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Opponents of same-sex blessings pay parish share into restricted fund

21 March 2024

Alamy

All Saints’, Crowborough

All Saints’, Crowborough

CHICHESTER diocese has created a restricted fund into which parish congregations that oppose the introduction of blessings for same-sex couples can pay their parish share.

The existence of the fund was discovered though financial documents that show the balance of parish share owed by each parish in the diocese. The document lists those whose 2023 payments have been made to “restricted fund RF46”.

The creation of the fund was not made public, and several clergy contacted in the diocese appeared not to know about it; but its existence was confirmed by a spokesperson for the diocese in response to enquiries from the Church Times.

In a statement, they said: “The Bishop’s Council approved the creation of a time-limited restricted fund to enable parishes who had paused parish-share contributions following General Synod’s decisions regarding Prayers of Love and Faith to continue to make contributions.

“As a result we have no parishes who are withholding share, and all parishes are contributing to fund a wider household of faith. The fund supports the costs of providing ministry in those parishes which are known to hold conservative/traditional convictions on marriage.”

Eight churches are identified in the financial document as contributing to RF46, and at least one more has since joined the scheme; All Saints’, Lindfield, is not listed in the document, but a January edition of the parish newsletter shows that the PCC had voted to make use of the fund.

The newsletter, seemingly quoting from a diocesan communication, says: “It allows parishes to continue giving their financial share to the diocese, while restricting the use of that share to ‘support the costs of providing ministry in those parishes who are affiliated to a network known to hold conservative/traditional convictions on marriage’.”

All Saints’ was approached for comment, as were all the churches identified in the document, but all declined to answer questions about the fund.

The churches listed are: All Souls’, Eastbourne; All Saints’, Eastbourne; Holy Trinity, Eastbourne; St Mary’s, Hailsham; Chanctonbury Benefice; Emmanuel Church, Hastings; All Saints’, Crowborough; and Bishop Hannington Memorial Church, Hove.

AlamyAll Saints’, Lindfield

Including Lindfield, the combined parish share of these churches in 2023 amounted to just over £770,000 — roughly five-and-a-half per cent of the total received by the diocese.

All the churches identify themselves as Evangelical, although a Lindfield newsletter suggests that the fund will support “quite a breadth of conservative, charismatic and catholic groups”.

The move pre-empts any decision by the House of Bishops or the General Synod to agree any sort of formal distinction between parishes on different sides of the sexuality debate.

The Church Times understands that the Chichester fund was established shortly after the vote in the General Synod last November, when it was confirmed that the Prayers of Love and Faith would be commended for use (News, 15 November 2023).

At about the same time, the Church of England Evangelical Council (CEEC) announced the creation of a new national fund, the Ephesian Fund, into which individuals and parishes that opposed the introduction of the prayers could pay.

The CEEC statement said: “Our hope and prayer is that these temporary provisions will enable orthodox evangelicals to remain in the Church of England whilst we seek a permanent and structural settlement to secure orthodox life and witness going forward.”

The Chichester fund seems to be designed to encourage parishes to continue paying to the diocese rather than to make use of alternatives such as the Ephesian Fund.

Chichester is the first diocese to launch such a fund, but the Church Times understands that at least one other diocese is considering a similar scheme.

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