Funding the Church of England

England has an official state church, called, imaginatively enough, the Church of England. Once upon a time, having an official church was serious business, and not belonging to it was even more serious. England has a history of trying to stamp out religious dissent, and that weighed heavily with the folks who wrote the U.S. constitution, which forbids the establishment of any state religion.

These days, it’s easy to float through English life and forget that there’s an established religion. Most people consider religion (or the lack of it) a private matter—not something to get passionate about in public and not something that should set public policy. Dissent isn’t so much tolerated as assumed. Or it looks that way to me, although you have to remember that I’m an outsider here.

But who funds the church? A while back, someone asked me if it’s funded by the taxpayer, but I’ve lost track of who that was. Apologies. My organizational skills are just a shade less than perfect. Let me know who you are, will you?

Semi-relevant photo (see below): What happens to a religious building the isn’t kept up. This was once a convent on Iona, in Scotland.

The C. of E., as it’s known, does have a few bucks to its name. Or a few quid, really, quid being British for buck, although the quid involves pounds, not dollars. According to the Daily Mail (sorry, I tried for a more reputable-sounding source but couldn’t find one), in 2013 its income was £1.37 billion, which sounds like enough to keep it in communion wafers for a week or three, although I’ve never bought communion wafers and for all I know they’re outrageously expensive.

The Mail doesn’t say a word about communion wafers. What it says instead is that £1.37 billion would pay for every Big Mac, McChicken Sandwich, and McFlurry sold in Britain that year. Which strikes me as a pretty strange point of comparison, but it does tell us that we’re spending a shocking amount of money on fast food. The paper didn’t say if anything would be left over for a cup of tea, although in England you’d have the right to expect tea with your McProcessed Chickfood.

But what about spending? According to Wikipedia, “In 2005 the Church of England had estimated total outgoings of around £900 million.”

Now, I’m terrible with numbers, but even I can see that the gap between those two leaves enough money for tea. I tried to find a comparable number for 2013—the year the Mail’s using—and I failed. However, I failed in an interesting way, so let’s spend a minute following my trail: Since WikiP calls that money outgoings, I thought, clever beast that I thought I was, I’d just google “Church of England outgoings 2013.”

What did I learn? That bishops were exhorting their members to be outgoing, gracious, and cooperative. And to drink tea. I’m sure it was all very effective and that the church is now full of better, more outgoing, and more cooperative tea-sodden worshipers.

Me, though? I had a cup of tea and gave up. If you want figures for matching years, go find them yourself. I never really expected the numbers to match up. They never do for me. 

But let’s go back to income. We were doing fairly well with that. Almost half of it was donated by churchgoers.

How many people are we talking about? It’s hard to say. The C. of E. does keep a church electoral roll, and adding your name to it allows you to vote on church matters, but not everyone who goes to C. of E. churches bothers, so the statistics I found also track things like how many people show up at least once a year, or at Easter, or on most Sundays.

By any of those measures, attendance is down and still sinking.  The Wikipedia entry puts C. of E. attendance at 1.4% of the population of England and Wales in 2014. It’s inconvenient that Wales is in there when we were talking about England, but we’ll add that our list of mis-matched figures and wobble onward.

Another source–and I’ve lost track of which one–says that U.K. (as opposed to English) church membership has declined from 10.6 million in 1930 to 5.5 million in 2010, “or as a percentage of the population; from about 30% to 11.2%. By 2013, this had declined further to 5.4 million (10.3%).”

That’s a major difference. It could be accounted for by the difference between church membership and attendance or by one of both organizations allowing someone like me to do the counting. I checked a few more sources without clarifying the picture at all. What’s clear is that membership and church attendance are shrinking.

On average, each church member contributed £700 per year in—oh, I think that was 2014. Close enough. In other words, per person donations are high. But an average is a deceptive measure. One gazillionaire making a huge donation will, when you average things out, make everyone look rich and generous. Still, the average donation is all we’re going to get.

Where did the other half of the church’s income wander if from? Historic endowments are a major source of income. These are gifts that were given to the church at some point in the past. (You don’t make a lot of money on gifts given in the future.) Way back when, if someone rich gave the church a gift, it was likely to be land, and the church once owned a lot of it, but it’s converted most of it, unromantically and unsentimentally, into stocks and bonds. These are managed by church commissioners and pay for “a range of non-parish expenses, including clergy pensions and the expenses of cathedrals and bishops’ houses. These funds amount to around £8 billion . . . around a fifth of the church’s overall income.” (We’re quoting WikiP here.)

