July 2016

What is a church?

I wrote back in February about how the Diocese was changing its means of finance this year from telling each parish how much it needed to give to asking each parish how much it wanted to pay. That decision-making process has now been completed, and I can report that the six parishes from this benefice have agreed to offer £39,203. To put it into context, that compares with the £49,070 which it has been asked to give this year.

So where does that money go? There is, I know, an enduring myth that the church in general and the Diocese in particular has bottomless pits of money and is profligate in the way in which it spends it. That could not be further from the truth. The Diocese of Hereford is a particularly lean machine and, if anything, it is dangerously understaffed, and, when it comes to clergy stipends, not remotely generous!. (It might be worth pointing out at this stage that not one penny of what the parishes gives goes to paying for the Cathedral or for the Bishops. their staff or their housing: that all comes from a different source.)

So the money that parishes pay to the Diocese goes towards paying for clergy, for clergy housing, for training future clergy, for pensions and for the support given to parishes and to parish clergy. As a loose figure, it is reckoned that, putting all those factors together, the cost to the Diocese of putting a Vicar into a parish is about £54,000 a year. You can see that the figure that these six parishes is proposing to contribute falls well short of that.

It should be pointed out that this is happening at a time when I suspect that our churches are better looked after that they have been for years. They are in excellent state of repair, with extensive work being done at Clodock - thank to the generosity of one man - and with the interiors of Michaelchurch and Newton in their various ways transformed and with plans for other churches. And all this is happening thanks to the generosity of people with their money, their time and their talents. This is something which it is really heartening to see.

The irony is, of course, that we could end up with churches looking more and more wonderful, but with less and less going on inside them or growing from them. And it could be that that is a situation with which people are perfectly happy. But if there are enough who aren’t, then there are two questions which need to be asked, and it is important to ask them now rather than at the point further down the line when an issue becomes a crisis.

The first question is: how are we going to do ministry here? And the second is: how are we going to pay for it? The first is one which I am sure needs to be addressed at a Deanery level - across the 34 parishes of the Abbeydore Deanery - rather than at benefice level, and it is a question which we are now beginning to address. the second is more at the benefice level, and will, I hope, take the form of a stewardship campaign across all six parishes.

But there is a fundamental question which we all have to ask, and that is: what is a church? Is it simply a building, in which case, we can look with some pride at how we have been looking after them. Or is it the body of people carrying out Christ’s work in this place? If that is the case, we need to look seriously at how that is work is being done at the moment and how that work might grow and develop in the future.


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