Church leaders meeting in Richmond have overwhelmingly voted against a move to discourage churches from applying for or receiving National Lottery Funding.
The Synod (or ‘parliament’) of the Diocese of Ripon and Leeds rejected a motion that they should encourage parishes not to apply for National Lottery Funding.
The vote was almost unanimous, with just four votes in favour and three abstentions at the 100- strong meeting.
The motion had been proposed by Canon Tony Shepherd, Vicar of the town centre church of St Peter’s Harrogate and chair of the House of Clergy on the Diocesan Synod. A staunch opponent of the Government’s policy of funding heritage projects, including the maintenance of historic church buildings, through the Lottery, Canon Shepherd has in the past appeared on TV debates on the subject.
Canon Shepherd told Synod that by accepting Lottery money the church was signalling its approval for gambling, and, in effect, 'blessing' the National Lottery - despite, he said, the many examples of the misery it can cause.
"If some of the profits are derived from the misery of others do we as a church wish to benefit from those, and my answer to that is clearly 'no'. If we can see that there is a clash between the ideology of the enterprise or product and out own proclamation of the Gospel, then again I would say we don't want to do be making an application for funds from them. The church is wholly different from other charities .... It has been 14 or 15 years since the introduction of the Lottery and the question is 'what has changed in that period?', because at its introduction all the churches were opposed to it being brought in. What has changed is that we have changed, quite simply, in that we have taken our eye off what are fairly fundamental considerations about the National Lottery."
Other speakers, however opposed the motion, with several pointing out that the government has put in a place a system by which nearly all of its Heritage Funding for church buildings can only be paid through the Heritage Lottery Fund. The Revd John Carter, Press and Communications Officer, said that while it could be argued the church was being hypocritical in accepting money from the Lottery while condemning gambling, there were other arguments to consider. The Lottery was carefully monitored by bodies like the Salvation Army and the average amount spent was still less than £2.90 per head. "Statistics indicate that for the vast majority, when they hear 'the voice of the balls' on a Saturday night it's a harmless bit of participation in an event which someone is going to win, and it could be them, but the vast majority recognise that at odds of 14 million to one it probably won't be".
Last year the United Reformed Church lifted its opposition to churches applying for lottery funding for their church buildings. The Very Revd Keith Jukes, Dean of Ripon, told Synod that without the £514,000 that Ripon Cathedral had recently received from the Heritage Lottery Fund it would have had to close. "I feel like the guilty party here because I have to confess that over a ten year period I have actually had something over £5 million pounds out of the National Lottery. Had I not done so Selby Abbey (his previous post) would have been closed by now. .... and had I not more recently applied for £514,000 for the Cathedral it would have been closed..... as any Dean would tell you you can't apply for many grants unless you have first applied for Lottery funding."
At national level the Church of England does not discourage the use of Lottery money for repairing and restoring church buildings but will not invest in companies which encourage gambling, and has been opposed to a relaxation on gambling laws.
Canon Shepherd says he hopes that at the very least, his proposal will make local church councils think again. “If people debate this in their churches and still decided to go down the route of applying for Lottery money then so be it.”