Giles Fraser: Quarter of a million well spent

25 April 2007

I am IN the process of making a short film for my parishioners about where our parish share gets spent. It is nearly £¼ million, and rising. That sort of money requires the best and most accessible explanation I can provide.

Unlike the central-casting vicar, who comes over all spiritual and gauche at the first mention of hard cash, I get enthused by talking about money because so often it leads to the heart of an issue. And the parish share is no exception. What this system of redistribution lays bare is a conviction about what sort of Church we want to be. Money is the language of our interdependence.

It is one heck of a job to get the majority of churchgoers to recognise that the Church is not a building on their high street. The temptation to narrow-minded congregationalism runs deep. Clergy meet other clergy, and talk about each other’s parishes. Bishops take grand tours of their dioceses. But ordinary parishioners often have little insight into the parallel lives of churchgoers just a few streets away.

If more churches would follow their money, either where it comes from, or where it goes, they would develop a much more comprehensive — one might even say catholic — vision of the Church. This would enable more to recognise why the refusal to pay parish share is such a great sin against Anglican ecclesiology.

League tables are invidious, but I’d love to see a league of dioceses, ranked with respect to non-payment of parish share. Which dioceses have the highest percentage of non-payment? Name and shame, I say. A cleric in the diocese of Manchester told me that non-payment is rife in his area: it has become part of the culture. This is nothing more than anecdotal evidence, but, if it is true, it is scandalous.

This week, I’m filming on one of the poorest estates in London. Gun and knife crime are rife. Of a night, the warren of flats becomes a grim amphitheatre for organised dog-fighting. The Evangelical vicar of that parish is a star, and his work with schoolchildren is hugely inspiring. His parish share is £4000 — and I wonder how he manages to scrape that together. Clearly, it doesn’t go far in covering his salary and accommodation.

This is why parishes like mine — and perhaps yours — have to find the money. If we are not supporting ministry in places like this, we are no more than a spiritual country club that meets on a Sunday. And, if that’s what we are, I’d prefer to spend Sunday on the golf course.

The Revd Dr Giles Fraser is Team Rector of Putney. His most recent book is Christianity with Attitude (Canterbury Press, £9.99 (CT Bookshop £9); 978-1-85311-782-4).

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