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Letters to the Editor

17 June 2022


Diocesan use of restricted funds

From Mr Stephen Billyeald

Sir, — Emma Robarts (Letters, 10 June) quite rightly suggests that direct financial support to parishes would be more efficient than using dioceses as middle men. Your newspaper has previously highlighted issues of trust. It is not only the failing dioceses (27 out of 42) that cannot be trusted to handle funds responsibly.

For example, one of the wealthiest dioceses, Oxford, had a perfect opportunity to create goodwill and help parishes during the Covid crisis (while churches were closed and opportunities for fund-raising events were almost non-existent) by reducing the parish share. It could have done so by taking all possible steps to reduce its own costs. Instead, it asked parishes to pay the full parish share, even if this meant depleting parish reserves, so that the diocese could build up its own reserves.

In the four years 2018 to 2021, Oxford has transferred £10.7 million from its Diocesan Stipends Fund into its Common Vision Fund, which is a designated fund used for a variety of diocesan initiatives, some of debatable value. They have spent only £5 million, and therefore £5.7 million remains unspent; if during Covid, in 2020 and 2021, £4 million of this balance had been applied towards its designated purpose — clergy stipends — it would have reduced parish-share bills by ten per cent, relieving some of the financial pressure on parishes and generating some goodwill.

There is case law showing that financial judgements (such as use of reserves) are a matter for PCCs. The diocese’s taking parish reserves to shore up its own reserves is merely a money-go-round when parishes are in deficit, too. It does not solve the issue of diocesan overspending, but further undermines the front-line, income-generating part of the infrastructure: the parishes.

In a letter to The Daily Telegraph, dated 2 November 2020, the Bishops of Exeter, Ripon, and Norwich reasserted their commitment to rural parishes and stated that the Church Commissioners had made available “a further two packages totalling £110 million available on top of usual spending to help parishes, cathedrals and dioceses weather the Covid-19 crisis”. Any such funding received by, for example, Exeter diocese was, however, used internally to offset the shortfall in the parish share in 2020 (reducing the diocesan deficit) and, therefore, did not reach the parishes.

It reduces trust when parishes are asked to consume their reserves by paying the parish share in full and promised financial assistance to parishes is used to ease diocesan deficits. Moreover, some dioceses are using parish money that is designated for restricted purposes inappropriately. For instance, Diocesan Stipends Fund came from the parishes originally, under the Endowments and Glebe Measure 1976; all parish glebe assets were pooled into the dioceses so that glebe income could be shared equitably between all parishes. Glebe income is held on trust (a significant word) by dioceses for the payment of parish-clergy stipends and closely associated costs, and for no other purpose.

Now, however, that dioceses are allowed to use total-return accounting on these endowment funds (allowing them to spend some of the capital in endowment funds as well as income, making more money available), they seem to be using them as “magic money trees” to fund initiatives that have little or no benefit for the parishes. This is wrong. No matter how much money is generated from the endowment funds, the application of total-return accounting does not alter the rules on the designated purposes for which the money can be used.

Dioceses ignore past promises, undermine trust, and overburden parishes financially at their own peril. Parish-share payments are voluntary, and these are inflationary times. It seems that all dioceses need regular reminders to use their funds for the correct designated purposes, cut their own costs rather than parish clergy, and to be demonstrably pro-parish by taking all possible steps to keep the parish share down.

16 Briars Close, Pangbourne
Berkshire RG8 7LH

From Mr Nick Orman

Sir, — Emma Robarts states that “Considerable resources have been extracted from the parish system since 1976 to fund the current diocesan system. No wonder that so many parishes are struggling to continue their ministry.”

I fear that she is looking back to a golden age that never was. She gives the impression that all parishes were deprived of income under the Endowment and Glebe Measure 1976. In truth, a minority of parishes were indeed deprived of significant income through this Measure, but the majority previously had very little or none.

