Though the Church Commissioners control assets worth pounds 2.4bn, they have been squeezed by the recession. A report in the Financial Times suggested that unwise property speculation had cost pounds 500m, an allegation rejected by Sir Douglas Lovelock, the First Church Estates Commissioner. 'There is not an institution or company . . . whose capital value has not gone down in the last year or two,' he said.
Dr Carey (who is chairman of the commissioners) said the allegations would be investigated. David Webster, a member of the synod's central board of finance, said that 'clearly in the last year, things have gone very badly, and this is the message of the FT article'.
It is unclear what form the investigation will take, since the Church Commissioners are responsible only to Parliament. The commissioners' income is expected to remain flat for the next three years at least, while their expenditure rises inexorably due to pensions and the salaries of senior clergy. In 1995, the expenditure is expected to exceed investment income by pounds 460m.
On the commissioners' own figures, average giving from parishioners need rise only slightly to solve the problem. Sir Douglas told the synod that the current average weekly giving level of pounds 3 need only rise by 10 per cent a year. 'This is no more than the price of a portion of fish and chips,' Sir Douglas added. The real target would be a level of 5 per cent of net pay, which would be on average about pounds 5-a-week.
But Dr Carey, who himself gives 10 per cent of his pounds 43,000 income to charitable causes, disagreed. 'Ask for a little and you will get a little. Put before people the picture of a church pleading for small change to enable it to struggle along and you will get small change. People will not be inspired by requests to bail out an institution, however subtly put. They can be inspired to give wholeheartedly and sacrificially to an outward-looking Church pulsating with a sense of mission.'
John Smallwood, a former deputy chief cashier of the Bank of England, argued that much of the problem came from inefficient fund-raising. In 1990, pounds 92m was raised in collections and pounds 60m from fetes and bazaars, but only pounds 72m directly from the more tax- efficient covenants.
'We don't want to continue fund- raising through bazaars and jumble sales. We have to take it more seriously,' he said. A Christian taking home pounds 50,000-a-year should give pounds 100-a-week to charity; one on pounds 60-a-week might give pounds 1. The synod adopted a resolution calling on church members to give 5 per cent of their income, and for the money to be used more efficiently.
The synod decided last night to meet only twice a year from 1994, instead of the present three. The move will save pounds 70,000 a year.
Letters, page 16