Nine months ago, I posted about the diocese’s greatly increased expectation (significant step by significant step increases over three years) about how much each parish should contribute to the central funding which we hold in common. The post including sadness that the diocese had not followed through on its earlier stated intention to explore things individually with the 10% of parishes for which the new assessment system throws up excessive or rogue results (as any new assessment system would do).
Since then we have been a passive participant in what the diocese regards as an appeal system – ‘an appeal’ only in so much as the diocese sent us a letter which said our response about how much we would expect to be able to pay in 2016 would be treated as an appeal and then a later letter which said that our appeal had been considered and a lower figure had been agreed (still a 45% increase on what we managed to pay in 2015, slightly more money than the larger, better attended and better resourced parish next door to us has been able to pay off in the opening months of the year) – not an appeal in the sense that we know the nature or membership of the tribunal, when it met, or the reasons behind its judgement.
This week we’ve had a further letter, an early sentence of which ( ‘... and in particular thank you for the £Error! MergeField was not found in header record of data source. which you have paid to the end of June 2016...’) doesn’t inspire undue confidence. The letter reminding us that, although a reduced amount was agreed for 2016, ‘no reduction was agreed for any further years’ and that the figure on the escalator for 2017 is twice what we managed to pay in 2015 (which would be about £9.25 per ‘usual Sunday attender’ per week – not, quite rightly, that this is a method of calculation which the diocese uses).
The attitude in the parish among those aware of the situation is, I’m afraid, that the vastness of the gap is more of a problem for the diocese than it is for us. We do, however, have well advanced plans for a ‘stewardship renewal’ exercise in the autumn. This will include, among other things, writing to the hundred or so households which form the backbone of our funding by giving half of the £1000 or so we spend in an average week (a third of which we send on tot he diocese).
We have picked up an obvious and helpful tip from another parish - which is that a single standard bit of publicity doesn’t do the job. One of the things which we will do over the summer holiday is instead to craft quite a variety of letters pitched at different sorts of people. There is no need to clutter up publicity with information about Gift Aid for those who already give in this way or for those for whom it is irrelevant. It would be unhelpful to write to those who faithfully put £2 in a ‘giving envelope’ each week to point out that the average giving in the wider Church of England is now about £8 a week rather than really thank them and gently suggest that £3 might be a target.
But as we begin to prepare this material it appears that the results for us may not be as spectacular as the other parish expects. It had pointed out the advantage of things like bringing new attenders into the ‘planned giving scheme’ for the first time with one sort of letter and beginning to be able to make tax recovery claims for others who have not signed a Gift Aid form in the past as a result of a different sort of letter - whereas our initial analysis shows that we’ve been quietly diligent about such things over a long period and there is very little slack like this in our parish.
Anyway, there is an offer in the latest letter from the diocese ‘to come and meet you’ ‘if your parish would like to discuss your parish share payment for 2017’ which might be the opportunity to begin the conversation we thought the diocese was going to have with us over a year ago (unless the offer is in fact a coded request to allow someone to come and present the diocesan need to us) and the Parochial Church Council may indeed want to pick this up when it next meets in the autumn.
The diocese is actually planning to run a huge deficit for a few years in the expectation that this will reduce as systematic increases take place in parish giving. I only hope that this does not depend on too many unrealistic figures being written into the diocesan budget until it even gets the point which the diocese of Rochester has now reached when there are no balances left and rapid cuts in expenditure have had to be announced.
Meanwhile, the gargoyle is not local (the picture was taken on a recent visit to Byfield in Northants where my parents worshipped for twenty years and where their cremated remains are buried) and I was only able to get close up to it like this because it is now in the porch there.