The impression given by Ms Robarts is that all or most parishes lost out, when this is far from the case. The effect of the Endowment and Glebe Measure was to spread this income more fairly between parishes by passing it to the dioceses.

NICK ORMAN (Lay canon)
27 Manor Close, Wroughton
Swindon, Wiltshire

Welcome for Europe synod’s anti-bullying plan

From Mr Clive Billenness and five others

Sir, — The signatories to this letter are some of the organisers of the recent, very successful ABEL conference on bullying in the Church of England, and are writing to congratulate warmly the members of the synod of the diocese in Europe for unanimously adopting a comprehensive new anti-bullying policy last week.

The new policy will make provision for proper investigations of allegations of bullying, which can target clergy and laity alike. The offer of pastoral support, including assistance to prepare a formal complaint where this is needed, will be welcomed by those who have been seriously harmed.

It is reassuring that provision has been made to prevent vexatious complaints’ being used to “weaponise” the policy, and a clear distinction has been drawn between necessary, critical conversations and bullying.

The policy recognises that people who witness bullying can be as harmed as those suffering bullying themselves. It has also been acknowledged that, where physical or mental harm is caused by bullying, then the matter may need to be dealt with as a safeguarding matter.

The pledge given to place no obstacle in the way of clergy or laity who choose to exercise their legal rights to make a complaint under local anti-bullying laws will also provide com­fort to clergy who might fear career repercussions if they seek legal assistance.

Although formal complaints processes can become protracted, assurances have been given that immediate steps will be taken where acts of bullying are ongoing, and the matter will be treated as confidential in the interests of both complainant and respondent.

GDPR Data Breach procedures will be available where people’s personal details are “leaked”.

Finally, because removal expenses are paid directly by the chaplaincy in which they serve, clergy in the diocese in Europe are normally obliged to remain in a post for a minimum period and may therefore feel compelled to remain and endure bullying for a lengthy period of time to avoid a substantial financial penalty if they depart early. The assurances given that the diocese will act to prevent this situation will remove a considerable source of worry for our chaplains.

The diocese has acknowledged that the larger task now begins of educating people about the harm that bullying can do, but the introductory letter to the policy from the Bishop, Dr Robert Innes, stating unequivocally that there is no place for bullying in God’s Church, is a helpful foundation.

It is envisaged that this policy will be reviewed in about a year, and we look forward to reading how it has contributed to a more peaceful and loving Church.

We also note that, in the mean time, the synod voted unanimously to submit a motion to the General Synod in support of a similar motion by the Archdeacon of Blackburn, which would enable people holding lay office in the Church to be disqualified from office if found guilty of bullying behaviour.

We, therefore, thank Canon Bruce Bryant-Scott and the diocesan team who have worked very hard to create this policy, and we hope that other dioceses will examine it closely as a good example for them to follow.

Clive Billenness, David Brown, Rhona Knight, Anne Lee, Gavin Drake, Janet Fife
c/0 4 Rue des Sports
09600 Léran, France

Canon Tilby’s view of the Calvin Robinson affair

From Diana Jones

Sir, — Not for the first time, I find Canon Angela Tilby’s views more than somewhat bizarre (Comment, 10 June).

Having said that “training institutions are normally trusted by ordaining bishops,” she goes on to refer to “the well-tried process”, which she claims to have been “subverted”, as though the views of the staff of the “training institutions” constituted, in themselves, a necessary process of ordination. This, of course, is not precisely the case.

The statement that “He is conservative, both theologically and politically” skates over the fact that Calvin Robinson, among his other “conservative” views, is fundamentally opposed to the ordination of women. One might have expected Canon Tilby, as an ordained woman, to find this archaic view unacceptable — but apparently not.

Mr Robinson also denies the fact that the Church of England is institutionally racist, but few others, both inside or outside that Church, would find this denial reasonable. Is Canon Tilby really suggesting that the Bishop of London finds him unsuitable for ordination because he is black and denies it, and she is white and accepts it? Surely an extraordinary conclusion, hedged about, of course, with the weasel words “Reports have claimed” and “All this suggests”.

