Open letter to the Chief Officer and Assembly Trustees...M&Ms again!
Dear Dave, John, and the Assembly Trustees,
Having watched your pre-General Assembly interviews, I can see you are making some headway into the reforms needed within our Church and I hope your vision and hard work will allow new shoots of life to appear in the months and years to come.
BUT one thing in particular niggles me, M&M contributions! As you applaud the wider Church, quite rightly, for adapting to pandemic conditions and in various ways meeting needs in local communities, and as you applaud the wider Church for meeting 95% of the M&M target, can I make a plea for the 5% sitting in the naughty seat?
I’ve read your GA Report.
1. You state that there has been a significant reduction in income for local congregations, yet 95% target has been achieved. Does that mean the reduction was not significant or did you leave congregations to scramble around for every penny of their reserves to meet the target?
2. You state it will be well into 2021 before you have a complete picture of the finances of the Church. 15 months on from the start of the pandemic, I am glad the Government did not wait for the financial picture to be complete, otherwise many businesses and individuals would be well up the creek without a paddle! There has been no financial help from central Church as far as I can see for local congregations, only an untimely early pandemic letter telling us all to keep up our giving!
3. 2021 offers an 18% blanket reduction in M&Ms to allow congregations to recover. Welcome by many I’m sure, although I see my congregation seems only to have been reduced by 15%. This would have been a welcome reduction in normal circumstances to allow congregations to keep more money for mission, however some congregations not in need at this time will benefit when this extra money should have been targeted at the 5% in the first instance because of the extraordinary circumstances of this last year. And why give a blanket reduction and at the same time ask for the moratorium on M&M contributions to be lifted so that some congregations can be asked for more? It seems like giving to take away again.
4. Drawing on reserves to the tune of £11m cannot continue, you say, or we shall be out of reserves within 5-10 years. Friends, it is raining, heavily, spend the money!
5. The archaic M&M system is being replaced by “Giving to Grow”, hallelujah! But wait, you want to delay introduction until 2023? And even then you might not introduce it? The Report says the M&M system lacked clarity, was seen as a disincentive to local mission, and felt like a tax, and yet you want to continue it for several more years? Please, no! Giving to Grow is fair, transparent, easy to understand, adaptable to changing circumstances, a driver for change, an incentive to mission, and effective – your words, not mine – so if it is so right, let’s just do it now!
6. Your Report says that the hardest hit congregations will be given “support to explore options for navigating through the coming months.” After being promised a Task Force in the new year to tackle this problem, it was finally set up on 1st April 2021, a notable date! Falkirk Trinity, being one of a number of “targeted congregations”, received a very personal e-mail headed “To whom it may concern”! In a new era where communication is key, this is poor. In order to get support from this Task Group you have to complete a form as long as the longest arm I know which would take several people many hours to complete. And for what? To receive tailored recommendations!! NO FINANCIAL SUPPORT WOULD BE MADE AVAILABLE FROM CENTRAL FUNDS. Even the Conservative Government has made financial support available!
7. If 95% M&M has been paid for 2020, equating to £41.5 m, then by my calculations that leaves £2m short. Use the reserves and wipe out this “unprecedented” shortfall in local congregations.
8. For those who have read thus far, well done! Falkirk Trinity Church, at which I am privileged to be minister, has contributed approx. £100,000 for several years in M&M, but we ran a very successful community café, had umpteen lets, and held many events in our buildings, all of which ceased when the pandemic hit. Our income from members had held up remarkably well, but this other income has gone and we prudently decided to make 50% M&M contributions to manage cash flow. We are not struggling, we have good offerings, and we have money in the bank that is sadly exclusively for property, but we are struggling to pay the high M&M figure which is based on income which for last year and this year does not exist. For years we have paid into the system to help others, all we are asking is for the “unprecedented” shortfall to be cleared and a more realistic replacement for M&M to be introduced sooner rather than later.
9. I hear a new appointment at 121 has been made, a new Head of Faith Action. I am sure it will prove a positive move, but it does draw the thought: if you cannot afford to lower the M&M contribution from my congregation (which is enough to pay for the salary of me and the new Head) then how can you afford the salary of the new appointment and why was it not deferred until a later date?
On behalf of this small corner of the 5%,
Wondering if there are other 5%ers out there,
Hoping that GA Commissioners will not let this go unnoticed,
Seeking a positive response from you,
Maybe you could give to enable us to grow,
Rev Robert S.T. Allan, Minister of Falkirk Trinity Church of Scotland