Share Wars

The dreaded share

 In a diocese far, far away…

It often happened that way. It was while he was driving home that he thought of what he should have said. And then it was too late.

Archdeacon Richard Cutter had been at Holdall, a commuter village some twelve miles from Dorminster. The rural dean had suggested he meet with the PCC as they had said they wouldn’t pay their parish share this year and he had felt that the Archdeacon would be a better person to persuade them.

Visiting an unknown PCC, of course, he did not know the members, but it was an interesting diversion to try to guess their occupations and backgrounds from occasional clues. Three of the men appeared to have their own businesses, and one was probably ex-military. One of the women was a farmer’s wife, another was a primary school teacher, and he thought a third was possibly some kind of therapist. But the treasurer, the new treasurer, was a bank manager. And it seemed he was taking the PCC with him.

They were not without money, even in their church account. But they wanted to keep thirty thousand pounds as a contingency fund. They didn’t know what for and they realised that if they suddenly needed money for the building they could probably raise it in an appeal. Many of the parishioners who never came to church would contribute to keep the roof on and the church open.

The PCC also argued that they shouldn’t have to pay because they didn’t have a vicar. Their previous vicar had left seven months ago. Their group of three parishes was joining with two from a neighbouring group and that had taken time to sort out. The living was suspended and as yet the Archdeacon had not been able to find someone for the bishop to appoint as priest-in-charge.

“So”, they said, “why should we pay our parish share when we don’t have a vicar?”

“Because the parish share is not to pay your vicar. It’s your contribution to the diocesan funds which are needed to pay all the clergy in the diocese.”

“So let the parishes that have vicars contribute to the cost of them.”

“But you are part of the diocese as well.”

“But we don’t get anything out of it.”

“You do. You have the support of a Rural Dean, you can draw on the resources of the training department and others, the diocese contributes to the expenses of your visiting clergy and there are people in the administration doing the work so that another vicar can be appointed.

But it’s not about paying for what we get. It is about working together and sharing resources. If you were a congregational church you would only pay for your own minister and a small amount to the association. But we’re not a congregational church. We are an episcopal church. You are part of a bigger unit, the diocese, and in that we support each other.”

“But what would happen if we didn’t pay?”

“I wouldn’t send out the bailiffs and there wouldn’t be a ceremonial cursing at the cathedral! We would carry on providing what support we can and trying to find you another parish priest, but we’d do it knowing that you are acting as if you are not part of the organisation we belong to. And other parishes would have to pay more.”

“Not much. Our share spread among all parishes in the diocese would not cost them each much more.”

“No, but some of them are other parishes who also don’t have a vicar and they are contributing. And some of them are places where no one in the congregation has anything at all in the bank. They live on their wages or a giro and those that owe money don’t owe it to Visa but to some loan shark. But together they still manage to pay a parish share.”

“But surely, if there are places without vicars,” said the teacher, “then the diocese needs less money.”

“No, because the diocesan budget is worked out on the basis that there will always be a certain number of vacancies. There always are. It’s just a matter of where they are going to be. At the moment you are among the fifty or so parishes without a parish priest.”

And so it went on but eventually he’d said, “You’ve got a choice. You can either contribute your parish share and act as if you’re part of the diocese, or keep your money in the bank and act as if you’re not.”

That was the bit he’d thought about afterwards. After further argument and a vote they did agree to pay. But what he realised he could have said was that they had a third possibility. They could have paid their parish share and rather than keep the remainder to help themselves another day they could give away the rest of their reserve to Christian Aid and help people who need it now.

But as usual, he thought of that too late.

(Used with permission from The Country Vicar by David Osborne, DLT 2004, pp.151-153).

[Thankfully such thinking never goes on in PCCs within The Diocese of St Davids!]

Huw Anderson, Diocesan Mission Resources Officer