What about the money?

I keep asking what the Covenant will cost? Or, to be more realistic, what might be a general figure for annual running costs and what might the additional cost be in case of a dispute being resolved through its mechanisms.

But there is merely silence.

And this silence is not solely from the powers-that-be but also from those I know to be critics of the Covenant. I feel as though I'm talking loudly on a phone about someone's vasectomy while the rest of the railway carriage are all studiously trying not to listen.

Which got me to thinking more about money, accountability and the Church of England in particular.

There are differences between different churches. When I attend Methodist worship I am always struck and amused by the fact that, where Anglicans stand as a mark of respect to status and power as the clergy process in, Methodists equally automatically stand as the money is carried forward to be blessed by the minister. It's a question of priorities.

I would also guess that attitudes to money are more significantly different where there is a more direct link between a particular congregation's giving and the employment of 'their' minister.

In mid-1950s in England one of the central arguments for more inclusive synodical government was that lay people deserved a bigger say in church government because they were the ones who paid for it. Fifteen years later, with the Synod in place, that argument had been almost completely forgotten.

In the Church of England the idea that clergy receive a stipend, not a salary, that they are office-holders, not employees is very strong. Whether or not it's right one consequence is that it conveys the message that parish clergy need not account to anyone: they fulfil they duty merely be being in place.

In my world - a small, local charity - you can't propose anything without costings, a budget and a funder. You can't do anything without the money. And, while a funder chooses to support your proposal it is also true that the project is bent to fit what a funder would approve of. Thereafter the need to report back on the questions the funder wants answering is an important part of the design of that project. I have to account for every penny spent to show it has been spent in accordance with the terms on which it was given - and rightly so.

But not in a church. All paid clergy and others who are employed by the church rely ultimately on the generosity of individuals in the pew. Yet there is little or no sense that clergy should be accountable to their congregations, let alone that archdeacons, bishops and other non-parochial clergy should account directly to those who pay. Clergy get accommodation, secure employment and a reasonable income and seldom say thank you, never mind have to show what they did for the money. Administrative procedures firmly separate donor from ultimate recipient.

No emotional blackmail here, then
I know, I know, not every aspect of this argument is true for every individual. And I know that, by law, financial information has to be collected, audited and available. But none of this seems to me to undermine the central argument: that clergy act as though they deserve payment, that congregations are exhorted to give out of Christian duty, and that those who donate have no right to ask for anything in return. Accountability is not part of our ecclesiology.

This is sustained by regarding money as a worldly thing and therefore beneath the notice of the truly devout cleric whilst simultaneously sacralising money that comes into the Church as for God's use - and thus out of the reach of the laity. The action of blessing money seems to move it out of profane into sacred hands.  Thereafter clergy alone can determine its use but they need not, perhaps must not, give any account.

I think this is unhealthy. It is an unhealthy attitude to money, to the material world, and to ministry.

I remember going to a meeting of Baptist ministers many years ago to talk about doing theology in the city (or something like that). Before the meeting they were all comparing house prices. In order to start the meeting they stopped that discussion. It was a secular topic and they met for theological purpose. They couldn't see how house prices might be (an example of) just what we were intending to talking about.

However - before anyone sets up an aunt Sally - do not I think that clergy should be paid by results, given bonus incentives for work above the minimum, or have to share their everyday household expenses with every member of the congregation who put a pound on the plate. I don't think clergy should be motivated by money and I don't think congregations should neglect the material needs of their vicar.

But I do think more honest conversation about money and faith, cash and spirituality, and the relationships created in giving and receiving (both personal and institutional) ought to be a more normal part of church life.

In my experience clergy tend to be a self-validating lot who seek to conform to the norms and expectations set (informally) by other clergy. This reinforces myopia in a number of areas not the least of which is the relationship with those who pay.

But I'm not sure that any of this explains the silence surrounding money and the Covenant. Perhaps because the Covenant is presented as of overwhelming importance money becomes irrelevant - it will just have to be found somehow. Perhaps something else will be closed down so money can be transferred to the Covenant office. Perhaps the assumption is that the Americans will continue to foot the bill even when threatened with exclusion. I have no idea, no-one is saying.

All that said, I am repeatedly impressed by the brass-necked optimism of the 'vicar's hymn' (Fran­ces Ha­ver­gal's Take my life, and let it be):
Take my silver and my gold; not a mite would I withhold.

And, full disclosure: I have benefited from this system in the past and may wish to do so again. So I have a vested interest in the system continuing. That doesn't make it right.

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