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 Issues | The Church | Church Commissioners

This page is part of the explanation of the financial structures of the Church of England.


The Church Commissioners were formed in 1948 by the merger of two charitable bodies.

Queen Anne's Bounty was established in 1704 to improve clergy incomes and housing in areas of need

The Ecclesiastical Commissioners were empowered by Parliament in 1840 Parliament to redistribute some of the Church's historic resources to make "additional provision for the cure of souls in parishes where such assistance is most required".

In 1998 the new National Institutions Measure revised the role of the Church Commissioners so that now their purpose is primarily to obtain the best possible long-term return from diversified investment portfolio

  • to meet pension commitments to provide maximum sustainable funding
  • to support work such as Bishops, Cathedrals and parish ministry
  • In doing so, to pay particular regard to making additional provision for the cure of souls in parishes where such assistance is most required"
  • To administer the legal framework for pastoral reorganisation and settling the future of redundant churches.

In 2003 the Commissioners made the following payments:

£ Million
Guaranteed annuity payments to clergy
Grants to Dioceses distributed via the Archbishops Council
 -  Stipends of clergy in areas of need
 -  Parish mission grants
 -  Non selective funding for parishes
Clergy Pensions (all service prior to 1998)
 - Transitional relief for Dioceses (re Pensions)
Bishops stipends, housing, office and working costs
Cathedral stipends & grants towards other costs
Other church bodies
Clergy resigning because of women priests
Church Buildings
Administration and restructuring

Guaranteed Annuities were guarantees given to parishes when much of the assets of the Church was stripped from the local parishes. Historic parishes often had very substantial income and the guaranteed annuities were a form of compensation. They were frozen at a certain point and in 2004 the General Synod voted to phase them out.

The Commissioners also provide funds for car loans for clergy, loans to parishes to provide for assistant clergy, loans to Dioceses

Misuse of assets?

The "general fund" was set up by the Church Commissioners' Measure 1947. This measure established that the income from the fund be held on discretionary trust mainly for supporting poor parishes and poor clergy. Over the years the words "general fund" has been expanded to include other funds held by the Church Commissioners; various Measures have subsequently been enacted which provide for payments to be made out of the "general fund".

A group called the Parishes Protection Group argued for some time that the various Measures had not in fact changed the 1947 Measure so that the discretionary fund is still in force. Therefore since this fund is a restricted fund under the terms of the 1947 Measure (Section 10(6) ) the original bequest has been breached.
Whether this is correct or not it is clear that the Church Commissioners funds have for some time been used for purposes for which they were never intended. This is principally because the pension provisions has largely been foisted onto the Commissioners.


It is now significant that as much money is being used by the Commissioners to support Bishops and Cathedrals as is used to support parishes. This is a cosy arrangement since the Bishops are heavily represented as Church Commissioners (all Diocesan Bishops used to be Commissioners) and means that neither Bishops nor Cathedrals are in any way accountable to the Dioceses they claim to represent.

In 2004 the Commissioners put forward a proposal for the financing of Bishops to be passed to the Dioceses. This caused apoplexy amongst some of the Bishops not least Christopher Herbert, the Bishop of St. Albans who later in the year went on to appoint Jeffrey John as Dean of the Cathedral despite strong opposition in the Diocese. The process demonstrated that liberal Bishops such as Herbert are completely unaccountable and have no regard to the teaching of the Church.


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