Money, money, money – do we use our resources rightly?

Posted on April 5, 2013


“Give us all a reverence for the earth as your own creation, that we may use its resources rightly in the service of others and to your honour and glory”

Do we use our resources rightly?

Do we use our resources rightly?

Finding the ‘right’ way to use our resources – including financial resources – is always a hotly debated topic. Our Annual Parish Meeting, when we will receive a report on the finances of our church, will take place at the end of a month where money (or the lack of it) is dominating the news agenda. Welfare Reform (the benefits cap, the (delayed) introduction of ‘Universal Credit’ and the so-called “bedroom tax”) together with the election of Pope Francis, has put poverty back on the front pages.

We don’t have to look far to find poverty. Last year the Church Urban Fund developed a ‘Parish Poverty Indicator’ to help churches compare levels of deprivation in their own parishes to others in their diocese and nationally. The graph summarises some of the key indicators for our parish compared to those adjoining us in the Diocese of London.

Levels of poverty in our parish compared to our neighbours.

Levels of poverty in our parish compared to our neighbours.

To the north of Arnos Park, in our parish, the percentage of children living in poverty (those living in families in receipt of out of work benefits or in families in work but whose reported income is less than 60% of the median) is 12%. To the south of Arnos Park, in the parish of St Paul New Southgate, the figure is more than twice as high (28% of children living in poverty), whilst levels of pensioner poverty is about the same – 15% in our parish, compared to 16% in St Paul New Southgate. What does this mean in ‘real’ numbers? Parishes are split across ward boundaries (making comparison with census information difficult) but using Southgate Green Ward as a basis for comparison, these figures equate to;

  • 279 children living in poverty in the parish of Christ Church Southgate
  • 652 children living in poverty in the parish of St Paul New Southgate 
  • 316 pensioners in poverty in the parish of Christ Church Southgate
  • 337 pensioners in poverty in the parish of St Paul New Southgate

A surprising finding from the CUF data is that levels of child, pensioner and working age poverty are (in percentage terms) lower in our parish than that of St Paul Winchmore Hill. Does that mean we are better off as a church community? Of course not; people do not necessarily go to church in their own parish, nor does our worshipping community necessarily reflect the demographics of the parish served by our church – however, it suggests that the capacity of our parish to raise money is, in percentage terms, greater than that of our most affluent neighbour, because a higher proportion of people are not living in poverty. Food for thought.

The decisions as to how we use our resources are not so distant to us as we might imagine. How funds are raised and spent are agreed on a regular basis by our church – through our PCC and its standing committee. Our Treasurer will present the church’s accounts at our Annual General Meeting this month – a record of the allocation of resources for the past calendar year.

As we sit and listen to this year’s report, perhaps we should ask ourselves;

  • What is the purpose of our church and our own involvement in it?
  • Are we doing enough to support the work of our church?
  • Are we fundraising enough? What are we fundraising for?
  • Are we using our buildings, time and talent to best effect?
  • Do we pay our fair share – as a parish and individually?

In short – do we use our resources rightly?

Are we as “generous” as our neighbours?
What do the accounts from neighbouring parishes tell us? Comparing income between churches is difficult because each one is so different – for instance, a significant proportion of our income (around one quarter) arises from the letting of our halls, which also account for a similar proportion of our expenditure.

Financial table

1 – Excludes one off income from property sale

2 – Income from individual giving, through stewardship or collection plates + gift aid

3 – Our contribution to the Common Fund will be £73,750 in 2013

However, comparing voluntary income (individual donations through stewardship or in the collection plate) and dividing this by the number of people on the electoral roll of each church is perhaps as close to a ‘fair’ measure as we can get. Of course not all those on the electoral roll will make a donation. It is interesting to note that those people attending St John the Evangelist in Palmers Green in 2010 gave on average nearly 20% more per head than we did at Christ Church Southgate in 2011 (£458 a head compared to £386 a head at Christ Church). This is despite the statistics from the Church Urban Fund showing that the parish of St John is more deprived in every measure than our own. Of course time is a factor – and perhaps 2010 saw a big drive towards individual giving at that church?

