Friday, 25 May 2012

Church Tax or The Mortgage

Last night, it was my pleasure and delight to attend that event most highly to be praised - the Deanery Common-Fund Meeting. 

Calm down.

No, on a sticky May evening, dressed to impress, I gathered with the BMW and Mercedes drivers (in these parts we call them 'parish treasurers') to talk about how we may be most grumpy about paying our way. 

In London, the slab of cash that we give to the Diocese very year is called the 'Common Fund' (In Oxford Diocese, 'Parish Share' and in the past in the Chichester Diocese it was called 'Quota'). In short it is the cash that we pay to the centre so that the centre can provide priests with houses to as many parishes as possible, and then after that things like ordinand training, the stuff of administration, and the sort of thing you would reasonably expect a diocese to spend out on. Well, last night was the night to receive 'The Presentation'. 

There are many ways of calculating this figure for parishes. In my last diocese it was rooted in the BCP calculation of the date for Easter, with a square root applied for the number of "Ws" in the month, multiplied by the grey hairs on the incumbent's head and divided by the wet weight of all all Vicarage dogs. Add to the electoral roll figures, the fiscal output of the postcard rotary stand less the needs of major projects like turning on the lights and heating and based on the headline rate published by the Government demonstrating the underlying trend of Katy Price's IQ score. In short, a number so complex that it was barely of interest until such a figure couldn't be paid. 

For us, we have simple costing for a cleric and a house, plus incidental diocesan costs like the archdeacon's black gloves. That is the figure we aim for. 

The 'formula' approach was likened to a tax. This precipitated much consternation when someone suggested that the factors involved in the calculation of the Share could be, allegedly, erm, faffed with. 'Heaven forfend' said one youngling last evening, surely not. Isn't that immoral? I will leave that there. 

I suggested that the London method was akin to being told what the mortgage payment was. This idea of 'mortgage' is not mine, and the clear perspective of my Training Incumbent, but a helpful means of explaining the need to pay it. In simple terms, is Common Fund a tax or a Mortgage payment?

I take the example of the households under my ministry and to whom I serve. They will, on average, be paying a mortgage (or rent) and will do that with a psychology accepting those payments to be a natural responsibility and one to be taken seriously and paid first. I doubt that anyone worth their salt would spend the mortgage payment on holidays or the like if they can avoid it. However, it is part of our psychology to limit our tax burden. We do what we can to lower our tax bill and clergy are no exception. Mortgages we accept and bust our guts to pay, taxes we challenge and avoid to the best of our ability. You also know my thoughts about paying the mortgage before anything else (like donating to other charities). 

Either way, as parishes we are called to take this demand upon our resources very carefully. There are parishes with hundreds of thousands in the bank and then there are the rest of us for whom planned giving equates to the mortgage payment. Then we work out what to do for the rest of our life as a parish, doing what we can to squeeze pockets and purses some more. 


  1. I like this analogy, except that those who profit from mortgages are usually, primarily, banks. I'd far rather pay a tax -- as long as I know it is being spent wisely (so on supporting the poor, disabled etc).

    That I can't think of another model for looking at the Parish Share problem suggests that capitalism is truly entrenched, and really quite screwed up.

  2. We have parish share, which is a huge sum, devided between our parishes. You describe a simple forumula which includes the things you describe.

    We meet at Deanery Finance to discuss the allocation to parishes and we can put our case for any special needs or hardships which can be addressed before hard and fast decisions are made.

    It's a voluntary tythe from individuals. We need too have good stewardship iniatives to persuade people to give what they can afford, not what we demand.

    In the end, it depends on self-sacrifice by the givers on w whether the church in it's current form survives the next few years or not.



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