There is much talk in the diocese of Oxford at the moment about Parish Share. We are introducing a new scheme in 2014. I think, after a great deal of hard work, what we have is as transparent and fair as any scheme can be. We are offering a rural subsidy as well as an urban one, to those deaneries who juggle different financial priorities; we are calculating ministry cost (the cost of our clergy) in exact terms - stipend, pension, housing and NI; fee income is being deducted from deanery totals and central costs have been pruned. At this time deaneries have the rather more complex task of agreeing how their share will be divided between parishes, and benefices likewise.
There is no doubt about it, for Oxford, most of the share goes into paying our hard working clergy; therefore it saddens me when churches do not reach their target. I know money is an issue and, as I have mentioned there are many other priorities - the new scheme to build a loo, the costly repairs, the accumulated fabric fund in case the boiler breaks down. However for most of our parishes what is being asked in parish share is being used to give their Vicar (and curate) something to live on and in. I am not sure how other institutions would function, were there not regularly paid employees - the NHS, the police, the local supermarket. There is no doubt that parishes do value their parish priest, so many people speak to me about how concerned they are about how hard the vicar works, and thank you cards often demonstrate the effect of a particular ministry. A fair parish share scheme too should reflect that value, therefore the challenge is whether the true local costs will be paid locally.
As an archdeacon I have the current figures of paid share for 2013. I pray the new scheme gets better results, because if we did not have generous parishes which enables the stipend bills to be paid, we would have a lot of very poor clergy this Christmas. There is a challenge to all of us who attend our local church, even just once a year, or like to have our name on the electoral roll, to contribute toward the well being of the person who willingly marries our children, buries our grandparents, visits our neighbour, brings a smile to our children in school, holds the local community regularly in prayer and is always there for us. That holy person who gives us both security and faith. The person who fills our grade 1 listed building with light and love.
What if all our parish churches considered the shortfall on their share this week, publicised the amount and asked for people to make up the difference, so by Christmas we can celebrate together the value we all have in being a member of the Body of Christ?