Church of England investment bonanza boosts expansion hopes

The Archbishop of Canterbury said that he was "embarrassed" that the Church of England was still not paying the living wage.Reuters

The Church of England has achieved growth on its investments far above inflation, meaning it has enough funds to finance ambitious plans for expansion by paying for dozens and possibly hundreds more clergy across the nation.

The profits in 2014 mean that the Church Commissioners have more than made up the disastrous losses of the late 1980s and 1990s and that here is enough cash to pay for the growth vision of the Archbishop of Canterbury Justin Welby.

The portfolio is now worth a record £6.7 billion, meaning plans approved by the General Synod to release an extra £100 million to pay for more clergy can be easily afforded.

Total return investments in 2014 was 14.4 per cent, exceeding the target of RPI + 5 per cent. The fund has grown from £2.4 billion at the start of 1995 to £6.7 billion at the end of 2014.

Commissioners spent almost £215 million last year on charitable projects, 16 per cent of total expenditure, making the Church one of the largest charitable givers in the UK and the eighth largest globally. Projects included clubs and drop-ins to youth work and food banks, all backed by local church communities.

First Church Estates Commissioner Andreas Whittam Smith says in the latest annual report that all traces of the losses that were sustained by the Church Commissioners in the early 1990s have now vanished from the record.

By coincidence, he continues, one of the factors that added to past difficulties was the principle of "inter-generational equity", which meant that they could only distribute as much cash as allowed the value of the portfolio to be maintained in real terms.

The recommendations of task groups set up by the Archbishops of Canterbury and York will need that principle to be breached for the first time, allowing cash to be allocated "over and above their normal distributions," he writes.

A "good" over-distribution should be seen as an investment in the Church to encourage growth, he says. "In addition a successful outcome would have, as a by-product, an increase in the Church's financial strength."

Archbishop Welby says in the report: "We all recognise the existence of divisions not only in wider society but within the worldwide Anglican Communion and even within our own Church. There always will be matters on which Anglicans feel strongly and disagree deeply. We must all work to reconcile our differences as we are challenged by the spirit of the age."

In a blog on the Church of England website, Father Paul West writes about the Sensing Salvation project in Wisbech, an example of one of the 28 funded by the Church from its £2.9 million developing growth fund.

At Sensing Salvation, an artist or theologian take up residence in St Peter's Lodge, a former curate's house, for a week each month and works with schoolchildren on skills such as photography, puppet-making and quilting.

At the end of the week the finished artwork is shown to the public.

Wisbech is an ancient Fenland market town and inland seaport in the Diocese of Ely, sometimes regarded as a place of little hope, with serious deprivation.

Father West writes: "It is, instead, a wonderfully multicultural town full of grace and signs of renewal."

Through Sensing Salvation programmes, the parish now has a youth group of 26 members, of whom 16 went to this year's National Children's Pilgrimage at Walsingham.

He says: "Our way of making Christian disciples begins with an incarnational theology that celebrates our restored image in Christ, discovered through the catholic imagination. We are traditional Anglo-Catholics serious about winning souls for Jesus. Our theological programme is called Flourishing Orthodoxy."

At Easter, a visiting Russian Orthodox priest celebrated the Resurrection with liturgy and a lavish banquet. The church was overflowing with young and old. The following week there was a residency in icon writing took place.

Father West says: "The Church Commissioners' magnificent gift has helped us find creative ways to be a growing, confident and compassionate parish family. We hope our research will inspire similar parish families, to grow in Christ, by exploring the wonderfully visual catholic imagination."