The C. of E. has its own investment fund and in 2016 it generated an income of £230.7 million.

Does all this add up to 100%? It doesn’t look like it. Donations? Half. Stocks and bonds? A fifth. The investment fund? Sorry–that’s not a percentage and we’d be smart if we don’t trust me to turn it into one. Whatever the rest may be? I’m not sure. Parishes raise money in various ways. I have no idea how much that adds up to. Plus the church gets grants from English Heritage, and possibly other groups, to maintain buildings, and it also gets government money for the upkeep of the buildings.That’s where the taxpayer comes into it.

Those old buildings can absorb any amount of money you care to throw at them and still need more.

The National Secular Society argues that the church is sitting on a £4 billion surplus and should fix its own leaky roofs.

“In this week’s budget [sorry—I can’t tell you which week that was] the Government allocated a further £40 million funding to support “vital” roof repairs in Listed Places of Worship over the next two years.

“The lion’s share of this money will go to the Church of England as it is  responsible for maintaining 45% of the grade I listed buildings in the country and the majority of all parish churches are grade II or higher. [The grades refer to historic buildings that should be preserved.]

“Few would feel that our finest architectural heritage should fall into terminal disrepair. An inevitable consequence of the continuing decline in church attendance is that there are far fewer in the congregations to shoulder the repair burden. When they are unable to do so, who else should pay and under what circumstances?”  

So yes, taxpayer money goes to the church–not exactly to fund church activities but to maintain its historic buildings. Still, it is taxpayer money, it still flows to the church, and that does allow the church to use its own money for other purposes. Or to sit on it and let it accumulate. 

40 thoughts on “Funding the Church of England

  1. See how much better off the Church was when everyone was forced to be an Anglican and give 10% of their income? As an aside, I have been part of a couple of churches that had one large benefactor. When that person died, it made a huge hole in the budget. Rather inconsiderate I thought

    Liked by 1 person

  2. This was interesting. I belong to an Episcopal church (the U.S. affiliate in the Anglican — C.of E. — community). Attendance has declined here in the U.S.as well and each parish has to support itself. Each parish also contributes part of its income to their Diocese (regional governing body). Don’t get me started on the U.S. Constitution’s separation of church and state clause. Meanwhile, in the European countries I’ve visited — Belgium, France, England, Spain — churches seem to be mostly architectural attractions. I haven’t seen a lot of worship going on, with maybe the exception of Spain. Flea markets are robust, though!

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    • In our village, the Methodist chapel will be closing, and I assume the building will be up for sale. The congregation had become too small to keep it going. As long as flea markets are going strong, though, all is well. Except that they’re called boot sales here. On my first visit, I kept seeing signs for them and wondered why they were selling so many boots–and did they mean only one of each pair. Eventually I put it together that the boot was what I call the trunk of the car.

      Liked by 2 people

    • It does to me too. But then the queen receive taxpayer money as well–and a hefty chunk of it from what I read recently.

      As for bonnets, the word’s still in use here–it’s regional, but you can still hear it. It means hat.

      Liked by 1 person

  3. On my past two business trips to parts of the US that had some historic churches, I’ve noticed an interesting trend (maybe it’s not a trend, but…) The leave the doors open, post a sign that says “Visitors Welcome” and put a collection box inside the door. It appears to be working.

    Having some long-ago past experience on the other side of the collection plate, I would point out that a lot of gazillionaires are probably only tossing a few quid in the collection plate. The likely big donors are old women.

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  4. I do not know what a flea market is in the US. In the UK when a charity, church, political party etc wants to raise money, they hold a jumble-sale (if it is in a building) or a car boot sale, if it is in a field full of cars with their boots (US trunks) used to display the goods. Either way they sell old clothes and general bric-a-brac – do you have bric-a brac in the US?. A Bring and Buy Sale is an upmarket version where similar organisations sell good as new stuff. Then there are cake sales, book sales, plant sales. And Charity Shops. Or they just send loads of unsolicited begging e-mails to everybody they know and his Auntie Mabel.

