If Labour breaks the links between the Church and state who gets the money?

I read that some senior clergymen want to lose their seats in the Lords, and some Labour MPs think it would be another glorious chapter in their modernising of Britain to abolish an Established Church in England.

I wonder if by chance they have at last been reading some English history, and have stumbled over what a money spinner the Reformation was for Henry and Cromwell? It would be an interesting question who owns the assets stashed away by the Church Commissioners, and who should have title to them if we are to have revoltutionary change in the nature of the Church.

Whilst the Bishops might think it would be automatic that the money and buildings should pass with them in charge to a new and differently structured Anglican Church, the Labour left might have other ideas. They might argue that the Church and state have been so intermingled over the last 500 years, that some if not all of the money and buildings based in England should rest with the state for good causes, a new kind of Lottery giving Labour MPs more power to borrow and spend. Or they might decide to let competition flourish, and split the Endowment between competing religious leaders making a case that they could run a better Church which reached out more than the current Establishment manages.

The Archbishop miight find that opening up the issue of establishment takes the debate in ways he will find less comfortable. There might be no automatic right for him to lead the new Church, which would presumably wish to exercise its new found freedom in unpredictable ways. It would certainly mean an end to the present system of choosing the Bishops and Archbishops with an involvement for 10 Downing Street in the appointments. Who knows, people might even want an elected Archbishop, to create someone with more political and moral authority. Whatever method of choosing a religious leader which the new Church decided upon might result in a different bench of Bishops once it was properly up and running.


  1. Acorn
    December 24, 2008

    It is debatable whether the Church of England should be officially described as a QUANGO. It may have lost its way as a religious entity, but as a corporation, it is doing pretty good; particularly on returns from its £4.8 billion investment portfolio. It has considerable tax advantages as well.

    It is lacking an effective theme for its marketing devision currently. Jesus was not that keen on currency traders operating out of Temples, so there may be some mileage with that one in current circumstances.


  2. Stuart Fairney
    December 24, 2008

    I was with you until you said of Labour MPs they “might decide to let competition flourish”

    I am not aware of too many precedents for this

  3. Elboe
    December 24, 2008

    The what-if questions present no proper argument against disestablishing the church.

    The same type of argument is used to oppose the market economy on the basis that what if x happens and y becomes poorer/socially excluded/left out.

    These concerns are second order points rather than the content of a primary argument against disestablishment.

  4. The Half-Blood Welshman
    December 24, 2008

    In Wales the solution was to strip the church of all endowments dating from before 1660 (on the grounds that up to then it was a “national” church) but leave all the duties gathered after that time. The sum eventually seized amounted to about 25% of all the church’s Welsh assets, after it had been adjusted for inflation (no allowance was made for good stewardship). This, given the necessity of all landowners, many either Nonconformists or Catholics, to pay a tithe until long after the Church in Wales was disestablished, was of the “all cats have four legs my dog has four legs therefore my dog is a cat” logic, and probably had more to do with political posturing than actual practicalities of disendowment.

    What might save the Church of England’s reserves, however, in the unlikely event of anyone finding Parliamentary time to do anything, is twofold:

    1) The Human Rights Act. It might be argued that disendowment would be an attack on a religion, and therefore an infringement to the right to practice religion – a bit technical but a good lawyer could tie the government up in arguments for many years and render the whole thing pointless.

    2) Crucially, rather a lot of that £4.8 billion ( around 75% on some estimates) is underwriting the church’s pension liabilities. If the government took it away, it would under its own rules have to make up the shortfall itself, which would impose a heavy strain on their already creaking rescue packages. I have a funny feeling that the Government might be very reluctant to take with one hand, only to find itself giving back with the other. It would look a bit stupid, apart from anything else, would it not?

    Once the need for most of the 43 Cathedrals and several hundred other Grade I listed buildings to be maintained – failing the church, realistically that will have to be done by the state through English Heritage – suddenly the economics look actually diabolical for the government.

    My guess is that if the hot air (usual at this time of year from the likes of Polly Toynbee, let’s face it) ever leads to anything, the price of the church giving in without fuss to disestablishment would be the dropping of any plans for disendowment.

    That might be a good deal all round. For starters, the church could then get on with reducing the number of bishops and restructuring the parish system, both of which are desperately needed and both of which currently require Acts of Parliament to achieve. Disestablishment may have its drawbacks, but it would definitely have opportunities too.

    And for those who think it would lead to a loss of church influence in national life – well, it ain’t happened in Wales, as I’m sure you know from your time as Welsh secretary. If anything, by turning it into a “national” church rather than an alien incursion, it had the opposite effect. Much would depend on the calibre and force of the leadership after disestablishment, which is an imponderable, assuming it would take at least 10-15 years to happen.

    Sorry to write such a long comment, but it’s an interesting topic. Hope you find it useful. Merry Christmas!

    Reply: Yes, as you say there are precedents. Why do so many of you think, however, that if the government did move against the Church they would be fair, or would balance liabilities versus assets sensibly? They have not done so with the banks, or the Post office pension fund.

