses to the Commissioners over the last 30 years or so, and I do believe that needs to be addressed, just as it was in the centralising of glebe land in the seventies in our diocese.

But the heart of our faith is about generosity, not a transactional get what you pay for. We believe that the Gospel is the best news for everyone and the best way it is shared is through local churches with ministers lay and ordained encouraging us all to play our part. Ministry is provided, not as religious services for those who pay for them but as part of a bigger vision to proclaim Christ and grow disciples. That is the idea that captured my imagination when the Lord called me into ministry 32 years ago. It’s the vision I have for little, ordinary churches in our diocese. Communities of love who demonstrate that love to the communities we serve, commending the way of Jesus in the face of the intellectual, moral and spiritual bankruptcy of modern secularism.  We prophetically live and proclaim Christ is risen as eternal, life transforming truth. I’ve always seen my financial giving in that context as a response to the Lord’s extraordinary grace to me a sinner, not as paying for something. As a disciple of Jesus, generosity of money and time is a natural outworking of my way of life. So, be pee’d off with the Church Commissioners by all means, but please let’s hold on to that bigger vision. God is a generous God and calls us to be generous modelled on his generosity. That generosity helps equip the church to become more like Christ that we may make him more clearly known.


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