I hope you had a blessed and peaceful Christmas; thank you, so much, for all your cards, presents and greetings. And may I take this opportunity to wish you all a Happy New Year!
We are now well into 2019 and there is, of course, lots happening in our world, our nation and our local community.
I really urge you to keep praying for our Government as they are faced with the task of negotiating and securing Brexit deals. It is an unenviable job, yet so easy for us, whatever our view, to sit on the side lines and criticise. May I encourage you to continue to pray for our leaders that, in all this decision making, God’s will might be done to create a worldwide community which is fair and just for all. Of course, we do need to be mindful that, whenever we pray, we need to be prepared to answer that prayer ourselves.
Those of us who are Christians appreciate the joy and privilege of being members of God’s family. But God, as well as giving us this deep sense of joy, also calls us to make sacrifices. One of the ways he calls us to do this is in our sharing of the resources he has given us, including our time and money.
In all Church of England churches, as many of you know, we have a Parish Share to pay, which is to finance clergy, clergy housing and insurance, the training of priests and the pension fund. In addition, churches have to pay their own in-house bills for things like heating, water, repairs, maintenance, service sheets, ministerial expenses and giving outside the parish. As three parishes in relatively affluent areas, we are also called to support poorer parishes in the Diocese.
Whilst, in 2018, we celebrated many good things, the end of the year was marred by the huge struggle to meet our Parish Share costs. We did manage to fulfil our payment, as we did in 2017, but a significant amount of this money was taken out of reserves which are now depleted, to complement our monies accrued through giving and fundraising.
Our Benefice Share, alone, for 2019 is £82,614 which, divided between the three parishes, requires Orsett to pay £35,425, Bulphan £17,828 and Horndon £29,361. This is before we even begin to add our in-house bills, resulting in the weekly cost of keeping our three churches open, with a serving stipendiary priest and self-supporting associate priest, approaching three thousand pounds.
Before Christmas, all clergy in Essex received a letter from Bishop Stephen, our Diocesan Bishop, stating that the Diocese of Chelmsford is similarly struggling. It received insufficient Parish Share money to pay its clergy last year, so this deficit had to be mitigated by the use of savings and the selling of vacant clergy properties, both of which are unsustainable means of income. Bishop Stephen stated, ‘…the message we need to give out in our parishes is very simple: if you want stipendiary priests serving your parish, then pay the Parish Share.’
I would like to thank those of you who give to the Churches in the Benefice, through one off donations, envelopes, standing orders, direct debit and loose plate collections and to those who organise and support fundraising events. Your contribution is greatly appreciated.
As the Priest in Charge, I am rooting for our Churches here. We have a committed worshipping community with lots of people working hard and I believe it is the desire of us all that the churches remain open for occasional services such as weddings, baptisms, funerals and regular acts of worship and that they continue to thrive, grow and share the love of God with others, with the continued support and guidance of a stipendiary priest.
Sadly, though, the reality is that our income falls far short of our Parish Share costs, let alone the other bills and, currently, the huge amount of time required for fund raising limits the opportunity for the mission of the Church. We will only be able to meet our expenses and continue our ministry effectively if our regular giving increases significantly.
All three parishes have now registered with a scheme called the Parish Giving Scheme, whereby tax payers are able to give by direct debit. This has the advantage over standing order in that each parish is able to receive the Gift Aid rebate of 25% within only a few days of each payment being made. There is also the opportunity to tick a box agreeing to a yearly increase at the rate of inflation. In Bulphan and Orsett they are already using this scheme and Horndon will be launching it in due course.
As a regular or occasional congregation member or someone who has benefited from an important service, please do pray and consider whether you might be able to support us financially on a regular basis or, if you are already doing this, whether you might be able to increase your giving or join the Parish Giving Scheme, for which each of the churches has packs. I would be very happy for you to contact me with any questions you might have and am sure that the wardens or treasurers would be happy to do the same.
With love and prayers, Sue