Tuesday, 15 May 2012

'Missional' means cost-cutting!

These words were thrown into the mix during an excellent discussion with my colleagues on the shape our combined ministries should take. Wearing my missioner hat I tried hard to point out the realities of the word but the problem was that the Dario Fo farce-like reality of 'can't pay - won't pay' was made all the more real by the words of some at diocesan level who baldly state that "If you can't pay then you can't have!"

There is a problem within the Church of England in that one side of the coin has churches who are able to pay are, in the main, also 'comfortable' whilst the other finds churches in Urban Priority Areas (UPAs), Estates and rural settings who struggle to exist.

Now, just in case anyone thinks that I am having a go at those churches who can pay (and this is not easy in today's economic situation), please be assured that I am not. My sending church was one who managed to pay their share with little trouble and they were also engaged in the community around them and supported a church in what for them was a UPA setting. Having money is not a sin and does not imply any lack of missionary or evangelistic, social-concern or any other zeal. It is not a sin for a church to have money or to have people who can afford to support the church (although there are some perils - but I will revisit them some other time).

There is an attitude from some that the UPA, Estate church fraternity are living a lifestyle that serves them and fails to support the central church. I have been in conversations where the 'haves' give the impression that the 'have nots' are, much like the scroungers the Daily Fascist revels in, the victims of their own folly, lifestyle or lassitude. This of course is, generally, not the case. Now I do know some congregations who have a begging-bowl mentality, but these are very few and far between.

Now Jesus never told us to go into the places that could afford us and this is the problem we face in that if those who can't afford the Gospel being preached, the pastoral and social action being present and a place of welcome and support being open are never touched then we deny the words of James' (2:9) in that we are showing partiality and the very people who are captive to so much are not to be set free because the Church isn't willing to foot the bill!

I know of churches who cannot pay their parish share and yet, despite this, have seen people come to faith in fair numbers over the past few years. So here's a few questions (answer if you dare):

How do we put a price on this?

Do we set limits on how many need to be in the congregation before we take them seriously?

If a church can't pay the share in full and yet sees one or two people a year come to Christ, is it valid? If we say 'Yes' then why aren't we willing to support it from external sources? If we say 'No', then what makes a church valid?

If a church pays its parish share but exists only for itself, is this a valid church? Who decides (and why)?

I am finding an increasingly cynical and despairing tone amongst many of the clergy and congregations I come across and yet, as I see it, the future's bright and the achievements, commitment and faith are cheering and fantastic. I see positives but the need for the words, and actions, of those who set the direction need to take these up and be consistent in following and encouraging those who do Church where it meets the world.

I look forward to your answers, experiences and considered views.



Chris said...

There are 'some perils' surrounding churches with some who can pay.

I inherited a church where the annual parish share was swept away each year by a member who signed a cheque and assumed they owned the church. Sadly they did as none would challenge them for fear that the cheque would not appear at the eleventh hour each year.

Charlie said...

Which Diocese are you in Vic?

In my experience (admittedly limited so far), there is a world of difference between those who can't pay, and those who just think they can't.

As you say, there are parishes in UPAs where it seems almost impossible that they should ever raise enough money to pay the costs of supporting a minister. These are the parishes that ought to be subsidised by the rest of the Diocese, especially the big suburban churches.

On the other hand, there are a whole bunch of churches for whom the cry "oh, we can't afford that" comes as second nature, even when the sums involved are quite small. I understand your concerns, but I think in these circumstances it is right for a Diocese to challenge that attitude.

Vic Van Den Bergh said...


I agree that there are some who have just placed themselves in the 'begging bowl' category and assume that they can't pay. Fortunately many of these when shown how they can do so with joy!

I dealt with one recently (not in our diocese) whose share was, by any standard, paltry and yet they made no attempt to pay because they were 'poor'. It is more than right for a diocese to challenge that because it denies so many of the principles that makes for 'good church' and for mutual and generous living.

Part of our role as missioners is to educate and boy, there are many who need it!

Thanks for comments,


Frugal John said...

Our little church has been subject to the 'can't pay - can't have'.

We make 80% of parish share and do it with eight out of 38 people in part or full-time employment. Most are on benefits or pensions. We have cut operating costs to the bone and we struggle to pay.

Thank you for provocative and encouraging in the same blog.



Anonymous said...

Thank you Vic for an insightful blog. A couple of points from my own experience:

Our two little UPA churches pay their share in full. But we know that our total is still only about 40% of the total cost of a full-time minister. So we are still afraid that we will be merged with neighbouring churches even despite the sacrifical giving of our churches (which has been held up as an example by the diocese).

The diocese in which I serve sees itself as rural. It simply does not understand pockets of urban deprivation. Our deanery has parishes with by far the lowest IMD scores and geographical it is also on the edge of the diocese. So the ministry at the centre seems very remote and unconnected with our actual experience. It is hard work sometimes at diocesan synod to communicate our perspective.

Vic Van Den Bergh said...

You hit the nail on the head, those caught in the 'poverty' mindset apart, Parish Share is often less than the cost of a stipendiary (I know two places where this is calculated to be £50k and £60k) and one of the responses I have come across is that of the churches paying for 'points'.

Think I will visit this today - so watch this space.

You also highlight the very real, almost combat-like, tensions between rural and urban. Both are valid, both see themselves as the 'real' need and the problem is that neither can always find the money to pay (unless you milk the transient and dormitory populations who buy and arrive late, leave early or do weekends only).

A very real and valid issue to be considered and dealt with.