Tuesday, 11 October 2011

We Will Ask For Money

There are a number of church communities of one sort and another on our little patch of north London suburbia, each expressive of a different tradition or Christian outlook.  Truth to tell, we don't have a vast amount to do with each other; but neither are we unfraternal.  We are what we are, each seeking to live out the Gospel authentically, and to express that as best we can in love of God and neighbour.  In our case, we are the local expression of the national church: we have reasonable and representative attendance for a parish of our size and profile (at least on Sundays), and the lion's share of non-denominational pastoral work tends to fall to us.  That's what we expect.  But while we're always keen to embrace new people - including refugees from other parts of the Universal Church - we don't generally think in terms of being in competition with our Christian neighbours.

So we did not get excited when a large and well-established fundamentalist conventicle in our borough recently opened a branch - to those unfamiliar with the phenomenon, it's what's known as a "plant" - in an otherwise underused nonconformist hall down the road from our church.  Why should we feel threatened by this?  The greater the Christian presence the better, really; and those who are likely to be drawn by the sort of worship and witness offered there are quite possibly people who would be less comfortable in our context, and vice versa.  Horses for courses, as they used to say.

Nonetheless, a stalwart of our parish recently brought to church a rather nicely produced glossy leaflet which had popped through her letter box (and presumably through others) on behalf of our newest neighbours in the faith.  As you might expect, and perfectly reasonably, it advertises their services - but with the following inducements.  "We do not use candles" it proclaims.  This made us smile.  Why?  Well, because in our experience people seem generally to like candles in church.  I've heard evangelical colleagues say that they often wish they could go into an evangelical church and light a candle as a sign of a prayer.  In our candle-rich Anglo-Catholic tradition, we get through literally hundreds of them in the course of a year.  They are routinely lit by local people who pop into church for that reason, but who perhaps belong to other churches or - more likely - none.  But I accept that there will be some who prefer a candle-free worship environment.

But the leaflet also offered this: "We will not ask you for money".  Now, this came slightly nearer the knuckle.  You see, one of the burdens of being the so-called Established Church is that almost everyone - including otherwise well-informed people, and even some Anglicans - assume that we are subsidised by the State.  No matter that the allegedly unestablished churches of France, Germany and Sweden (to name but a few) are handsomely supported by their respective governments, while no English church of any denomination gets a penny it has not raised itself.  No-one will believe you.  The CofE is a bit like Radio 4 - don't we pay for it in our licence fee?  And what about all those historic assets on which the Church sits?  Try explaining that almost all the (currently falling) income from those is used to pay clergy pensions.  They will laugh you to scorn.  But the truth is, we do ask for money, because we have to.  And at this moment, in our parish, we're doing it big-time, because of some very expensive domestic work which has been deferred for too long, but which now needs urgent attention.  But we don't like doing it.  Which is why the leaflet's claim stung a bit.  (It did occur to us to wonder how its printing had been paid for, and whether the conventicle's activities are funded directly from Above - but perhaps that is not our concern.)

I am aware of a religious community which is currently asking for money so that they can buy their own house, and expand.  St Paul's Cathedral (regrettably) charges tourists for entrance because it cannot maintain its considerable ministry without that income.  The Church of England has sold many of its fine old rectories to help sustain its 16,000+ churches.  Jesus was the physical expression of God dwelling among physical men and women in a physical world.  He did not live on fresh air (except perhaps for those 40 days and 40 nights).  And neither can we.


  1. As you say. even Jesus must have depended on raising money from his followers in order to sustain his ministry. But am I right in thinking that there is scant mention of this in the gospels - or Acts?

    It is hard to know what the answer is, but I suppose clergy up and down the country now have fundraising as a major part of their work. And there are competing causes: in our village (pop. 750) we have been trying for some years to raise funds for a new village hall (sorry, 'community centre', the expression one apparently has to use in trying to extract cash from funding bodies). This inevitably dilutes the amount available to keep up our 12th century church. 'Sunt lacrimae rerum'.

  2. I remember a scene from (I think) "Name of the Rose" in which cardinals earnestly debate whether or not Christ owned a purse. This was no doubt included to ridicule the medieval Church; but it shows, as you say, that scripture is largely silent on this sort of detail.