Mission budgets may be cut to fund C of E bishop's palaces

By staff writers
February 28, 2007
The Church of England's General Synod

The rising cost of maintaining the palaces of Church of England bishops may be met by cutting spending on parish missions it emerged yesterday.

Figures released at the church's general synod ('parliament') in London showed that the church's spending on bishops, including their official residences, has risen by 40% in two years, from £20.7m to £29.5m.

To accommodate the costs, the house of bishops privately agreed last month to give a lower priority to sustaining the church's £4.7m parish mission fund - the money spent on maintaining its local proselytising efforts - and even to cutting spending on books for theological students completely, reports the Guardian newspaper.

The comes however at a time when the church is attempting to restructure to focus on mission rather than maintenance of its creaking infrastructure.

Several bishops including the Bishop of Ripon and Leeds, the Rt Rev John Packer, have moved to more modest accommodation. Last year, the Commissioners of the Church of England, responsible for over £4 billion of investments, withdrew from a controversial £2.5 million house purchase for the next Bishop of Oxford, amidst suggestions that large, expensive houses were not in keeping with a Christian message.

However, newspapers such as the Daily Telegraph have called for Bishops to receive pay increases. The Bishop of Durham has defended the right of bishops to live in palaces.

But the Rev Mark Ireland, a vicar in the diocese of Lichfield, said: "It looks as if the parish mission fund is to be cut to meet the overspend on bishops' houses and that will be a tragic state of affairs." He called for surplus palaces to be sold off.

It also emerged that young clergy will have to work three years longer in order to qualify for full pensions when they retire. The church's pensions fund has been under pressure for some years, partly because clergy are longer lived than most other professions, but also because the Church Commissioners, managers of its investments, lost at least £600m in the 1990s through imprudent management.

The Rt Rev John Packer, Bishop of Ripon and Leeds, outlined a package of measures to contain the crisis, including proposals that clergy would have to work for 40 years instead of the current 37 to qualify for a full pension, currently £11,686 a year, and that from 2008, pension rises would be linked to price inflation rather than stipend levels.

However, responding to media reports, the Rt Revd Richard Chartres, Bishop of London and acting chairman of the Board of Governors of the Church Commissioners, denied that the parish mission fund was "being raided to pay for overdue repairs on major heritage buildings."

"The truth of the matter" he claimed, "is that the Church - in common with many organisations - is operating in a new context of pensions regulation."

"All bishops are involved in mission and are looking at ways of taking all the opportunities they can, particularly in proposed new housing areas, new communications hubs and new commercial areas.

The bishop branded discussion about the expenditure of the Church Commissioners over the next three years, 2008 to 2011 as "pure speculation".

"Next month we will receive the actuarial review of our pension liabilities which are the first call on our expenditure. They represent around 60 per cent of the money that we distribute.

"Only when we have received this review will we, and the Archbishops' Council be able to decide how the money is spent. We shall be consulting across the Church before any decision is reached."

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