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What do you get for an £88k parish share?

08 December 2023

Michael Victor, a churchwarden, has tried asking the diocese — but says that he receives only veiled threats in response

I AM cheesed off. The bill for our parish share has just come in. It’s £88,000. I suppose, if we were a big London church, that might not seem such a huge amount. But we’re not. We are the biggest church in our benefice (in terms of congregation), and it is true that numbers go up substantially over Christmas and Easter. The average attendance for the main service on Sundays, however, is about 80 — each of whom is now expected to fork out £1100 a year for the privilege of worshipping with us.

A holy priest whom I used to visit liked gin. I asked him whether he gave it up for Lent, and he said that he didn’t. He said that he had tried, but he had spent the whole of Lent thinking about gin — which rather defeated the object of the exercise. I am a churchwarden, and it would be good to be able to think about something other than money — a far more spiritually toxic substance than gin.

But it’s always Lent these days for churchwardens. When I have complained about the gigantic sums exacted from our church to anyone with any connection to the diocese, I am taken aside and spoken to as if I were a prefect complaining about the food at school meals. “Irresponsible”; “Think of others”; “Large outgoings”; etc. Well, there are five other churches in our benefice which are expected to pay a parish share, and the most that any of them is required to pay is £18,000.

Especially frowned upon is the question “What do we get in return?” “You get your Vicar” is the answer. And the answer contains a veiled threat: “And if you don’t pay up, you’ll lose him” (ours is a him). And they are not joking: a large parish in the neighbouring benefice fell short of its dues and lost its last vicar. Now, hardly anyone worships there (to the irritation of the diocese).

We certainly could afford to pay for our Vicar: the poor chap doesn’t cost anything like £88,000. There is supposed to be one other half-vicar in the benefice, to look after some of the other churches. I would have thought that their parish share would cover half a vicar, at least.

SO, WHAT are we getting? Good question. The lead was stolen from our church roof last year. It cost us £80,000 to repair (insurance companies have learned their lesson, and won’t insure against theft of lead any more); so we had to raise the money from trusts and grants. Did the diocese offer to help? Certainly not. They are, we are told, stony broke.

Well, I say that, but, looking at their website, they seem able to employ a lot of people doing jobs such as “Hospitality Coordinator” and “Head of People Services”, whose combined salaries, I should have thought, would cover our parish share.

It’s a mess. The diocese — well, the C of E — doesn’t approve of churches like ours. We’re predominantly elderly, and we’re plugged into the very heart of the village, which means that our services fulfil a social and therapeutic function, as well as a spiritual one (if such a distinction is valid).

What is our — what’s the word? — ecclesiology? Theology? I don’t know, but we are trad, middle-of-the-road C of E. We are dying faster than we can be replaced, which has potentially catastrophic consequences for our budget (the deceased no longer pay monthly contributions), and, therefore, for our parish share — and, therefore, presumably, serious consequences for the diocese. But younger people are coming — not as many or as fast as we would like; but the many of us who love our church feel that God is at work there, and are confident that he won’t let it wither on the vine.

IT ALWAYS amazes me how contemptuous the Church is of the old. I came to the Church in my thirties, but, by the time I was 50, I realised that I was past my sell-by date, and that the Church was after younger flesh.

It’s a ludicrous obsession, partly because, as with musicians, child prodigies are the exception, and most of us acquire what meagre understanding we have of the workings of the Holy Spirit through practice, age, and experience.

As we approach the end, we become more aware of how much we are in need of spiritual support — bizarrely, a facility not readily on offer in the conventional structures of the Church of England. Older people constitute a huge resource of wisdom and faithfulness, which should be celebrated and valued rather than apologised for and sidelined — because it is our generation that sustains the Church outside cities and in the countryside.

If it is God’s will and purpose that rural worship should die out over the next 30 years, he will no doubt applaud the current policies of the Church of England.

If, however, God sees in our grey hairs and faltering steps some intimation of a Zechariah-like renaissance, he may call to account those who so wilfully tax us into penury, while ignoring our cries for spiritual guidance, and dismissing the good will and good service that we offer.

Michael Victor is writing under a pseudonym

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