NEWLY released financial figures from the Church of England reveal the scale of the disparity between southern and northern dioceses in annual revenue from parishes.
Parishes in London, for example, raised more than £137 million, compared with those in Newcastle upon Tyne, which raised less than £11 million. Southwark received more than £56 million, while Durham generated £13.5 million.
The figures cover the year 2019, and so do not take account of the effects of the pandemic.
Individual parishes also experienced widely varying incomes: some received less than £6600, while others exceeded £250,000.
The disparity is reflected in figures for individuals’ planned giving. London has the highest figure, with a weekly average of £25.20; Guildford and Southwark are close behind with £21.50 and £18.50 respectively, and Bristol is fourth on £17.10.
At the opposite end of the scale is Carlisle diocese, which average £8.20 in weekly planned giving. Next are Hereford on £8.70, Durham on £9.30, and York on £10.10.
Parishes’ weekly planned giving per donor was less than £15 in 25 dioceses in which the total income per worshipping community was less than the national average of £1000. These included all dioceses in the Northern Province, except for Sheffield and Sodor & Man.
The author of the report, Dr Bev Botting, the Church’s head of research and statistics, draws no specific conclusions, but says in an overview that she hopes that it will serve as a baseline for comparing the financial picture that will emerge from a year of coping with Covid, and help with understanding “the impact of the pandemic on income, expenditure, and giving, and negotiate the way ahead”.
The report also found that, by the end of 2019, “significant” funds remained in parish reserves, estimated to have grown by £255 million between 2010 and 2019. The reserves had fallen in 2010 and 2011, after the global financial crisis, but increased every year since, including by £26.5 million in 2019.
Dr Botting writes: “We don’t have information as to how much these have been depleted in 2020. As a comparator, admittedly a poor one, after the 2008 recession, parishes bounced back more quickly than dioceses, and longer-term trends — eg: on attendance and the number of regular givers — proved more significant in the overall picture.”
The figures endorse the findings of the discussion paper Perspectives on Money, People and Buildings (News, 5 February), circulated privately among bishops and diocesan secretaries last month. The paper confirmed that parish share income was down 8.1 per cent, year on year, as of November 2020, and projected a fall of ten per cent in total budgeted income this year compared with 2020.
It suggested that a declining income, accelerated by the pandemic, would leave dioceses facing “indiscriminate cuts” to clergy posts, and undermine the Church of England’s attempts at strategic reform.
The diocesan secretary of Durham, James Morgan, said this week: “Our diocese has some of the highest levels of deprivation amongst all dioceses of the Church of England. Whilst this is not the only factor affecting levels of regular giving, it certainly remains a significant issue for many in our parishes.
“Over the last few years, we have worked hard to encourage regular, planned giving with a series of programmes to support our parishes and congregations. We had started to see the fruits of that work when the Covid pandemic hit, with its serious impact on some aspects of giving and finances, including the loss of income from hall rentals and events in many of our parishes.
“Whilst we look to the future, the financial consequences of the pandemic are still emerging, and will take significant time and effort to be addressed.”
In neighbouring Newcastle, the diocesan secretary, Shane Waddle, said: “Many of our churches are situated in areas of multiple deprivation and low household income. Our Generous Giving Team has built strong relationships with our parishes, and it supports their congregations to help increase planned giving.”
In 2019, there was a six-per-cent increase in overall weekly planned giving per giver. “We are extremely grateful for this generosity,” he said. “The pandemic will undoubtedly have an impact on levels of planned giving for 2020 and 2021, which makes the support and help of our Generous Giving Team even more important.”
Hereford diocese said that it, too, had been working to encourage regular, planned giving. Its diocesan secretary, Sam Pratley, said: “We have invested in parish-giving advisers who are supporting clergy and parishes to build long-term plans for regular, sustainable giving, as well as encouraging the wide adoption of the parish-giving scheme and implementation of better technology solutions.
“Whilst the financial impact of the pandemic is still emerging, we look to the future with hope, continuing to focus on all aspects of generous giving.”
None of those contacted was prepared to discuss how the Church might “level up” its finances around the country. None of the four diocesese with the highest income from giving — Bristol, Guildford, London, and Southwark — responded to requests for comment.
Read more on the story from Angela Tilby