Worshippers slammed for donation record

By John HowardReligious Affairs CorrespondentA CANON appointed to encourage worshippers to donate more money to the Church has spoken of his dismay after they fell more than £250,000 behind target.

By John Howard

Religious Affairs Correspondent

A CANON appointed to encourage worshippers to donate more money to the Church has spoken of his dismay after they fell more than £250,000 behind target.

The Diocese of St Edmundsbury and Ipswich is now facing the prospect of having to make cuts in the coming years if worshippers fail to dig even deeper into their pockets.

It received £4.3million in 2002 from worshippers, about 98% of what was asked for, and more than £4.5m in 2003, about 97% of what was being sought.

Although the figures have yet to be finalised, worshippers raised about £4.8m last year, about 95% of what was required, leaving the diocese £261,000 short.

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The Rev Canon Jim Pendorf, parish resources adviser, said in the worst case last year one parish paid just £10,500 of the £24,850 asked for and he warned £2.50 on the parish collection plate was just not good enough.

Five years ago the diocese had healthy reserves, but Mr Pendorf said the fact that people have given less than asked had had an impact.

“Overall the diocesan board of finance would refer to it as a magnificent response, but this year just gone by is our worst response for a number of years,” he added.

“Even a 1% shortfall when you need £5million is £50,000 and with the upfront cost of a vicar being £28,000, that represents more than the cost of one priest.

“The message is not that the diocese is fast going into queer street, we will harden our resolve to make sure we fund the Church's mission. We are just holding our own really, our accumulated surplus is being offset by our deficit.”

He continued: “It's a case of stiffening our resolve and not being defeatist. Certain church treasurers will say we cannot afford this, some people say our OAPs are on fixed incomes and can't afford further increases. But they have got to be more the exception than the rule.

“Times are not hard, although they might be for some individuals. You compare Suffolk with other dioceses where there is deprivation. People have never had it so good.”

Where a church has failed to raise all the money needed, Mr Pendorf has written to the parish and copied his letter to the bishop, the Rt Rev Richard Lewis.

The diocese is coming under increasing financial pressure and by 2007 will lose all funding from the Church nationally - and will even have to contribute to the work of other dioceses as Suffolk is regarded as a well-off area.

It will have to persuade people to give more generously or will have to cut back its services, although where is unclear.

But Ian Richardson, who has worshiped in Huntingfield for many years, said: “We might be better off if the Church had not spent millions on that absurd tower on the cathedral at Bury St Edmunds.

“We are very fortunate here in that we have a country fair each year which raises funds and while that continues we are fine, but if we lost that we would probably have to hold 200 coffee mornings to raise the money.

“Constantly asking for money puts pressure on people. Perhaps the Church could make cuts in middle management?”

A seven-month review of the way worshippers give money has been undertaken, with more than 500 parishes consulted within the St Edmundsbury and Ipswich diocese during the exercise.

Nick Clarke, spokesman for the diocese, said: “During the previous few years we have never had less than 96% of the parish share we have asked for and the amount asked for has obviously climbed through the years.

“Our current budget is, in round terms, £6.5m and £5m of that will have to come from the parishes. It's impossible to say if this shortfall is a blip, but we are carrying out a review in to the way money is asked for.”

A report outlining a new parish share allocation system is in its final stages, with the diocese wanting to demystify where the money is going.

A twin-track system has been proposed that will make it clear how much money is going towards the clergy and how much is going to support the work in areas such as schools and youth work.


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