The Church of England is to pump £3.6bn into its 12,500 parishes over the next nine years in an effort to halt its decline by increasing “mission activity” among young people and disadvantaged communities.
The money – a 30% increase in funding from the church commissioners, who look after the C of E’s central assets – will support social action projects such as food banks, and help the church achieve its target to be carbon net zero by 2030.
The archbishop of Canterbury, Justin Welby, and the archbishop of York, Stephen Cottrell, admitted the C of E had been heavy-handed in concentrating funds on urban churches in recent years. “Allocating money in the past was perhaps, if we’re honest, a bit too driven from the centre. Now we’re trusting the dioceses much more,” said Cottrell.
Rural parishes have complained that they have been starved of cash, which has been diverted to inner-city churches. As a result, churches have closed and clergy jobs have been lost, according to a campaign group, Save the Parish.
Welby said: “Over the last few years, the priority has been very much for the more heavily populated areas. Having listened carefully to what people were saying, this [funding] is for everyone, including the rural areas.”
The core of the extra funding will be used for programs that focus on young and disadvantaged people, deliver social action work, address racism and cut the church’s carbon footprint.
It will support churches in the poorest areas of the country and fund more clergy in frontline ministries, including chaplaincies. “This funding will help the C of E raise its game in its service to the nation,” said Cottrell.
The archbishops announced the funding increase from St John the Evangelist church in Balby, Doncaster, which runs a “multibank”, providing food, clothing and essential items for people in need, and a free coffee shop and drop-in centre.
Cottrell said: “It gives me no joy in saying the Church of England has been in decline for a while. I’m not going to get depressed about that … What I’m going to do is focus on how we can best live and share the gospel.” The C of E could learn from the Balby church and others like it, which had been revitalized by social outreach work, he added.
Welby pledged that the church would “speak out” about the cost of living crisis. “People in really quite good jobs, not minimum wage jobs, [are] finding that they just can’t make ends meet,” he said.
The national funding from the church commissioners accounts for only 20% of overall costs, with the biggest share coming from churchgoers’ donations.
The increase in the national grant has been made possible by returns of 13.3% on the commissioners’ investments last year, according to financial results for 2021 published on Wednesday.
The commissioners increased their stake in Alibaba as the Chinese e-commerce giant became embroiled last year in a sexual assault scandal that led to a police investigation.
It is the first time that Alibaba has appeared in the commissioners’ list of top 20 shareholdings since reports were first published online in 2013. It puts the company among the commissioners’ largest equity holdings, which last year included Amazon, the Google owner Alphabet, the Facebook parent company Meta, Visa and Microsoft.
Reports emerged in December that Alibaba had fired the female employee who last summer accused her manager and a client of sexual assault during a work trip to the city of Jinan in Shandong province.
Alibaba had previously said that it had suspended “relevant parties” for violating its rules and that it had a “zero-tolerance policy against sexual misconduct”.
A spokesperson for the church commissioners declined to comment on specific investments, but said they had a “controversies policy” that assessed companies quarterly. “We always retain the right to restrict companies on an ad hoc basis if their activities fall foul of our ethical investment policies,” the spokesperson said.