Leader: reasons to spend fatly in the lean years

by
28 January 2009

WHEN the General Synod debates the financial crisis in two weeks’ time, it will focus on the global picture: the causes of and possible remedies for the recession, the social impact it might have, and what contribution the Church might make, if any. The Church’s own finances will not be subjected to a debate, but repeated messages of reassurance have done little to lessen the anxiety that churchgoers feel. Now, at least, Synod members have a short paper by Andrew Britton, who chairs the finance com­mittee of the Archbishops’ Council. How the Church Com­mis­sioners’ market holding has fared since the autumn crash will not be known until the accounts are published after the Synod has finished, but these are not the only funds held by the Church. More than £1 billion of parish and diocesan money is invested in the CCLA Church of England deposit fund. Mr Britton points out that every one-per-cent cut in the interest rate represents £10 mil­lion knocked off the value of this investment. By this reckon­ing, the Church has lost about £40 million since September. It is for this reason, among others, that Mr Britton predicts that the current crisis “will have a serious and lasting effect in the parishes, the dioceses, and the national institutions”.

There must be an expectation of a degree of hardship, there­fore; but the outline figures provided by Mr Britton suggest that panic is uncalled for. The paper talks of the “heavy smoothing arrangements” made by the Commissioners, spreading the benefits accrued during the fat years to compensate for the privations of the lean years. Nobody predicted that the lean years would be quite so lean; so it is widely predicted that the next actuarial assessment of the C of E clergy pensions liability will ask for increased contributions from the dioceses; but these will not take effect this year.

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But the Government’s approach to the general economic crisis has been to attempt to float the ship of the economy by opening the sluicegates of state subsidy. Whether or not this is the right economic response, the Church might consider the merits of a spiritual Keynesianism. At a time when, we are told, people are re-examining their life values and questioning their preoccupa­tion with material things, the Church ought perhaps to be projecting hope, not stringency. It would, of course, be wrong to equate confidence in God with increased expenditure, but this is not a time to scrimp on the repair of buildings, the business of outreach, and the provision of excellence in worship.

Confidence remains. Mr Britton’s note mentions the Church Times/ComRes poll (News, 2 January), in which one third of churchgoers said that their giving would increase. The typical reaction to a recession is to cut back on non-essentials, but things of the faith hardly fall into this category. A parallel reaction is to continue spending on a few items that bring pleasure and comfort during a period of retrenchment. Here, again, the Church should benefit, as long as churchgoers do not allow the gloom of the times to affect their thankful relationship with

their Lord.

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