Are we fundraising for ourselves or for others? What is the right balance?
For the past few years, our Treasurer has recorded the amount of money raised for other charities by members of our church. The latest accounts show that this has increased by 23% (or £3,001) from £12,920 in 2011 to £15,921 in 2012 – whilst voluntary donations to the church have decreased by 8% (or £8,019) during the same period – partly due to the reduction in the gift aid rate. Perhaps this shows that rather than raising ‘extra’ money for external charities, we have just decided to give away part of the share that we would have given to the church, to another good cause? I think I can identify with that. Is that the “right” way to use our own resources? Can our own church survive if this trend continues?

Are we using our building resources rightly?
The Church Urban Fund published its “Poverty In Action” report in January 2013, which included the results of a national survey of Church-Led social action. Some of these projects have made the local news in recent weeks – such as the Enfield North Foodbank. The CUF report contains statistics showing how parish churches across the country are providing after school clubs, lunch clubs, food banks and community training in their buildings. The letting of our parish hall makes a modest surplus and its facilities are heavily used during the week by community groups – but to what extent does this social and financial value contribute to our mission as a parish church? Does that question matter? There are more children living in poverty in our parish than the number of people on the electoral roll. Can and should we seek to use our buildings or the surplus they generate to meet the needs of these children – or another good cause? Is it more important to cover the costs of running the building and to ensure its use is being maximised? After deducting expenses, the running of our parish halls realised a lower surplus than our other ‘charitable’ events (we raised more at the May Day Fair than through the hall lettings in the year). Does that matter?

Do we pay our fair share as a Parish?
Every year when the Parish Treasurer presents the accounts at our AGM, he explains that the parish receives no money from the Diocese of London or the Church of England centrally. In fact, each parish in London is asked to contribute (voluntarily) to something called the ‘Common Fund’. This fund is collected from parishes – both rich and poor – and is used to finance vicars, their wages, pensions, housing and training as well as support for Church of England Schools, education and outreach programmes – as well as the central Diocesan administration. There are over 450 vicars in London – nearly one in every parish. There is a video explaining what the Common Fund is and how it is used, on the diocesan website;

The London Diocesan Common Fund raised £20.3m in 2011 and £19.7m was spent on ‘ministry’ (the costs of clergy). The diocese says that in 2011 it cost an average of £67,000 to pay and house one member of the clergy. In 2011 Christ Church contributed £70,550 in 2011 – more than covering the cost of our own parish and providing a share towards the cost of poorer parishes. As a percentage of expenses, our common fund contribution was lower than St Paul Winchmore Hill and St John Palmers Green – although our expenses include the costs of running our hall, which distorts these figures. Perhaps a fairer metric is to calculate our contribution per head (based on our electoral roll). Using this measure, St John Palmers Green contribute 5% more per head to the Common Fund than Christ Church Southgate (£292 to £279). Should we be contributing more or less as a parish?

How do we measure the return generated by our assets?
It is precisely because of the hard work carried out by so many people under Fr Peter’s leadership that Christ Church has such a sound financial footing today. Our accounts show that our current assets (short term deposits, cash in hand and at the bank etc) are ten times greater per head than that at St John Palmers Green (£1,369 compared to £136). Can and should we deliver ten times the return on these assets? How do we measure our return not only in a financial sense but in the context of our mission as a church?

Of course our financial security is not guaranteed – and requires continual maintenance. Nobody would think it is sensible to suggest withdrawing all our money and setting up a food bank or an after school club – that would not be sensible or sustainable; after all, we have a listed building to maintain – that can throw up significant unexpected costs. But perhaps our current position – and the backdrop of increasing levels of poverty arising from welfare reform in our local area – allows us to take a step back and reflect on some of these challenging questions?

I would be very interested in hearing the views of other members of the parish – either in person or in print!

There is much more information about the likely impact of welfare reforms on the CUF website. Click on the ‘poverty in numbers’ link on the homepage

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