    Liked by 1 person

    • The U.S. boot sale is a flea market. A jumble sale would be a rummage sale. We’d recognize the word bric-a-brac but don’t really use it. And a bring and buy sale? I never heard of them till I moved here. I don’t think we have any equivalent. Charity shops are second-hand stores. And unsolicited begging letters and emails are just as common as they are on this side of the Atlantic.

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  5. But who funds the church? A while back, someone asked me if it’s funded by the taxpayer, but I’ve lost track of who that was. Apologies. My organizational skills are just a shade less than perfect. Let me know who you are, will you?

    That could have been me. I know that I researched this quite some time ago. Thanks for your breakdown of the income of the C. of E. Good job!

    One if my major interests is the “Wall of Separation” between church and state (the Establishment Clause of the 1st Amendment).

    In the U.S., as you probably know, the Christian Right works feverishly year around to destroy that wall using many tactics such as falsifying statements made by scientists; falsifying or selectively editing stories of religious strife; electing far-right candidates to Congress and the White House; unconstitutionally erecting crosses and 10 Commandments monuments on government property; illegally teaching creationism and promoting exclusive Christian prayers in public schools and government functions; and generally trying to use the government as a blunt instrument with which to bludgeon the rest of society into abiding by their religious beliefs.

    I often point out in debates that hard-line fundamentalists are too easily deceived by the emotional rhetoric of self-serving politicians and preachers who feed them fear and often bang the Bible, while not actually believing it (easily known by vetting their actions and statements).

    Case in point; our current Confidence-Man in Chief surfed to the White House on a high fundamentalist wave of support by suggesting the Bible is his favorite book (but found to know very little about it and, in fact, never reads any books); using authoritarian bombast to scapegoat political enemies (liberals), segments of society, cultures, and another religions that the fundamentalist fear; publicly and daily using personal attacks and condescending to anyone who dares disagree with him; and supporting the NRA in its zeal to promote everyone’s unfettered “right” to firearms.

    Isn’t it ironic but understandable that the deeper one slides down the theological hole, the greater is his xenophobia and love of guns? I believe the answer lies in insecurity–the greater the insecurity, the more one clings to whatever might protect him (e.g., an authoritarian almighty god; an authoritarian Mussolini-like president; unfettered gun ownership protected by the NRA; etc.

    I recall reading some stats that suggested the U.S. is much more religious than England. Interesting. I’ve wondered if having an official state religion is the reason. More folks see it for what it is–a business.

    Liked by 2 people

    • I suspect it’s true that having a state religion has led a lot of people here to walk away from religion. Not so much because they see it as a business, but (if what my neighbor tells me is true for other people) because it was forced on them in school and they just learned to tune it out. My experience is that Britain’s a much less religious country than the U.S. It’s an intersting little irony.

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  6. It’s getting scary over here, with the Vice Sunday School President touting his religiosity nearly every day. US Religion gets too many tax breaks as far as I am concerned and is a breeding ground for the Olsteens and Bakers of the world to reap huge self-fulfilling profits. I detest religions. As for the churches closing down, they make great homes and nightclubs.

    Liked by 3 people

    • The interesting thing about Britain having an established church is that very few people get exercised about religion. A friend swears that it’s because they were so bored by it in school that they learned to tune it out. So the country with an established church is much less interested in religion and much less shocked by atheism.

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  7. I should think it all pales into insignificance when compared to the coffers of the Vatican & Catholic church. Moot point though when you’re just doing England sorry
    I’d rather my tax went to keeping churches in repair than say, building moats & summer houses for politicians, the former being beautiful photographic subjects, and the latter, not.

    Liked by 1 person

    • I wouldn’t advocate letting the buildings fall apart–they’re historic monuments. I do wonder, though, whether the church shouldn’t be faced with a choice of either maintaining them or giving them to the nation to keep as historic monuments rather than churches. Although I confess that second choice would probably be more expensive than it sounds.

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  8. Thanks to the laws separating church and state in France the state pays for the upkeep of the buildings and the church pays, or does not pay, the priests.
    This could work in England where, thanks to quirks of ecclesiastical law, people buying a house in a parish find themselves required to repair the church at their own expense.;

    Liked by 1 person

    • At about the time we bought our house, we heard about that law, whose name I now forget. We were horrified, and relieved not to be in the category of households it applies to. According to what we were told, no one had enforced it for years and everyone politely forgot about it until fairly recently, when the church rediscovered it and decided it was a great way to raise funds, leaving many unsuspecting homeowners facing a bill way beyond their anything they could afford.

