Parishes to pay price of church property debacle: Andrew Brown looks at the consequences of disastrous dealings on the property market

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ONE OF the richest and one of the poorest parishes in England were yesterday examining the consequences of the church commissioners' catastrophic property speculations which lost them pounds 800m in the late 1980s.

Yesterday, the Bishop of Durham, the Rt Rev David Jenkins, visited the parish of St Giles, the oldest church in the city, to say that its contribution to central funds must increase by 50 per cent over two years as a result of the commissioners' debacle.

St Giles is a poor parish. The church was built in 1112, but the surrounding housing is mostly new council estates. The core congregation - the 140 people on the electoral roll for the parochial church council - raised pounds 19,300 last year for their local church; and a further pounds 3,000 for charities and missionary activities.

Of this, pounds 14,400 was paid into diocesan funds, from which the vicar, the Rev Tom Thubron, was paid. Durham is one of the two dioceses in England which pays its clergy only the minimum stipend of pounds 12,200 a year: elsewhere this figure is topped up by diocesan finds to as much as pounds 13,800.

Mr Thubron does not think he is poor, though he has five children, and his wife has only a part- time teacher's salary. 'Without my wife working, I would be on the breadline almost. But I have to say we live comfortably. We have a car, and we eat well.

'I have a car allowance, a hospitality allowance, and all my stationery is paid for. It costs me nothing for my housing and nothing for my office.'

Last year, the commissioners gave pounds 62.7m to support clergy salaries, 41 per cent of their total cost. This subsidy will be cut by pounds 12m this year, and may decline to pounds 30m in three years' time. Dr Jenkins told the parish council yesterday that the commissioners' speculations meant that the parish's contribution must be increased by 50 per cent. It sounds like a big rise until it is put in absolute terms. Last year, everyone on the church council's electoral roll gave an average of pounds 3.06 a week, which is almost exactly the national average. Of this, pounds 1.97 went to the diocese. The bishop is seeking another 99p.

At the other end of the financial scale there are churches like St Mary le Bow in the City of London. The Rev Victor Stock has only two parishioners: one is the Governor of the Bank of England, the other is his deputy.

The running costs are met by some of the large companies of the parish, who subscribe to a voluntary rate which raises pounds 30,000 a year. Mr Stock, a bachelor, finds he has about pounds 300 a month left from his salary for food, books, and holidays, after taxes and the mortgage on a retirement home.

'The truth is that I would not survive five minutes if the parish did not pay my expenses. My office, my secretary, my telephone, and my heat are all paid for.'

The parish can raise large sums for deserving causes: last year, it gave pounds 100,000 to a scheme for the homeless, with one collection at a carol service raising pounds 1,200.

The Archbishops of Canterbury and York will today reveal the formation of a commission to chart the Church of England's future.

Leading article, page 17

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