The point of the parish share

by
02 November 2006

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One of the churchwardens from St Ebbe’s in Oxford wrote in to defend their practice of withholding part of their parish share from the diocese, on the grounds that, according to them, the diocese is biblically unsound ( Letters, 28 April). Who do these people think they are?

My parish share in Putney is heading up to £¼ million a year. This is a vast amount of money, and the cause of a great deal of worry and many restless nights. At the moment, we are losing tens of thousands of pounds a year to pay it.

I know that some of this quota goes to support struggling Evangelical parishes, with which I might strongly disagree theologically. But the parish share is the agreed mechanism for the redistribution of wealth, helping to support the ministry of the Church in places of social deprivation. Parishes such as St Ebbe’s, which have the money but won’t pay, are effectively giving two fingers to the Church of England.

None the less, there is a real problem with the way parish share works for many parishes. Every year, my quota rises by 12 per cent. We are already making bricks without straw. A point is coming when we will collapse under the strain. When we use up our limited reserves, we will have to put people off coming, and strip out our electoral roll.

As it happens, I quite enjoy raising money. But there comes a point when eyes glaze over and wallets stay shut. And if this parish drowns under its financial obligations, there will be less money available to support the Church’s ministry in south London.

The problem with fund-raising for parish share is that it isn’t a simple thing to explain to the average person in the pews. It’s not like the Donkey Sanctuary literature: "We turn sick donkeys into well ones." That’s simple. People know what they are giving for. And they give. But an explanation of diocesan finances and how parish share is calculated is not easily translated into that sort of simplicity.

It’s also tough to sell a cause like parish share when there are so many other charitable calls on parishioners’ wallets every day. Help alleviate misery in Afghanistan, or help the diocesan accountant. I know that’s not the kindest way of characterising the choice, but that is often how it feels to people. At the moment, 110 per cent of our parishioners’ giving goes to the diocese. We also give another ten per cent of it to charity. Mr Micawber would turn in his grave.

The Revd Dr Giles Fraser is Team Rector of Putney, and lecturer in philosophy at Wadham College, Oxford.

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