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Archbishop’s working group to address financial pressures of virus

26 March 2020

Archbishop Welby’s group to set out proposals to ease financial pressure

PA

Empty streets in the City of London on Tuesday after the Government’s lockdown

Empty streets in the City of London on Tuesday after the Government’s lockdown

THE Archbishop of Canterbury is chairing a working group that has been urgently convened to address financial pressure from the coronavirus crisis on the Church of England.

No decision has been made about funding support for dioceses and cathedrals affected by the pandemic and the nationwide lockdown, but the working group led by Archbishop Welby hopes to have concrete proposals by the end of the week.

In an email sent to bishops and other senior staff in the C of E, the secretary and chief executive of the Church Commissioners, Gareth Mostyn, said that the group — which includes representatives from the House of Bishops, the Archbishops’ Council, and the Commissioners — had met on Tuesday morning.

“We are all very aware of the immediate financial pressures being felt by people and organisations across the country, including those that many of you across dioceses and cathedrals are experiencing, and the need for some clarity so that the Church can continue to play its crucial national role,” he wrote in the email.

“We are currently working through what financial support measures can be introduced to help the Church throughout this crisis.

“We are committed to working in partnership with you and are actively developing proposals that we would plan on sharing with you at the end of this week. We realise there is an urgent need.”

There was no detail in the email on how exactly dioceses have been affected, although the closure of all public worship is expected to cause a fall in congregational giving, which provides the main part of most churches’ income.

Since many churchgoers now set up a standing order, however, income from cash collections in church is not as large a part of giving as it used to be.

When asked how the shutdown would affect the Commissioners’ £8 billion of assets, a spokesman declined to go further than comments made two weeks earlier, when the stock market fell sharply.

Because the Commissioners’ investments are diversified, and include less in public-equity stocks than many other similar funds, they would not suffer as much as others, a spokesman said at the time. The eight-per-cent drop earlier this month, however, would have cost approximately £250 million from the £8.3 billion fund controlled by the Commissioners (News, 13 March).

The FTSE 100 share index collapsed by about 30 per cent in just one month, although there has been no significant further decline in the past two weeks, since the impact of Covid-19 became clear.

Other church investment funds have been affected by the coronavirus. CCLA, which manages investments for many church charities and organisations, said that its assets had declined in value, but less than the overall market losses.

The volatility in the markets also meant that CCLA would begin to buy new shares at lower prices, its chief executive, Peter Hugh Smith, wrote on its website. Distributions to investors would not be affected, he said.

The charity Stewardship, which helps to funnel donations to churches and Christian organisations, said that it was “acutely aware” of how the lockdown would affect the ability of many ministries to continue.

“Income and cashflow are key concerns: there are those who are reliant on Sunday offerings, fund-raising events, or renting their buildings, who now face challenges in the months ahead,” the company’s chief generosity officer, Daniel Jones, said.

The wider charity sector had estimated a funding gap of about £4 billion over the next 12 weeks, he said, but, through stewardship, some Christian donors had increased their giving at this “moment of great need”.

“We are already working with our giving community, Christian philanthropists, denominations, and other funders to co-ordinate a response and ensure that Christian ministry can continue and, we hope, flourish, at a time when our country needs the good news of Jesus the most,” he said.

Almost all Christian conferences and festivals planned for 2020 have already been called off. Many organisers have warned that making full refunds when so much has already been spent towards the events will put their financial survival at risk.

The Covid-19 recession that is generally predicted will, however, affect poorer nations the most, the Jubilee Debt Campaign has said.

Borrowing costs have soared, overseas tourism has declined drastically, and income from the sale of commodities such as copper, coffee, and oil has declined significantly, leaving less developed countries — many of which are already struggling with onerous debt repayments — in serious difficulties.

“Urgent action is needed to support poor countries being hit by the economic impacts of coronavirus, including a complete moratorium on debt payments for those most affected,” Jubilee Debt Campaign’s head of policy, Tim Jones, said.

This call has already been supported by a group of finance ministers from African nations, and the president of the World Bank, David Malpass.

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