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Parish giving falls by £40m in pandemic

31 December 2020

Covid cases and hospital admissions soar as more of the UK moves into tier 4


Ambulances queue outside the Royal London Hospital, Whitechapel, on Tuesday

Ambulances queue outside the Royal London Hospital, Whitechapel, on Tuesday

PARISH giving in the Church of England has slumped by about £40 million during the pandemic.

The latest figures presented to the Archbishops’ Council for the first ten months of 2020 are said to show a 7.8-per-cent fall in income compared with the same period the previous year.

‘Happy New Tier!’

The levels vary across the 42 dioceses: some have experienced a drop approaching 20 per cent, while others have barely been affected. Four of the six worst-hit dioceses are in the north: Durham, Leeds, Manchester, and Sheffield. The other two are Truro and Lincoln. Bristol, Gloucester, Guildford, Oxford, Southwark, Southwell, and St Albans are among the dioceses that are reported to have felt the least impact financially.

Part of the fall can be attributed to church closures, loss of fees for services such as weddings, and reduced congregations because of social distancing or a fear of becoming infected in or on the way to church. Parishes that have relied on cash or cheques in the collection plate have suffered greater losses than those that have succesfully promoted giving by standing order or direct debit.

Another factor is the loss of income from the hire of church buildings for outside events. Parishes that earn much of their revenue from rent — for community groups and businesses — have also suffered loss of income.

In the latest Church of England Parish Finance Statistics, 2018 (published in March 2020), parishes brought in just under £1.1 billion. Of this, more than £600 million came from parish giving (with tax recovered), £59 million from legacies, £40 million from fees, and £63 million from fund-raising and appeals. Total expenditure of parishes was £1 billion, the largest item of which was the diocesan parish share, which accounted for £340 million.

A spokesman at Church House, Westminster, said: “The major portion of churches’ income is from giving. Obviously this is dependent upon people’s ability to give, and many are and continue to suffer financially as a result of the pandemic; but levels of giving income have so far proven more resilient than might have been expected, and churches around the country are hugely grateful for the generosity of those who give.”

In March, the Church Commissioners announced a £75-million package of liquidity measures to assist dioceses whose finances would be adversely affected by the Covid crisis. A second package of £35 million was announced in May for short-term assistance to dioceses in 2020 and early 2021.

The spokesman continued: “The majority of the funding in the second package is being made available in grants to the dioceses in most need as they recover from the ongoing effects of Covid-19; 22 dioceses have already received grants.

“Notwithstanding the inevitable economic impact of Covid-19, the Church Commissioners are still planning to distribute over £900 million to support the Church’s work in 2020-2022.”

Covid-19 hospital admissions peaked at more than 20,400 this week: the highest ever recorded during the pandemic. New coronavirus cases are exceeding 53,000 a day — another record. On Wednesday, the Government announced that dozens more regions across the UK — 20 million people — were due to move into tier 4 from midnight.

The president of the Royal College of Emergency Medicine, Dr Katherine Henderson, said on Tuesday that she saw “wall-to-wall Covid” when she worked at one London hospital on Christmas Day. “The chances are that we will cope, but we cope at a cost — the cost is not doing what we had hoped, which is being able to keep non-Covid activities going.”

Many churches have offered their premises for Covid vaccination and testing (News, 11 December), which a spokesperson for Church House described as “a great act of service and witness”. Each centre can process about 1000 people a day, and could be in use for up to a year.

In Rochester Cathedral, lateral flow testing is being conducted seven days a week in the crypt. The army installed ten booths to conduct community rapid-testing for residents, who get their test results in an hour. The crypt was sealed from the main building so that services could still take place.

The Chapter Clerk, Simon Lace, said: “There’s been so little we’ve been able to do during the pandemic; so we were keen to help. We want the cathedral to be seen as the centre of the community, for people of all faiths or no faith, and this is a great way to demonstrate that.

“The test centre is running very smoothly. Over 2500 tests were completed in the first week.” It is expected to operate until the end of February.

Another example is St Margaret’s, Barnet, in north London. People queuing outside were treated to live Christmas carols and hot drinks.

The Team Vicar in the Edgware Team Ministry, the Revd Sally Baily, said: “We are delighted to be able to serve our local community in this way, giving people assurance that they were not carrying the virus home for Christmas. Our volunteer team, comprising retired health-workers and other congregation members, did an amazing job.”

A consultant with Public Health Barnet, Dr Janet Djomba, said: “We were amazed at the number of people who came for testing on such short notice.”

The Bishop of Truro, the Rt Revd Philip Mounstephen, writing on Twitter this week, condemn the argument that the vulnerable should be sacrificed in a rush to return to “normal” life.

“I’ve been appalled by this argument that’s been circulating. It is ethically absolutely abhorrent and the worst possible example of the tyranny of the majority. We all need to come to terms with the uncomfortable truth that ‘vulnerability’ is a breath away for any of us. If and when you or I become vulnerable, how do we want the society we are part of to respond or treat us?”

His comment echoed one made by the Team Rector of Northampton, the Revd Haydon Spenceley: “I’ve read too many times that the lives of ‘vulnerable’ people should be sacrificed, in whatever sense, so that everyone else can ‘get back to normal’. This isn’t theoretical, it’s personal. To me. If you think, or say that stuff, do you know what it says to me when I read it?”

He continued: “All of us have changing circumstances. Not all of us live to an old age, but all of us are vulnerable, all of the time. All of us have underlying conditions.”

Dover intervention. A queue of more than 2800 lorries to enter the port of Dover and the Channel Tunnel, after France closed its border with the UK on 20 December as a measure against the new strain of the coronavirus, had been reduced to 60 by Tuesday. In a statement, the Archbishop of Canterbury and the other Anglican bishops in Kent had expressed dismay and called for decisive intervention.

“We recognise the need to take urgent precautions to slow the spread of the new strain of coronavirus. But to leave seasonal workers, families and some truck drivers without adequate food and sanitary facilities is unacceptable.”

An agreement was reached on 22 December to reopen the border. HGV drivers were required to undertake a rapid Covid test, and the army was brought in to help. Residents of Dover had taken food to drivers while they were stranded.

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