Offertory Appeal – 6th of March 2022

Good morning.  Twenty minutes ago we prayed for Bishop David, along with Pope Francis, in our bidding prayers.  When was the previous time that any of us prayed for Bishop David?  Was it last Sunday?

You might be asking why is the Chair of the Finance Committee asking about prayers for the Bishop.  Well firstly I would say that he is “our Bishop” and he leads “our Diocese”, but more importantly he has a very big job with some very big decisions, and he deserves our prayers. 

Bishop David became our bishop on 19 March 2020 – four days before we went into the first lockdown.  The pandemic has exacerbated serious pre-existing financial problems for the diocese – in his first year offertory income across our diocese fell by 23% but our costs did not.  But this situation was not new – across the diocese as a whole offertory income had barely changed over the ten previous years, but our costs had increased.  When I refer to costs I mean local parish costs (such as church maintenance, utility bills and the upkeep of our parish priest) and shared central costs co-ordinated through the diocese.  These costs include the recruitment and training of new and existing priests, the welfare of sick and retired priests, the cost of the Bishop and his office, Safeguarding, Health and Safety, Financial Management, Legal Matters, Human Resources etc – services which are clearly essential for the safe and legal running of every organisation, but it makes no sense to replicate them in every parish.  These costs had increased through inflation by 24% over the ten years prior to the pandemic.  To put things into perspective they amount to £2.5m a year, and the annual offertory income of IHM is £67,000. 

The total income from all parishes combined in the diocese no longer covers all the costs, and the diocese has had to borrow £3m.  This level of debt is unsustainable and without an increase in income the Bishop will have to close parishes.

This is why I say that Bishop David needs our prayers … our diocese needs our prayers … our parishes need our prayers.   

Now I am not saying that we run a parish to make money, but I am saying that we can’t run a parish (or a diocese) without money.  And when you add the problem of a shortage of priests we have the potential makings of a perfect storm.

Just think of the position that Bishop David is in – he is ultimately responsible for running our Diocese, which is a registered charity, and it is losing money.  He is confronted by the Charity Commissioners and has to make some big decisions to put our Diocese back onto a credible financial footing.  Increasingly he doesn’t have enough priests to minister to each parish, so he shares priests across two parishes – like IHM and St Columba’s.  So he now has a number of presbyteries that he doesn’t need.  He could sell the empty presbyteries to help cover his annual losses, but this only solves his problem short term.  He could take the next step and close (and sell) churches – a huge decision, but maybe inevitable, and as our friends who previously worshipped at St Edmund Campion know this is not impossible.  

I know that we are a long way from Northampton, and it doesn’t often feel relevant to us in South Bucks but the fact of the matter is that we can’t survive as a parish on our own – we are dependent on support from our Diocese, and we shouldn’t take it for granted that our parish is here forever.

 

 So what can we do about our financial predicament? 

We have looked at reducing operating costs both at parish and diocesan level, and will continue to do so.  Our diocesan operating costs compare favourably with other dioceses but we continue to investigate different more efficient ways of working. However, the reality is we need to increase our income from all sources.

This brings us to offertory income – your generous donations to the church in the Diocese of Northampton.

  • Firstly please consider what I have said today and what it means for you. Please pray for the work of our parishes and our diocese and Bishop David.
  • Please take the time to consider prayerfully your contribution to the church and what you feel you are able to afford. There are many measures of affordability but for those employed could you please consider donating your first hour’s pay each week to support the church? I am sure you can each calculate your hourly rate of pay, but to put it in context the National Living Wage is set to be £9.50 per hour from 1 April.  A donation of £9.50 per week is equivalent to a monthly donation of £41.
  • For those who are fortunate enough to be well clear of the National Living Wage please consider if you can contribute more than one hour’s pay per week.
  • Please keep your level of contribution under review – I made an offertory appeal here in 2016, and you responded very generously, but I suspect that like me many have not adjusted their standing order over the last five and a half years. If personal circumstances permit now is the time to amend our standing orders.  This can be done through on-line banking or completing a standing order variation form available at the back of church after Mass.
  • I notice many new faces in the congregation – firstly I want to welcome you to our parish community. I guess you weren’t expecting an appeal like this, but please be assured that similar appeals are taking place in every church across the diocese.  I am sure you are making donations in the basket but can I please encourage you to set up a standing order, but more importantly, if you are a tax payer please, please sign up to the Gift Aid scheme – this enables the parish to claim an additional 25% from the taxman out of the tax that you have already paid.  So it costs you nothing extra but the parish gets an additional £2.50 on every £10.00 you contribute.  Just see me or anybody in a high-vis jacket after Mass to complete a 1 minute form.

Initially we would ask each and every one of you to consider increasing the amount of money you contribute to the church each week, or each month, by at least 20% – roughly the same as the inflation we have encountered over the last 10 years.  So, if you currently give £10 a week, could you please give £12?  And instead of £50 per month, could you please give £60.

We are now in Lent when we focus on prayer, fasting and almsgiving – perhaps you have decided to give up chocolate or alcohol – maybe you could use the savings to increase your contribution – after all a pint of beer or a glass of wine in a pub is a minimum of £4.  Could you give an extra £4 per week?  If you base your increased giving on what you give up it won’t cost you anything, at least for the duration of Lent.  

I thank you for your patience in listening to me, but this is really serious – the Diocese is in a precarious financial position– across our diocese people like me are making an appeal like this.  Let us join with our fellow parishioners across all parishes in our diocese to prayerfully consider and where possible increase our giving.

This is not just about money for its own sake, it is about the need to ensure that we have the resources through our offertories to answer our call as Christians to evangelise – to spread the word of God to our fellow citizens and to educate our children in the Faith.

I am sure some of you will have questions, and if so please speak to me at the end of Mass.

Thank you and God Bless.