  5. Roger Hird
    December 24, 2008

    You may be right in your assumption that those concerned about the establishment of the Church of England have not considered the issues you raise – partly because I think you have a somewhat unhistorical picture of how the present financial structure of the Church came about but mainly because it seems so unlikely that any Government would seriously try to sequester the funds that pay the pensions of the clergy and lay workers, which make up so much of the Church’s assets – though if the State were, in doing so, also to take on the linked pension liabilities it might not be too bad a bargain. After all, over most of the Church in recent decades we have moved on from assuming that our clergy will be paid from ancient endowed funds to having to raise the money ourselves. It is some years since my own, Southwark, Diocese received central funding towards clergy stipends and we are probably the stronger for learning to looking after ourselves.

    Similarly the Government has shown less and less interest in helping with the maintainance of the ancient listed, mainly rural, churches that make up such a large proportion of the church’s “property”: I can’t imagine that they or other denominations would be keen on taking on the responsibilities of their ownership and management.

    Though I support the establishment I can understand the doubts of many devout members of the Church who doubt its relevance in an increasingly secular state. Oddly, I suspect that for many it is not the “Supreme Governorship” of the Queen but the role of Parliament in vetting the Church’s own legislation and, above all, the role of the Prime Minister in the appointment of bishops that is troublesome.

    I wonder if there is not a sensible halfway house where “Crown” appointments were made by the Queen not on the advice of the PM but on the DIRECT advice of a commission with a majority representation from the Church but with other voices: parliament, government, whatever, to ensure that advice was never given simply on the basis of the internal concerns of the Church.

    By the way, I don’t know if you have read what Rowan Williams actually said on this topic – the full interview in the NS makes fascinating reading:


  6. Cranmer
    December 24, 2008


    His Grace tackled this very topic only yesterday. Amongst other things, he said:

    The Church of England should serve as a spiritual national health service. Any agenda to privatise it wholesale will yield all manner of blows which will see the end of England as a Christian nation in any sense. Setting aside the constitution, what would happen to the Church’s assets? How would one sell off Westminster Abbey, which presently belongs to the nation? And what if the highest bid came from the House of Saud? Would Dan Hannan (who favours disestablishment) be content to see this magnificent structure ‘enhanced’ with a minaret? How would he prevent this? Create another quango – Ofchurch – to ensure adherence to the conditions of sale? Does he propose that each church should produce glossy brochures and send them to parishioners – who would have ceased to be parishioners – in order to attract them to their life-giving spring with money-back guarantees of tasting the water of eternal life? Such is likely to lead to the worst aspects of pseudo-Christian spectacle, and church would become nothing but light entertainment (which, for many, it already is).

    Richest blessings upon you and yours this Cristmas, Mr Redwood. And may 2009 be a year of political regeneration.

    reply: Well said – I had not read it when I wrote my blog, but would have referred if you had inspired me. I recommend your blog to all my readers.

  7. APL
    December 24, 2008

    By the way, disestablishing the CoE is the next step to abolishing the Monarchy, and thence to President Blair/Brown/Mandleson, who cares which of them, they are equally repulsive.

    First the Lords temporal have been neutered (we can thank Lord Strathclyde for that). Now the Lords Spiritual are to get the chop. Next the Crown.

    This is a Labour coup d’ etat. The Tories have failed to opposed the process, as an opposition have been totally impotent.

    By the way, what is going on with the Government of Canada?

  8. Cranmer
    December 24, 2008


    His Grace apologises for mis-spelling Christmas.

    Too much sherry.

  9. Matthew Reynolds
    December 25, 2008

    The C of E was created by a Reformation that led to the established religion of the day being swept away and its lands etc being taken by the state – so it sounds like poetic justice to me . He who lives by the sword dies by it ! The Bishops with the exception of St John Fisher ( hero & martyr ) where cowards in Henry VIII’s time and present day Anglican Bishops should learn from that as the state once again seeks to undermine the established Christianity for its own purposes.

    The differences are of course that in Henry VIII’s time Catholicism was popular & accepted among the populace as that fine book Stripping Of The Altars proves beyond doubt. Now a days Anglicanism is facing internal chaos over women Bishops , gay rights etc and has very few attendees on Sunday’s. In a way it is sad as many Anglicans do a great deal of charity work etc and I have been touched by the kindness of my C of E friends – they do deserve better leadership. The Anglican Bishops should learn from history and understand that by waving the white flag of surrender they are not serving their flocks best interests. These men should remember the courage of Pope St Peter who was crucified upside down for Christ and of Pope Pius XII whose actions & those of other Catholics saved 800,000 Jews from the Nazi’s. Religious Leaders need to stand up & be counted when the going gets tough !

    The Anglicans broke with Rome and their leadership have been compromising with every passing fad ever since – hence the criticism that they believe in everything & nothing. As Pope Benedict XVI has shown upholding the values of The Kingdom Of God & gaining converts for Christ are more important. It is interesting that many morally conservative types in the Anglican Church like the views of His Holiness on many moral issues and despair of the lack of leadership from Canterbury. By the Grace of God the Supreme Pontiff has the divinely sanctioned powers to hold the line and stop internal splits from blowing up a la the Anglican Communion. I hope for miracles & conversions that result in Newman’s Sainthood finally being acclaimed.

    Try telling all the Catholic Priests I know who are former C of E folk that these remarks are wide of the mark ! Like Cardinal Newman they where led by the kindly light towards the truth…

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