How do you run the Church of England? Helen Kay looks at how the God Squad handles some huge assets and equally big liabilities.
Imagine a conglomerate with 44 subsidiaries. Each has a chief executive who, though he sits on the board of nearly 600 directors, is not accountable to the head of the group. Add to this the facts that each chief executive has only limited authority over many of his staff and that much of the finance of this complex body is handled by a separate company accountable to Parliament and it might well be enough to make Lord Hanson heave or Tiny Rowland throw in the towel. The unenviable job of heading such a body falls to the Archbishop of Canterbury.
It is not entirely fanciful to suggest that the Church of England is a kind of conglomerate. The 44 dioceses which comprise the regional branches of the Church are indeed limited companies. Each files an annual report. The holding company, the General Synod, files a separate set of accounts, as do the Church Commissioners, whose job it is to manage the greater part of the Church's historical property. In short, the administration of the Church of England is not just a spiritual matter; it is also a managerial task of daunting proportions.
Many of the senior men in the ministry now see management as part of their office. There is, after all, something of a biblical precedent for this point of view: if the Church cannot husband its talents wisely, its spiritual harvest will be correspondingly small. Take the Right Reverend David Jenkins, Bishop of Durham. An outspoken liberal, he firmly believes that the Gospel and good management are by no means mutually exclusive. "Though you must subordinate the managerial (to the pastoral and spiritual functions of the Church)," he argues, "you can't be unrealistic about it." His episcopal purple shirt and pinstripe suit underline the point.
Yet the fragmentation of the Church makes it exceedingly difficult to implement anything like normal management practice. Its three key resources - finances, buildings and staff - are scattered, quite literally, across the country. There is, for example, no central accounting system which neatly summarises total income and expenditure, though a report written in 1988 estimates that running costs amount to some £390 million per annum.
About a third of these costs are met by the Church Commissioners, who generated investment income of £140.8 million in 1989. This sum met almost all of the pension costs of 10,000 clergy pensioners and widows. It also provided approximately 40% of the stipends and housing costs of the 11,500 serving clergy.
Donations from the man or woman in the pew form the Church of England's other big source of income. In 1988 (the most recent available figures) some 1,165,000 churchgoers (measured by usual Sunday attendance) put a total £166.7 million in the plate. This figure reflects an active drive on the part of the Church to increase giving from, for example, a 1978 total of £53.7 million. The increase has outstripped inflation, but any parish priest will tell you that both the number of "bums on pews" and the amount that they donate are disappointing.
At the regional level, income and expenditure vary considerably. In 1989, for example, the diocese of Southwark had a budget of £7 million, while Durham's was under £3 million. Diocesan resources are in part historically determined - the older dioceses like Lincoln, Canterbury and Winchester enjoying rather more riches than their modern counterparts - but all derive a considerable part of their revenue from allocated parochial contributions.
Some of these contributions are channelled back to the Church Commissioners for distribution. In 1989 £60 million worth of parish or diocesan contributions was ploughed back into stipends. The Church Commissioners also handle the stipends of the diocesan and suffragan bishops, as well as stipends for the deans/provosts and two residentiary canons at all but two of the cathedrals.
One other body deserves mention, though it is very small fry in the financial stakes. The Central Board of Finance (CBF), acting on behalf of the General Synod, levies contributions from the dioceses to pay for the theological colleges. In 1989 around half of the £8.8 million thus raised went on training future clergy, the rest going on a variety of projects including the running of The General Synod itself.