You may have noticed the Church of England is teetering toward financial crisis, amid broader declines. Sadly, this is nothing new, and only mirrors longstanding trends.
Average Sunday attendance dropped 20 percent from 2009-2019, though decline was uneven from diocese to diocese, deanery to deanery, parish to parish. Posts for clergy have been dropping, though again the rates differ: in some dioceses, there are hardly any changes, while Chelmsford and Birmingham were two with drastic plans, even before the pandemic. In the meantime, the number of ordinands has been swelling, with little thought until recently about ensuring there are enough post-curacy stipendiary posts for them to fill.
Setting aside the still untested impacts of “Strategic Development Funding” (beyond increasing pressure on poorer areas), the church’s financial response to such decline has been dismal. The acting Bishop of Chelmsford recently claimed that “Unless we see a significant increase in parish giving, we cannot balance the books in other ways.” This is sadly typical. Dioceses with large “historic resources” (capital in its various forms) continue to pass budgets that drain them down, asking for more parish giving while cutting clerical posts and amalgamating parishes; those without such resources spend and cut at a faster rate. From a purely financial perspective, the model has been unsustainable for decades. All the while, diocesan “strategies” ignore some of the most obvious solutions.
We can only raise parish shares? I think not. Try fundraising.
The Church has been pretty good at this in the past, from the sixth century to the nineteenth and twentieth, attracting money from those inside and outside the church, the committed and the uncertain, sinners and saints. When St. Augustine of Canterbury arrived from Rome for the mission to the English, his work was underwritten by the as yet unconverted Kentish King Æthelberht granting lands and funds. When mission-minded Anglicans of the Victorian and Edwardian eras laid the foundations for one of the most ambitious rounds of church planting ever seen, both across the globe and throughout England, they drew on all sorts of wealthy donors. What’s happened since then?
It’s clear the Archbishop of Canterbury can raise money. Global Anglican matters seem to exercise him: the Lambeth Conference took in some £3.4 million in 2019 alone. He raised funds to travel and visit every Anglican province before the Primates’ Meeting in 2016. These are just two examples. What might he do for a diocese like Chelmsford, if he got on the BBC and was frank about the need? Or if he quietly but earnestly talked to the right donors, and described how important it is to retain the church’s commitment to vigorous mission in every parish? Chelmsford’s soon departing 61 clergy cost somewhere between £3.96 and £4.8 million a year. I think Justin Welby could lay that foundation. In an economy the size of the UK, it’s really not that much money.
Or look at the Churches Revitalisation Trust set up in 2017 by Holy Trinity Brompton for church planting. £2.47 million was taken in over the course of 2019; £3.6 million in 2018; £1.7 million in 2017. I’d be surprised if it was that much less in 2020 or 2021.
The money for mission and for supporting the church is out there. It’s just not being tapped by most dioceses and parishes. And while the pandemic has impoverished many families, others have seen their savings increase drastically, with “enormous amounts of pent-up financial energy waiting to be released” — to the tune of at least £250 billion.
What is the potential of each diocesan bishop if we changed the culture around fundraising? Or what about the potential of a “major gifts fundraising team” at the national level as Dr. Miranda Threlfall-Holmes said on Twitter? Universities do it. Museums do it. This would be a welcome part of the new bureaucracy, a kind of centralization many could get behind.
And, more to the point, what could each of us do? GoFundMe and other methods await.
Fr. David Peters, an Episcopal priest and someone far savvier than me, pointed out that many charities have their staff and volunteers set up a fundraising page, linked to local, national, and global efforts. If even 100 vicars persuaded 10 members in each of their parishes to do this on Facebook, we would see results. This is not thinking or dreaming big; this is just the basics of contemporary fundraising.
This Lent, I am looking for 10 friends to join me in an experiment. I want to reach out to five dioceses, and ask each of them to name two parishes that would be willing to receive funds from a small campaign on social media.
This alone won’t solve the C of E’s problems, but it will give a small sense of what’s possible, just like Captain Tom did when he raised £33 million for the NHS, just by walking in his back garden 100 times. People are generous, the money is out there, and the Church of England can turn this one around.
But it will have to try, and we will have to take our part, and not just complain from the sidelines.
The Rev. Dr. Zachary Guiliano is chaplain and career development research fellow at St Edmund Hall, Oxford.