She concludes by regretting the loss of “a talented if controversial, candidate” to the Church of England, and points out — as though this were relevant — that Mr Robinson has never been a member of the BNP. He is, however, backed in his views by Laurence Fox and the Reclaim party, which speaks volumes.

In my view — and I sense that I am not alone — the “lazy, hand-wringing leftist orthodoxies” with their “moral and theological spinelessness” which, in Canon Tilby’s view, constitute the Church of England are well rid of Mr Robinson, who has now fled this morally bankrupt institution for the kind embraces of GAFCON.

2 Sayes Gardens
Hertfordshire CM21 9BL

protesting about climate concerns

From Canon Jonathan Herbert

Sir, — In response to Ann Wills’s letter “Christian climate activism should be considerate” (10 June), I reply as both a Christian and member of Insulate Britain (IB), convicted by the courts. Having been part of IB roadblocks, I can assure people that we always left a lane free for emergency vehicles as part of our non-violent protests.

They were designed to cause disruption to challenge the Government to fulfil its manifesto promises to insulate homes. More than 14 per cent of UK carbon-dioxide emissions come from heating leaky homes.

Disruption was a tactic used by Jesus: witness his cleansing of the temple, healing on the sabbath, and many teachings from the Sermon on the Mount. Sitting on a road being abused and having things thrown at me by angry motorists directly linked me to the Beatitudes.

I wish to witness to God’s love for people by doing all that I can to prevent the present suffering for those experiencing the ravages of climate change in the poorest parts of the world and the terrifying consequences for our own nation without radical government action to limit global warming.

Never have I found such faith and love for people as I have among the Christians and others engaged in groups such as IB, Just Stop Oil, Extinction Rebellion, and Christian Climate Action.

Hilfield Friary
Dorchester DT2 7BE

Maufe church’s pews

From Deborah Robertson

Sir, — The PCC of St Nicholas’s, Saltdean, has voted to remove all the pews from the church.

This beautiful interior was designed by Sir Edward Maufe in his Scandinavian/ Georgian style in 1962. It is a precious exception to the 1960s Brutalist norm: a building of refreshing simplicity, balance and elegance. I always feel uplifted, entering the nave.

The light-oak pews are an integral part of his vision. They glow in the sunlight, rich with the patina of 60 years of prayer. Apparently ripping them out will “create more space”. Space for what? The warm and welcoming congregation is not large, and we already have a church hall.

When will those who oversee the Church of England appreciate that the Christian tradition and history expressed within its architecture matter? Beauty matters; it contains the sacred. A church’s beauty is often what calls us back for prayer and reflection. It can draw us back to God.

This decision will destroy the beauty and integrity of the nave and Sir Edward Maufe’s vision.

I was informed that St Nicholas’s, though designed by such an eminent architect, is not listed. Apparently this is not unusual. Other churches built in the second half of the 20th century, though of significant artistic and historic value, have also not been listed and are vulnerable.

I think that Historic England and all those bodies responsible for the maintenance and protection of our churches should review their listing procedure as a matter of urgency. These buildings need greater protection.

We are the custodians of this unique heritage. It is not ours to destroy.

39 Westfield Avenue North
Saltdean, Brighton BN2 8HS

Boarding-school wounds of missionaries’ children

From the Revd Dr Nigel Griffiths

Sir, — It was good to read Dennis Richards’s review of the collected anthology of memoirs Sent: Reflections on missions, boarding school and childhood (Education, 10 June). By attributing the emotional wounds experienced by some of these missionary children to the Evangelicalism of their parents, he misses a crucial point, however. The tendency to lay one’s family on the altar of one’s own sacrificial calling is a failing that ministers of all traditions remain prone to today. I say this from experience, having attended that same boarding school as a missionary child and now finding myself called into ordained ministry and parenthood today.

Parish Office, St Mary’s Church
Chart Lane, Reigate
Surrey RH2 7EA

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