Church of England bishops criticized for living ‘lavish lifestyles’ as churches struggle to survive

Members of the clergy enter York Minster before a service to consecrate Reverend Libby Lane as the first female bishop in the Church of England, in York, northern England, January 26, 2015. | Reuters/Phil Noble

Financial data released by the Church of England, which shows that each bishop costs the denomination more than $166,000 a year excluding their stipends, is drawing criticism for the “opulence at the top” of the church.

The CofE spends at least $166,000 a year on each of its 42 diocesan bishops in maintaining their houses and paying their expenses, in addition to $64,000 each bishop is given per year as a stipend, according to the data that was released ahead of the sitting of General Synod, which began Friday and will end on Monday.

“As a member of General Synod for over a decade I have questioned the cost of bishops’ lavish lifestyles, and opulence at the top while parishes up and down the country struggle to meet their bills, and even close their door,” said Sam Margrave, a lay member of General Synod and a former local councilor, in a written statement submitted ahead of the conference, The Telegraph reported.

The denomination spends, on average, nearly $98,000 on the ongoing maintenance of each bishop’s house, and 26 bishops live in houses that have more than six bedrooms, the data showed. Mony is also spent on chauffeurs and gardeners. 

“The Church of England as things currently stand is in danger of being one of the country’s largest pyramid schemes. If we are to maintain a presence in every community and have a bias to the poor, we need to change the way money is shared out. … Bishops should be helping the poor, not helping themselves,” Margrave added.

The average annual amount spent per bishop for expenses or hospitality was $74,000 in 2019, and it amounts to a total of more than $3 million, an increase of $663,000 compared with 2015, The Times reported, referring to the same data.

“It’s time bishops ... stopped living like kings or queens while the Church of England goes bankrupt,” Margrave was quoted as saying.

Meanwhile, evangelicals in the General Synod, the Church’s legislative body, are trying to protect the doctrine of the Church amid calls to allow clergy to bless same-sex relationships through a “gender neutral marriage canon.”

“I want to see a gender-neutral marriage canon, such as they have in the Episcopal Church (in the U.S.) or in the Scottish Episcopal Church,” the Bishop of Liverpool, Paul Bayes, said at a national conference of the CofE last Saturday. “And as a necessary but not sufficient first step I want to see conscientious freedom for the Church’s ministers and local leaders to honor, recognize and, yes indeed, to bless same-sex unions whether civil partnerships or civil marriages.”

The Evangelical Group of the General Synod (EGGS) has been working hard this last year to increase evangelical representation. Elections for members of the General Synod are due to take place in the fall. The five-yearly elections were postponed from 2020 due to the Covid crisis.

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