THE Church in the Isle of Man is facing a financial crisis that can be avoided only by a significant revamp of its operations, including selling off several of its buildings, a policy document says.
Parishes are now being asked to consider urgently how they can adapt to meet the challenge. Earlier this month, the diocesan synod of Sodor & Man accepted a report, Diocesan Strategy for Church Buildings 2020, which set out the stark choices facing the island community.
The report found that, in 2019, despite increased efforts, a record number of parishes fell substantially short of raising their assessment for the shared ministry fund, despite a second year of capping well below the rate of ten per cent. “At this present rate of dwindling returns, we will run out of money in five years maximum — sooner, in reality, as PCCs will continue to run out of money,” the report says.
The island has a population of just 90,000, but has 41 Anglican churches, many with small or dwindling congregations. Other “thriving” Christian denominations on the island have fewer than ten buildings, despite having congregations that rival the Anglican attendance figures.
“There is a widespread acceptance both within and outside the Church that we can’t afford all the church buildings we currently have,” the report says. “This document proposes that we need to realise some of those high-value assets which are also a financial liability whilst we hold on to them: those buildings who have greater value in the marketplace than they do for the mission of God and the ministry of his Church.
“By realising this capital, we can invest the money in a more strategic manner on those buildings which are most likely to be fruitful in the mission of God, going forward, and which might therefore not only survive but thrive, and be enabled to generate revenue through growth and adaptation.
“We are a Church founded on the urge of Celtic saints to spread the Gospel, and today we are a Church that needs to reclaim that mission imperative and to re-structure to allow us to move forward with confidence and in faith.”
The report proposes the sale or leasing out of most church halls, and the arranging of churches into five groups: full-time “hub” churches; “community mission churches” that might be “hibernated” in winter; “heritage churches”, largely moth-balled buildings but opened for specific events; “churches at a crossroads”, which need radically rethinking, which “may involve closure, sale, demolition”; and “marketable churches”, which can be sold off to provide funds for mission on the island.
The island’s 15 parishes also face reorganisation: the report suggests that a population of about 6000 is the minimum required to ensure a whole-time stipendiary appointment and cover the annual cost of about £60,000. The report also urges PCCs to explore finding additional uses for their churches.
Canon John Coldwell, a member of the executive committee of the diocesan board of finance, said: “Basically, the number of churches we have is unsustainable. What with the global financial downturn, and now the Covid epidemic, it is a perfect storm. . .
“We want to get a grass-roots feeling of what people want, get as much information in as we can through the autumn, and consider it over Christmas and the New Year, and then go from there.”
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