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SYNOD: ‘Why should the Church not cut fees?’

by
21 February 2014

Parochial fees

GEOFF CRAWFORD

Offices: the Bishop of Manchester, the Rt Revd David Walker

Offices: the Bishop of Manchester, the Rt Revd David Walker

THE Bishop of Manchester, the Rt Revd David Walker, introduced a Draft Order on parochial fees for baptisms, marriages, and funerals. Building on a 2012 Order that set new fees, the Order would set them at this level for five years, with an annual increase based on the rate of inflation.

The Bishop said: "Five-year orders will save time we can spend debating other matters or finish earlier. Marriage and funeral services are a vital part of the mission of the C of E, to reach those who may not otherwise have much contact with the Church."

John Freeman (Chester) said that he commended this new way of increasing fees, and that he believed it would save a lot of time.

The Revd Charlotte Gale (Coventry) said that she had serious concerns about how the new fees would work for funerals. In her parish, there are too many funerals for her to take alone but, after paying retired clergy to take funerals, there was not much money left for the PCC. "That means for a funeral service in church [with a retired cleric] with the proposed fees, the PCC will receive just £20 to cover the costs. I would have fees set at a more realistic rate, so we can support clergy in this hugely difficult and important ministry."

The Revd Jonathan Frais (Chichester) had concerns about charging for baptisms - the fee is set at £13. "Baptisms are a great time to teach; it is our time to give back. . . It's all in the direction of us forming a Christian world-view in [the family's or baptised person's] mind. I don't want it undermined by any sense in which they are buying a service, or even purchasing their salvation."

Canon John Mason (Chester) said he backed the plan to raise fees by the RPI index of inflation each year. "But why, if the RPI happens to be negative, is the idea is to cap it at zero per cent?," he asked. In a deflationary environment, he saw no reason why the Church should not be generous enough to cut fees.

Canon Simon Cox (Blackburn) said he had been using RPI to increase fees for years, and thought it worked well. "The only problem is we are going to be using one month for judge the whole year." He thought a better way would be to take the average of three months' worth of inflation.

The Revd Dr Jonathan Gibbs (Chester) said that he had received considerable "grief" from funeral directors about the substantial increase in fees in 2012, but he felt that now the industry was more appreciative of the pastoral service the Church provides.

The Archdeacon of Birmingham, the Ven. Hayward Osborne (Birmingham), said that in Birmingham, impoverished parishioners were constantly looking for the cheapest way to do a funeral. "So, despite the good relations between clergy and funeral directors, a good number of services are offered to other independent churches. There is a real battle on for us to secure services still to come to Anglican parishes." He warned that some PCCs were still struggling to maintain decent and presentable churchyards.

The motion was clearly carried that the Draft Parochial Fees and Scheduled Matters Amending Order 2014 be considered.

Paul Cartwright (Wakefield) moved two amendments, both of which were resisted by the Bishop of Manchester.

The first would have ensured that the annual rise was pegged to the Retail Price Index (RPI) or the Consumer Price Index (CPI), whichever was the lower, rather than simply using RPI as stated in the draft Order. The second would have restricted any annual uplift to a maximum of two per cent.

"We don't charge when visiting schools or visiting the ill at home; so why should we profit from their death?" he asked.

Responding, BishopWalker said that he understood and shared the concern that any fees could be difficult, especially for those on the breadline; but "RPI and CPI are used for different types of uplift, depending upon whether the uplift was taking account of the cost of manpower or the cost of raw materials." There was also a new index, CPIV, which had only been operating for one month and which might be the index that the Church preferred to use in future. He opposed the suggested cap on the uplift, because "We don't know what the rate of inflation might be in the future."

Insufficient members stood to support either amendment, and both fell; the Synod then approved the Parochial Fees and Scheduled Matters Amending Order 2014.

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