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  9. Being lumbered with leaky Grade II buildings is an expensive business and many parishes would as soon pull down their Gothic monstrosities as keep them going. Strangely, it’s the people who complain about minuscule amounts of their taxes going towards their upkeep who protest the most against them being demolished. As for medieval church buildings…

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    • I’m guessing the problem is the division between who pays and who owns, although (as I realized in responding to a different comment) putting them in either public ownership or the ownership of some heritage trust could turn out to be more expensive since it would–I assume–lose the core of volunteers that the churches can still provide, along with whatever money the parishes are still able to raise. I have no sense of how much that is, but my impression is that our local church has a very small active membership these days.

      Liked by 1 person

      • I think that, eventually, people resent their faith being used to prop up buildings they don’t need. Churches, by which I mean the people, inherit buildings that no longer serve their purpose. I’m blaming the Victorians again, but my parish church building (built in the 1830s) is useless for what the parish needs in 2018. Even when I was christened there almost 60 years ago it was a millstone around the necks of the PCC. Many PCCs would like to knock down their (Victorian) buildings and start again., but they can’t because they’re listed. The CofE has become the guardian of buildings which it can’t use.

        Twenty years ago I was a churchwarden in a parish where the building’s heating didn’t work and there wasn’t enough money to repair it. People brought hot water bottles with them in winter in order to keep warm. The building itself wasn’t aesthetically pleasing and we eventually got permission to demolish it and replace it with something more efficient, but it wasn’t easy. Parishes with listed buildings are burdened with keeping them in good repair and doing so in a way that satisfies its listed status. That church has to spend its money on the building rather than on the things it wants to do in the parish. Since it’s the state that requires it to do that, I think the state, and the taxpayer, should make a financial contribution.

        A bit of a rant, but the CofE’s billions don’t go far when few parishes can maintain their buildings and support a priest.

        Liked by 1 person

        • That’s a point I wouldn’t have thought about.

          I did, years ago, go to a Christmas concert that a friend’s daughter sang in. It was held in a church and I don’t think I’ve ever been so cold indoors in my life. On the other hand, the acoustics were good. I’ve also been part of a group that sang in a different church (empty–it was just a place to meet–and in need to repair) and the acoustics were beyond good. You could almost feel the sound being lifted from you and enriched by the building.

          My partner just reminded me that Quakers, she’s been told, complain about having to maintain the meeting house at Come to Good, in Cornwall, which is incredibly beautiful but probably equally impractical.

          Liked by 1 person

          • Yes, many churches have wonderful acoustics. The group I play with performed for many years in a thirteenth-century building which makes even amateurs sound good. We used to go there in the summer and it was a lovely experience, but I don’t know how the parish kept it going.

            We used to do our Christmas concert in a church with no heating (Victorian Gothic). The last time we went I was getting over a cough, but it was a very cold day and every breath I took made the cough worse. We haven’t been back.

            Liked by 2 people

  10. It seems very strange that the English still have a state church as most English people are apathetic when it comes to their “state” religion. In Wales the church was disestablished in the early C20th and in Ireland in 1869. Other forms of Christianity were, and still are more popular in those countries.

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  11. About the only comment I can make on this is that I’m not Christian so don’t go to church and hadn’t really thought about where the money comes from, but in the last few years I’ve taken a liking for the architecture of many churches and I’m glad someone is looking after them.

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  12. The church I belonged on just voted to disband the congregation and to sell the church buildings and property to a school. Nice buildings. I hope the school will maintain the buildings. We have former church buildings used for various things here. Restaurants, schools, concert halls and meuseums. I made up the last one. I wanted to list at least four things. But we don’t let empty buildings sit around without being used. I am sure there must be an old church buildings used as a meuseum somewher. Don’t you think? (British talk)

    Liked by 1 person

    • I haven’t seen any used as museums, although that doesn’t mean they’re not. Methodist chapels often get converted to private homes. One C of E church I know of is now owned–as far as I can figure out–by the community. It’s sometimes used for concerts (great acoustics) and I’m not sure what else.

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