Several parish churches in the Diocese of St Albans are planning to cap their financial quota contributions after Dr John’s elevation, accusing the Church of pursuing “a homosexual agenda”.
Their move could leave the diocese several thousand pounds out of pocket. It relies on the “parish share” to provide more than £7 million annually to pay for stipends, pensions and some administrative costs.
Each parish is given a “quota” that it is expected to pay to the diocese every year, depending on the number of its parishioners. If it raises more money than its allotted quota, this too goes to the diocese – and it is this contribution that the evangelical churches are threatening to cap.
Parishes in the diocese of St Albans currently donate about £30,000 a year each on average, but evangelical parishes give considerably more – sometimes as much as double.
They are threatening to cap the quota contributions by as much as 10 per cent.
The Rev Charles Dobbie, the vicar of Holy Trinity Church in Lyonsdown, New Barnet, north London, said that he was “shocked and grieved” by Dr John’s appointment and felt that he could not “in conscience” pay the full annual quota “if it’s going to be used in the furtherance of this kind of agenda”.
He added: “Canon Jeffrey John is plainly not within the parameters of orthodoxy, as evidenced by his public call for the Church to approve life-long same-sex unions.
“We will certainly be considering every option, including the review of payment of our quota.”
Evangelical churches tend to contribute more as they are generally bigger, explained Mr Dobbie, “and their members tend to give sacrificially”.
Although he declined to discuss the figures or percentages involved, he said that his actions would reflect the “shock, sadness and incredulity” of his congregation at Dr John’s appointment.
“We would be looking at elements of the quota that we believe we could not in conscience give if it’s going to be used in the furtherance of this kind of agenda. I have yet to raise this with the [parochial] council, but we will certainly be looking at that once we’ve had time to digest and assess the ramifications of this appointment.”
Another parish priest in St Albans, who refused to be named, said that he too was considering capping the quota by “up to 10 per cent” – a loss to the diocese of several thousand pounds annually.
“As far as many evangelicals are concerned, we are very frustrated because we feel that we are being pushed out even though we’re the orthodox ones,” he said.
“When the Archbishop of Canterbury set up the Eames Commission last October [to investigate the impact of homosexual ordination on the Anglican Communion], he appealed for calm.
“We have kept our end of the bargain up till now, but with Jeffrey John’s appointment, they’ve provoked us into action.”
Frank Knaggs, the executive officer of the Church of England Evangelical Council and a member of the General Synod, said that quota capping would be happening “all over the country”.
“I know of at least 20 parishes in the St Albans diocese which are seriously considering capping their quotas as a manifestation of people’s frustration. If it went ahead, the Church of England would be bust in no time as we [evangelical churches] are the biggest givers.”
Parish share is calculated according to numbers on the electoral roll or church membership. More than one third of Sunday churchgoers are evangelical and in 2002, non-evangelical churches had an average income of £40,000 while the average evangelical church income was £84,000.
Income from evangelical churches represents about 40 per cent of total parish church income, which stood at almost £450 million in 1999. If every evangelical church in the country capped their quotas, it could cost the Church of England about £200 million. This would leave it unable to pay all its clergy stipends or its pensions and, in effect, bankrupt it within a few years.
The Rev David Holloway, the vicar of Jesmond Parish Church in Newcastle, said that his congregation had already introduced quota-capping after a series of same-sex blessings in neighbouring churches.
“The homosexual agenda is positively wrong,” he said. “As parish priests we have a moral problem because you have a duty to make sure that your congregation’s money goes precisely where the donors want it to go. It’s like ethical investment.
“I have to say that the appointment of Jeffrey John is very serious and it is now not so much a question of when the split will be, it is the split. It is a complicated, countrywide issue.”
Dr John was appointed Bishop of Reading last July, despite revealing that he was in a long-standing celibate homosexual relationship. Then, evangelical churches in the Oxford Diocese also threatened to cap the parish share, eventually forcing Dr John to stand down from the new post.
A spokesman for the Diocese of St Albans said: “We haven’t yet heard anyone say this to us at this stage. We’ve always accepted that the appointment would prompt debate both locally and nationally. We accept that there will be a range of views and that Christians will want to take time to reflect.”
• The Lesbian and Gay Christian Movement yesterday called for the Church of England to perform same-sex marriage ceremonies.
At its annual general meeting in London, attended by more than 100 delegates, the movement said that the Church should “strive for theological recognition of partnerships”.