C of E wants yet more public funding for useless churches
In August this year, Premier Christian Radio reported that thousands of churches in the UK are at risk of closing as they lose members of their congregation and are unable to meet building repair costs.
But the Bishop of Worcester, Dr John Inge, above, reportedly wants to avoid mass closures because:
Thousands of closed churches would send out a very powerful message: that the Church and the Christian faith have had their day in this country.
Opening a debate on a report by the Church Buildings Review Group on Wednesday, Inge, who chairs the group, said that it did not:
Underestimate the challenge our buildings pose, but neither do we want to minimise the potential for good and for the gospel which most of them represent.
The report recommends that the Church should lobby the Government for more money to support listed churches and cathedrals.
It was announced on Wednesday that the Listed Places of Worship Grant Scheme would remain open for the lifetime of this Parliament, and that the Listed Places of Worship Roof Repair Fund would be open for a second round.
Dr Inge welcomed the news, and expressed his hope that:
Significant help will be assured in the future. These buildings are effectively everyone’s heritage, and they are the jewel in the nation’s crown, as well as being flagships for the gospel.
Church buildings were the fabric of rural life, a laywoman from Hereford, Wendy Coombey, insisted.
They are also symbols of faith, and we should never underestimate the feeling of failure for the person who, after 800 years, is the person who walks away from a church building. Church buildings are one of the symbols of a sustainable rural future, and we should never lose sight of that.
The Vicar of (Christ Church) Moreton Hall, Bury St Edmunds, Canon Jonathan Alderton-Ford, said that unlisted churches doing “vital work” were missing out under current funding policies.
MPs that he met, he said, were “bewildered” by the Church’s strategy:
Which seems to be to pour resources into churches where nobody goes, because they are in the middle of a field, but to neglect the ones that do wonderful work.
Sir Tony Baldry, who chairs the Church Buildings Council, told the Synod that the aim must be to make church buildings blessings, not burdens. But there were many challenges: in particular, the “significant numbers” of listed churches that served small villages.
We have to find a balance between those who want to keep every piece of heritage and artefact, and those who argue [that] the millions spent on maintaining church buildings would be better spent on people, and we can equally well serve God in tents.
The review group’s proposals were for:
A more strategic approach to the use of church buildings nationally, and in the dioceses as part of mission plans.
This would require:
Securing more assured financial support for listed cathedrals and church buildings in the long term.
In 2013, the average spending on each church building was about £10,000; in total, parishes spent £157 million on repairs and maintenance. One pound in every six spent by the parishes went towards building work.
In 2012 the C of E complained that the Government had removed zero-rated VAT status from the cost of alterations to listed buildings – without giving the Church an exemption.
The NSS’s Executive Director Keith Porteous Wood said at the time:
Many churches have architectural and historical significance that is worthy of state support, but so are many secular buildings that are also not exempt from this tax responsibility. They, too, are struggling, and some important buildings are falling into disrepair because the owners cannot afford to maintain them. Is the National Trust or English Heritage to receive the same perks?
The Church’s self-interest seems to know no bounds. Not satisfied with the VAT subsidy on repairs to listed buildings but ring-fenced to places of worship, it wants yet more preferential treatment. Much of this privileged tax funding is for the benefit of parishioners rather than as a part of the nation’s heritage preservation.
If we value our heritage, we should value all of it, not just churches. If churches are to receive grants from the Government to cover VAT on heritage building alterations, then grants should be made to all heritage buildings on the same basis.