The parish churches of England seem to be divided, quite randomly, into the rich and the poor. Some may have accumulated wealth through profitable sales of their property, which have escaped the clutches of the diocese, or discovered on their walls valuable works of art. Others are supported by wealthy patrons or have benefited from major bequests. But many others have had none of that good fortune and, and with no reserves, have succumbed to the combination of declining income and rising Parish Share.
My parish is among those which have accumulated reserves but, like most others, has suffered from the same declining income from an ageing congregation and the effects of covidon giving, so finds its reserves being gnawed away. The Parish Share has become an onerous burden for all of us, forcing many into closure and others into unhappy amalgamations, which impose impossible burdens on the incumbents.
What can be done to stem this tragic decline of the parish system?
Well, the first thing that should happen would be for the parish share to be reduced to a level which only covers the cost of the incumbent, leaving all other diocesan costs to be met by the Central Church out of its £9 billion piggy bank.
Then the richer parishes could help the poorer ones by subsidising their Parish Share. This would need to be diocese-led with the richer and poorer churches suitably matched.
Supporting this endeavour should be the Central Church with a fund which could be drawn on by poorer but worthy churches, particularly those in areas of social deprivation where much good might be done – indeed already is being done – in the community by the clergy and their parishioners.
A more fundamental change, which would revolutionise parish finances and drastically reduce the Central Church’s costs, would be a reduction in the number of dioceses. As has already been pointed out, it is impossible to justify the continuing existence of 42 dioceses, with their 112 bishops to support 7,000 clergy, when 200 years ago only 26 dioceses with one bishop each were needed for 25,000.
The Archbishop of Canterbury wants a C of E presence in every parish. Something drastic needs to be done by his Central Church to make that happen.