St Cuthbert’s Darlington has been awarded £2,000,000 by the CofE to renovate the building and to appoint a pioneer chaplain, youth worker, operations director, and director of music, all for a period of 5 years. The current congregation is very small, and the aim is to make the new payroll sustainable within 5 years via huge growth and giving.

In my view that is an almost unattainable tall order. The grant could employ 4 parish priests for 10 years each, but instead it is all being given to 1 church. The ‘renovation’ will involve the entire destruction of the Victorian interior, to be replaced by stacking chairs and a cafe. Only two of the 4 new jobs are currently advertised.

The new cafe is going to be a money making commercial third party. Thus, replacing the Victorian interior and quiet spirituality with a Costa franchise (or the like).

It is obvious to me that funding 4 parishes for 10 years each would be far more effective in terms of outreach than pumping all the money into 1 destructive vanity project in 1 church that will probably be unsustainable after the 5 years of funding runs out.


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Gabrielle · 25 November 2022 at 5:07 pm

I’m curious what is meant by ‘uncertain future’, as identified by the Bishop of Durham and shown in the text. Who and when and by what means was this designation given? It seems very likely that such a designation puts St Cuthbert’s in a very precarious position, especially if there was no grounding for this designation. If it was declared so by the Bishop without a full and complete analysis and evidence to substatiate the claim, then this would, obviously, set some dangerous precedent. But I do not know if that’s the case. In any case, it is terribly worrying. Agree with the observation of unsustainability after 5 years as well.

Froghole · 2 December 2022 at 3:30 pm

This is evidently part of the move to greater disbursements announced earlier this year: The substantial increase in disbursements was made, in part, in response to STP (i.e., to buy off discontent), and also in response to remarks by Sir Andreas Whittam Smith about 6 years’ ago, that there was no use in having the Church Commissioners pile up capital if they ended up having no Church to support.

It should be noted, however, that the Commissioners only have the pile they have because they were relieved of their primary burdens in 1995 (stipends) and 1998 (pensions). Prior to those dates they covered about 50% of the stipends bill and 100% of the pension accruals. All of those costs were then shunted onto parish share at a time when, in response to the liberalisation of Sunday trading in 1994, parishes needed to increase investment in mission to offset the radical transformation of weekend timetables.

However, parish share burdens effectively crowded out investment in mission. The result was that the parishes wound up providing an implicit subsidy to the Commissioners, whose asset base was able to expand on the back of parish share. This was regressive, insofar as the weakest and most vulnerable tier in the Church was supporting the highest and most affluent tier. Before the 1990s the Commissioners were doing too much (hence the mistakes of the Lovelock years), but the full burden has fallen to the parishes, and the results are plain to see everywhere. It is a mystery as to why policy shifted from one extreme to another.

Therefore, the increased subventions are effectively returning to favoured parishes the capital which has been appropriated from them since 1995-98. However, it is being done in ‘Lady Bountiful’ fashion, with pet projects being favoured, whereas even very small subventions might prevent a great many vulnerable parishes from going to the wall. Durham diocese has suffered grievously from collapsing attendance (and the Ecclesiastical Commissioners benefitted hugely after 1840 from the appropriation of its episcopal and capitular assets). £2m seems an extravagant amount to dedicate to one church when there might be others suffering.

Also, the disbursements are often regressive. Bids have to be made, and it is often the case that only the best resourced parishes, or those which have the wherewithal, will be able to submit successful bids (bidding is also an expensive process, and may involve a total loss). Unfortunately, this reminds me of Matt. 25:29 (also Luke 19:26): “For to every one who has will more be given, and he will have abundance; but from him who has not, even what he has will be taken away”.

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