This month.....

What to do with our talent(s)

You may know the parable of the talents, Matthew 25:14-30 or Luke 19:12-27. A rich man leaves three amounts of money with is servants; one gets 5 talents, one two talents and the last received one talent. A talent was worth 6000 denarii and a denarius was the amount of money that a normal person would earn for a day’s work. So even one talent was a substantial amount of money.

If you remember the story, you will know that the first two servants invested their money and when the rich man returned they had doubled the amount they had been left in charge of. The third person, petrified by the responsibility given to him, had buried the talent in the ground and gave back what he had been given and is condemned for not making the most of the opportunity he had been given and not even putting the money into the bank.

We normally think of this parable as being about how we use the talents and skills we have been given; after all we literally use the work for a large sum of money, a talent, as the word for an aptitude that we have. But this story might remind us that we need to have a look at how we deal with our finances too.

Because stipendiary clergy live in a house provided as part of our remuneration one thing we need to do is to think about where we are going to live when we retire and with that in mind I hope that my colleagues take seriously their savings. Most of our savings will be long term so that when we retire we might be in the position to purchase somewhere to live but all of us need some emergency money that we save but that we can get hold of rapidly if needed.

Well I was reviewing all this recently and looking at what interest rate you can get on a normal savings account. I had a look at the Consumers Associations Which magazine’s money publication and there was nothing that they recommended that had instant access that paid an interest rate above inflation and even those accounts that tied you in for a couple or three years rarely paid more than the rate of inflation. So the value of those savings was diminishing over time (though less slowly than if they were buried in the ground!).

Each year the Church Commissioners publish their annual report and I just wish I could get a savings account that performed as well as their funds have performed; 7.1% return on 2017 and an average of 9.4% over the last 30 years! Just search for the Church Commissioners on the internet to find full details of what the Church Commissioners do and how their investments perform.

The Church Commissioners started life in 1704 as a scheme know as Queen Anne’s Bounty. This was set up to increase the income of poor livings by purchasing more glebe land in a parish, it was funded by taking the tithe of their income that clergy had paid to the pope before the reformation but which the crown had taken since the reformation and investing this in the poorest parishes. Over time other amounts were given to this scheme so as to enable clergy to minister in poor parishes. Wikipedia has a short article that explains how it worked.

The Queen Anne’s Bounty and the Ecclesiastical Commission merged to form the Church Commissioners in 1947. The work of the Church Commissioners has changed since those days and now they use their investments to generate monies to pay for mission project (in this country), they make a contribution to the budget of diocese (depending on the wealth of the area in which the diocese is located. So a diocese in the North East for example will get more help than we do). The Church Commissioners are also responsible for paying for bishops and their staff and the deans of cathedrals and cathedral clergy. Another responsibly they have had since 1973, when clergy retirement came in, has been the running of the clergy pension scheme and the payment for pension for years of service up to 1973.

You might have noticed that when we pay our parish share (fair share) none of that money goes to pay for our bishops and their staff or cathedral clergy. So where does it go? Well looking at the diocese’s website I didn’t find a link to finance on the home page but if you search on the home page for Board of Finance you will find a good guide to where the money goes. Perhaps the diocese is being a bit English and is a bit embarrassed to talk about finances? Looking at the 2019 diocesan budget 80% of the budget comes from what the parishes pay to the diocese and 78% of the budget goes to pay for clergy! So the vast majority of what we give comes back to the parishes in paying for the clergy. Only 4% of the total budget is spent on administration.

Do you remember Carla Lane’s comedy “Bread”? Do you remember the china chicken on the kitchen table into which the family put what they had earned that day and from which the costs of the family were taken? Well the parish share system is a bit like that. Each parish puts in an amount (each diocese determines this in a different way and none are idea but let’s not go there now) and from this ‘china chicken’ the costs of ministry in the parishes are taken; the cost of parish clergy being very nearly equal to the total share collected.

Sorry I’ve diverted from the parable of the talents but I was asked about this by a parishioner only this week… But perhaps the message is that we all need to think about how we use money and financially plan for the future. Whether as individuals or parishes or diocese or even the church nationally. It’s also good to know where the money we give goes and note to self, I should take a bit more time looking at the annual reports that the charities I support produce!

Wishing you all the best with your talents!!!

Richard Curtis


PS: Many thanks to all those who commented on my letter last month. I had a lot a people making comments about how e-mail has become a bit of a burden to them to, so it’s good for me to know I’m not alone on that one!

Richard Curtis