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C of E investment arm trebles capital in two decades

Posted on: May 17, 2016 12:43 PM
St Luke's Gas Street, a new contemporary church in Birmingham, England, for young adults in their 20s and 30s is part funded by a grant from the Church Commissioners
Photo Credit: St Luke's Gas Street

[ACNS, by Gavin Drake] The Church of England’s investment arm, the Church Commissioners, has almost trebled the value of its investment fund over a 20-year period, it announced this week. The value of the Commissioners’ investment fund has grown from £2.4 billion at the start of 1995, to £7.00bn at the end of 2015; producing a return of 8.2 per cent last year.

The history of the Church Commissioners dates back, in some ways to before Henry VIII’s split with Rome. Clergy in England were not paid a stipend but were given the living – the right to income earned from the parish estates. This income was taxed by Church authorities with ten per cent being sent to Rome. After the Reformation, this went instead to the Crown.

As the Church grew, so did the number of parishes; but many clergy found that their parish wasn’t wealthy enough to give them a living. In response, in 1704, Queen Anne established the snappily titled “Governors of the Bounty of Queen Anne for the Augmentation of the Maintenance of Poor Clergy” with responsibility for ensuring that the taxes received from the wealthier parishes was used to pay a living for clergy in the poorer ones.

Rather than directly fund stipends; the money was used to purchase land from which a living could be earned; but some clergy chose to invest the funds with the Governors of the Bounty rather than purchase land; and this is how the investment fund began.

Over the years, Queen Anne’s Bounty received additional sources of income – including the “profits” from vacant parishes and from the estates of dignitaries – bishops and deans. The latter was the responsibility of the Ecclesiastical and Church Estates Commissioners for England – a body established to review the revenues of the Church and to manage the structure of dioceses, cathedral posts, and parishes.

The two bodies were merged in 1948 to form the Church Commissioners for England – a body established by the UK Parliament. The Church Commissioners remain accountable to Parliament and every six-weeks-or-so, a Commissioner – currently Caroline Spelman – has to answer questions in the House of Commons’ chamber from fellow MPs about the work of the Commission.

Their responsibilities have changed over the years; but the Commissioners are still responsible for drawing up and approving schemes for opening and closing churches and changing parish boundaries; and are responsible in law for funding certain church posts – including diocesan bishops’ office and working costs; cathedral clergy; and a significant amount in clergy pensions.

Generally, the Commissioners do not spend their capital –capital gains are re-invested, which means that the fund – which is spread amongst a range of investments from stocks and shares to shopping centres and forests – continues to grow.

After spending their income on their core responsibilities, they distribute their surplus to fund the mission and ministry of the Church of England in more discretionary ways. For many years they have continued their historic role of supporting the work of the Church in deprived areas through grants to dioceses; based on assessments of poverty and need.

But in recent years they have become more strategic and provided funds for church growth initiatives.

These include the Growing Younger initiative of the Diocese of Birmingham. The commissioners supplemented the diocese’s own funding of £1.7 million with a £1 million strategic development grant to support engagement with children, young people and families in a bid to welcome 2,000 new regular worshippers to join churches around Birmingham over five years.

Part of the initiative saw the launch of St Luke’s, Gas Street – a contemporary city centre church focused on young adults in their 20s and 30s. The church has now grown to 300 members and moved into a converted warehouse in the city centre, aiming to engage with students and young adults and bring 'light for the city'.

Another church growth scheme supported by the Commissioners is the appointment of a pioneer minister for the Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park in Stratford, east London; on a site served by both the Diocese of London and the Diocese of Chelmsford.

Home to the 2012 London Olympic Games, residents from the five surrounding London boroughs began moving into what had been the athletes’ village in 2014. The area and local community were unknown to them, resulting in little social cohesion and no obvious sense of community. The Church appointed the Revd Annie McTighe as pioneer minister to the village in the summer of 2014 with the help of a grant from the Commissioner, with the role of helping the development of a community.

When she first arrived in June 2014, there were just 1,000 people living on the site. Now there are in excess of 7,000 residents. “It was a very quiet little hamlet and now it is becoming a blustering little community – a town with lots of life, lots of activity, going on here,” she said.

“Having the title ‘pioneer’ has freed me up and it has freed the community up. I think if I came here and said I was the vicar it would go into that old forms and stereotypes in people’s minds.” She said that being introduced as a pioneer means that people think of her role as “fresh, different, and unusual” and has helped to open doors.

Commenting on last year’s financial results, which were unveiled yesterday, the secretary of the Church Commissioners, Andrew Brown, congratulated the investment team for delivering a return in excess of eight per cent. “Without this leadership and good stewardship it would not be possible to support the Church as we do,” he said. “But we must not forget the generous support from parishes, dioceses and cathedrals which provide around three quarters of the Church’s annual spending on ministry and mission.”

  • Click here for the Church Commissioners’ full annual report for 2015 (pdf).