The present global pandemic is having a profound effect on everyone. It presents an enormous challenge to us all. That challenge is survival, survival in all sorts of ways: physically, emotionally, spiritually and financially.
Apart from the very real difficulties of continuing sacramental and pastoral care, the Church also faces serious financial challenges, particularly as long as churches are closed and there are no public liturgies. In order to secure the future financial viability of parishes, a set of Interim Guidelines has been issued to all parishes by the Diocesan Trustees. I think it’s important to share some of the key points and extracts with you all.
For a number of weeks, the Diocesan finance team has been looking at the financial impact of the present restrictions on the Aberdeen Diocese and its parishes. There are many issues to be considered and it has been important to establish priority actions in a fast-changing situation. The most immediate priority is to ensure that all parishes have access to sufficient funds (cash) to meet existing and imminent commitments. The resulting recommendations have been agreed by the Diocesan Trustees and are consolidated in the Interim Guidelines mentioned above. Here are some of the key points of those guidelines.
The most immediate task is to secure funds for all parishes and churches for the next 3 months. This is only a short period but it is as far as we can presently look ahead: we must be aware that the restrictions on public worship may continue for longer. The closure of the churches is expected to reduce weekly income by around 70% immediately. The remaining 30% is made up mostly of existing direct bank transfers, such as standing orders from parishioners. It is difficult to ask parishioners to give more to the Church at a time when many people’s own financial situation gives them cause for concern. Nonetheless, it is important that parishioners continue to support their priests in any way they can.
The church needs to survive on about a third of its usual income. Efforts are being made to sustain income as best we can, but the other thing we need to do is to reduce expenditure at both Diocesan and parish level. In summary, all expenditure needs to be reduced to absolute essentials, for example, utility charges (electricity, gas, water). What seemed essential a few weeks ago is perhaps not essential now. For example, planned expenditure on fabric issues for church property must be limited to compliance projects mandated by law or to modest repairs to prevent serious fabric deterioration. A limited number of ongoing projects have been sanctioned to continue where the funds have already been committed but all other projects have been deferred. It has also been necessary to place temporary restrictions on expenditure at the parish level.
As the financial position varies greatly between different parishes, the Diocese is setting up a Central Parish Support Fund to help those parishes which are already struggling financially. A number of sources of potential grant funding are being actively investigated.
At the end of this present crisis, we need to emerge strong enough to re-build, not only financially, but practically and pastorally. This means that we must not dip so deeply into our reserves that recovery is made extremely difficult, if not impossible. Also, the current volatile state of the financial markets is reflected in the reduced value of investments and their likely annual yield.
The opportunity to benefit from the Government Job Retention (Furlough) scheme for employers has been explored and is helpful in a few cases, as the UK Government will fund up to 80% of a furloughed employee’s salary. However, it is not applicable in every case because it cannot be used for anyone who is still doing any work for the parish or diocese, even from home.
I hope the above has given you some insight into the present financial situation for the diocese and the parishes. If there is anything more I could help with, please get in touch with the Diocesan Office or the Parish Priests