The Church of England recently agreed to sell the Octavia Hill estates in South London, housing 1,100 tenants, including key workers like ambulance staff and teachers. The Octavia Hill estate is being sold to the Genesis Housing Group and private housing supplier the Granger Trust. A similar sale of the Waterloo estate to the same partnership of Genesis and Granger last year left tenants facing a 6% rent hike. The Octavia Hill estate was part of a legacy held in trust by the Church Commissioners, which was based on the pioneering work of Octavia Hill, a 19th Century Evangelical social philanthropist and social reformer who sought to ensure that working people could possess affordable housing in London.
The Church of England is big, big business. The Church Commissioners were formed in 1948 to manage the Church’s historical assets, mainly invested in the stock market and property to support the Church ministry. The Church Commissioners acts as the financial controller for the Church of England managing the Church’s pension commitments and fund the work and needs of bishops, cathedrals and parish ministry.
The Church Commissioners are making a 14% annual return on their investments and £100 million a year from property sales. The Church of England at their last valuation in 2004 had investment capital of £4.3bn. The Church of England’s investment policies where questioned when it was revealed it invests about £2.5m of its £900m share portfolio in Caterpillar which has been heavily criticised for supplying vehicles used by Israel to demolish Palestinian homes and building Israel’s Separation Wall. Following pressure form activist groups the Church of England's general synod decided earlier this year to disinvest church funds from companies profiting from Israel's illegal occupation of Palestinian territory. Furthermore, the Church of England receives £200 million in Gift Aid, £60 million in Inland Revenue tax back programs, £200 million in cash and donations by congregations and visitors and £140 million raised through various programmes including letting of church halls, bookstalls and parish magazines.
The BBC’s Watchdog produced a report the 14th of March looking into the sale of the Octavia Hill estates and the 'Key Worker Letting' agreements might be in risk for thousands of residents.
So what does the Church of England spend these financial resources on? A report published last year indicates, £4.5 million spent on parish mission funding, £104 million in clergy pensions, £20 million in bishop’s ministry, £27 million on ministry support for dioceses and £6.5 million in cathedral’s ministry. Having a financially solvent Church is necessary, however the methods to generate this solvency is where the Church of England has failed time after time.
A report published by the General Synod in July 2005 says the Church has allowed itself to “drift apart from society”, undermining its mission to the whole nation. Some parts of the Church are little more than a club for existing members”. The Church has systematically compromised its’ basic principles by placing the financial needs of its administration before the needs of the people it serves. Unfortunately this is not a new phenomenon. Earlier this year the General Synod finally acknowledged complicity in the slave trade after hearing that the Church had run a slave plantation in the West Indies and that individual bishops had owned hundreds of slaves (the Church's missionary arm, the Society for the Propagation of the Faith in Foreign Parts, owned the Codrington plantation in Barbados).
This is NOT a question of faith, but an issue of institutional abuse. Western civilisation has been created by men and women who have lived and worked together under the formula of institutions.
The Octavia Hill estates fiasco illustrates the choice faced by the Church of England in this period of financial prudence. Does it use its' financial influence to preserve and protect the social benefits of the general population (who might be affiliated to other faiths) or does it concentrate on the continued funding of expensive national and local programs aimed mainly at its' constituency of believers?