At June’s Deanery synod, we started a discussion of the way in which parish share is levied. The process will continue with three meetings of a review group appointed at the synod, and a vote of the whole synod on their proposals at September 11’s synod at Bicknacre.
The following points were made on sheets distributed to all participants:
A 10 participants wanted to move towards a “you get what you pay for” system; 5 wanted to move towards a “fair shares” system which does not take the number of ministers serving a parish into account; 5 wanted to maintain the status quo (a mix of these), and 20 expressed no opinion.
B 6 participants wanted affluence more strongly taken into account (though some specified this should be congregational affluence, not affluence of the area); 12 wanted affluence to be a less of a factor; 27 expressed no opinion.
C Most participants opposed any introduction of a congregation’s total income as a factor in determining parish share. There was no appetite for a hardship fund, a deanery mission fund or a deanery youthworker.
D Many respondents (19 for, only one against) wanted an “offsetting” scheme first suggested on this blog whereby “”It should be possible with the agreement of all parties for stipendiary clergy at parish A to help out at parish B for a certain percentage of their time, with a corresponding transfer of costs to parish B and a reduction in parish A’s parish share”.
We also broke into “buzz groups”. The following were the main points noted by groups on their flip-chart sheets or Christine’s feedback sheets:
1. We need to recalculate the grading, perhaps with a view to congregational affluence; We should not be taking into account the affluence of the area, but the affluence of the membership; We should judge congregational affluence, not area affluence; we could do anonymous congregational surveys to determine affluence; mean income of each church could be worked out (3 groups)
2. Changes to the system are definitely needed; the system needs to be changed so that it is perceived to be fair (2 groups).
3. We’re not sure if we need to make changes; Whatever system we come up with, there will still be winners and losers (2 groups).
4. Any changes need to be phased in gradually. (2 groups)
5. Membership is a better factor than attendance – as long as membership is not just the electoral roll; We need to find better ways to count both attendance and real membership. (2 groups)
6. We need to encourage mission through parish share; a “mission precept” so that where there is growth more resources are invested (1 group)
7. Overall annual income should be taken into account. (1 group)
8. We need to encourage generosity between the parishes. (1 group)
To be honest, apart from points D and 1 above (and maybe 4 and 5?) I’m not sure any of this feedback gives a clear mandate for radical change.
One final point: by my calculation, the churches of Chelmsford South Deanery should have sent around 86 people to Deanery Synod (all elected deanery representatives plus clergy plus treasurers). Only 40 people were there, and half of them did not fill in one of the individual sheets asking for their views! So if you're a member of one of these churches and you don't like the opinions about parish share that have been expressed - find out if your representatives were there, and how they represented you!