Evangelical church redirects payments after CofE gay blessing vote

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St Ebbe's Oxford, a large Anglican evangelical church in the city centre attended by hundreds of university students, has announced a radical step towards financial independence from its diocese after the Church of England's decision to perform same-sex blessings.

St Ebbe's says it is now diverting payments it previously made to Oxford Diocese into a trust fund.

Its Rector, Canon Vaughan Roberts, said in a statement the day after the vote in the CofE's legislative body, the General Synod, on February 9: "St Ebbe's clergy have already declared that we are in impaired communion with the bishops in our diocese, which means that we will not welcome them to preach, confirm, ordain or conduct our ministerial reviews, and we will not take communion with them."

He said the St Ebbe's Parochial Church Council (PCC) has "taken action to ensure that any money we pay within the diocese is distributed via the Oxford Good Stewards Trust and is only used for faithful gospel ministry and essential administrative costs".

In November 2022, the Bishop of Oxford, the Rt Rev Steven Croft, became the most senior CofE bishop to come out in favour of same-sex weddings in parish churches. The suffragan or area bishops in Oxford Diocese, the Bishop of Buckingham, the Rt Rev Alan Wilson, the Bishop of Dorchester, the Rt Rev Gavin Collins, and the Bishop of Reading, the Rt Rev Olivia Graham, have publicly backed Bishop Croft's stance.

St Ebbe's operations minister, Rev Tim Dossor, has explained in more detail how the church is using the Oxford Good Stewards Trust, which was registered with the Charity Commission for England and Wales in February 2021, in its bid to distance its ministry from the bishops.

The voluntary payments PCCs make to their dioceses to cover their clergy salaries, housing and pension costs are usually called Parish Share or Common Fund contributions.

Mr Dossor said: "In November 2022, St Ebbe's PCC took the decision to cease paying its Parish Share to the Diocese from the start of 2023. Instead, it is making grants equal to whole of its Parish Share allocation to the Oxford Good Stewards Trust (OGST).

"Donations into the OGST Oxford Diocese Fund are granted to the Diocese on a monthly basis. St Ebbe's PCC is currently scrutinising the Oxford Diocese budget with considerable care. When this period of scrutiny is completed, the PCC will make a grant to the OGST Oxford Diocese Fund that covers the ministry costs of St Ebbe's and the many faithful support activities of the Oxford Diocese.

"The PCC will grant any remainder from the total sum that has been requested for Parish Share to the OGST to support ministries which uphold the Church's traditional teaching on marriage."

He said "for the present both the Rector and Curate stipends are paid for by the Diocese/Church of England".

The move comes as two large Anglican evangelical churches in London also opposed to same-sex blessings, St Helen's Bishopsgate and All Souls Langham Place, announced that they are "pausing" Common Fund payments to their diocese.

St Helen's and All Souls were asked whether their PCCs were paying their clergy salaries directly now that they are no longer contributing to London Diocese's Common Fund but they declined to comment.

A spokesman for London Diocese said it could not "discuss salary or stipend arrangements for individual clergy".

St Ebbe's is under the delegated episcopal oversight of the conservative evangelical Bishop of Ebbsfleet, the Rt Rev Rob Munro, because of its PCC's opposition to women bishops. He is responsible for arranging regular ministerial development reviews for licensed clergy in the 150 parishes under his oversight.

Julian Mann is a former Church of England vicar, now an evangelical journalist based in Lancashire.