Many dioceses evade pandemic year cash crunch—at least for now

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In October and as part of a years-long plan, the diocese of Fredericton sold some underused property near its cathedral. Property sales—some planned, others in response to financial pressures—have helped some dioceses fill budgetary gaps. Photo: Morris PhotoGraphics

The COVID-19 pandemic is first and foremost a public health crisis. But its economic effects have also been profound—and have prompted varied responses from dioceses across the Anglican Church of Canada seeking to maintain their financial health.

To get a better sense of how dioceses are weathering the financial storm of the pandemic, the Anglican Journal reached out to executive staff members of Anglican dioceses across Canada. The resulting feedback offered a diverse picture. Some dioceses were able to provide more detailed responses to our inquiries, and not all were able to contribute to this report. But from the information the Journal received, a number of common trends emerged.

Perhaps the most universal trend was the cost savings incurred from reduced travel and the shift of church activities online. Many dioceses invested in technology for their parishes, such as purchasing Zoom accounts. However, these expenses were generally less than the cost of travel and accommodations prior to the pandemic.

Another common trend was the key role played by the Canada Emergency Wage Subsidy (CEWS) in helping sustain diocesan finances. Many dioceses cited the federal wage subsidy as helping maintain their financial health during the pandemic. However, not all dioceses qualified for CEWS. In such cases, dioceses found alternative ways to live within their means. The diocese of Caledonia, for example, moved its offices from rented space in Terrace, B.C., to the cathedral in Prince Rupert. (Indeed, diocesan real estate transactions have made some headlines during the pandemic. The diocese of Eastern Newfoundland and Labrador announced the sale of its office to close budget gaps [Anglican Journal, Dec. 2020, p. 11], while the diocese of Fredericton listed its office and unused bishop’s residence as part of a long-term plan.)

Dioceses based in large urban centres generally had greater resources to respond to the pandemic. The diocese of New Westminster, based in Vancouver, was able to provide $1.73 million in financial support to parishes, as well as technology grants. However, even in dioceses with more resources to draw upon, smaller parishes and those in more remote areas often found it more difficult to cover their expenses in the wake of the pandemic, with fundraising and rental income out of the picture.

While the overall impact of the pandemic on finances varied greatly, a majority suggested that they had been able to maintain financial health through a combination of the CEWS, reduced travel expenses and the benefits of previous stewardship efforts. Uncertainty remains, particularly after the scheduled end of the CEWS in December.

“This pandemic has brought its share of suffering,” Archdeacon Alan Perry, general secretary of General Synod, told the Journal. “Obviously our first thoughts are with those who have suffered illness and those who have died or have lost friends and family to COVID-19. But even those of us fortunate enough to have escaped the disease have faced uncertainty, anxiety and stress.”

Perry noted, though, that crisis is sometimes an opportunity in disguise. “Clergy, and bishops and volunteers, and staff in parishes, dioceses and the national office, have worked hard—often heroically— to find and learn new ways of continuing to do God’s work throughout these uncertain times. Those new skills are helping us to navigate the pandemic, but will also serve us well in the future. This time of uncertainty has been an opportunity for us to discover afresh God’s grace, our resilience and the strength that comes from working together and supporting each other.

“In addition, we have been greatly blessed by people’s generosity. We’re very grateful for individual donors who have maintained or even increased their support for God’s mission in parishes, dioceses and at the national level. And we’re grateful for dioceses that have continued to support the work of the General Synod through their proportional giving.”

Read on for more detailed responses from the dioceses.

Algoma

Archbishop Anne Germond says that the diocese of Algoma has been “working diligently to communicate well with the parishes of the diocese throughout the pandemic, encouraging them to do what they can in submitting their monies for apportionment and stipend.” Regular meetings were held with parish leaders “keeping them apprised of the wage subsidy program and [assuring] them that we would do everything to pay everyone on the payroll.”

Germond says these meetings have been very beneficial and will continue. Being able to meet online has also benefited lay members who previously took vacation days or struggled with travel. The diocese has seen cost savings from the move to virtual meetings, and it expects the same in 2021.

Parishes have seen some income drop because of COVID, especially those that depend on fundraising, but open talk of stewardship has resulted in increased giving.

British Columbia

Gail Gauthier, director of finance for the diocese, says the synod office administers an electronic giving plan in which many parishes started participating before the pandemic. After in-person services were suspended, more joined, “while others arranged to drop off their monthly envelope givings at parish offices under safe protocol procedures.”

While electronic giving has flowed, most rental income ceased and fundraising efforts like fairs were put to a halt. However, food assistance programs brought in donations from the community. Similarly, costs of hosting a virtual synod were offset by savings on catering.

A diocesan fund for parish emergency relief, along with the CEWS, has helped churches, Gauthier says. The diocese has also supported parishes by providing Zoom and Vimeo licenses.

Caledonia

The diocese of Caledonia has been working on “our ongoing desire to live within our means,” says Bishop David Lehmann. This has included a recent move from rented office space into offices inside the cathedral in Prince Rupert, B.C.

Lehmann says the diocese did not qualify for the CEWS. “We’re limping along,” he says, noting that parishes were only closed two and a half months to in-person worship. Diocesan worship was held online before in-person worship returned in mid-June.

 

Calgary

“The diocese set apart several hundred thousand in funds for parishes who [requested] help with the finances; and we looked after the paperwork to ensure that our parishes received the CEWS and other government funding that was appropriate,” Archdeacon Pilar Gateman says. “The giving situation has been a mixed picture—some parishes have seen decline, others have held their own, and a few have seen an increase.”

In its own budget, Calgary has seen savings from reduced travel and a shift to virtual meetings. As the pandemic continues, Gateman says, the diocese is considering “what lessons we are learning about what … ways of doing things might be jettisoned, or at least modified, and what new things we have taken on (e.g. electronic meetings) might become part of our new way of operating.”

Edmonton

The diocese remains on budget due to the generosity of congregations as well as the CEWS, says John Gee, secretary-treasurer. It has not been able to provide direct subsidies to parishes, but Gee says “almost all of our parishes have been able to cope.”

Increases in direct-debit giving have helped parishes maintain revenue, with some able to share funds with less fortunate parishes. The diocese has saved on travel costs, though Gee says they don’t constitute a large part of the budget.

“Our limited re-opening of worship has been successful so far and is financially sustainable,” Gee says.

Gee says his concerns about sustainability haven’t grown beyond “those I already had before the pandemic, which are basically confined to certain rural areas.”

The diocese has been able to continue with existing priorities in the 2021 draft budget.

Fredericton

The diocese helped parishes address short-term financial issues and deferred collecting shared ministry assessments until the impact of the pandemic was known, says the Rev. David Peer, executive officer of synod and secretary. The diocese then reduced shared ministry requests—most parishes saw reductions in giving—and the treasurer centralized submission for the CEWS. “As we look back on the year, with the assistance of the wage subsidy and the reduced demand on diocesan resources our financial position is sound,” Peer says.

The diocese also recently saw the sale of some key properties. Archbishop David Edwards tells the Journal that the recent sale of the diocesan office and the unused bishop’s rectory had been discussed for at least a decade. He cites Peer’s work towards the sale, which began before the pandemic.

Reduced travel, curtailed programs and virtual meetings led to a 5.5% reduction in expenses. The diocese plans on keeping expenses reduced by 5% next year, with those savings offered back to parishes as reduced assessments, Peer says. The draft budget will hold contributions to General Synod “at historic levels.”

On the parish level, Edwards has seen “some parishes where giving is up year-over-year. There’s some where it’s pretty stable, and there are others where it’s down.” He says this “mixed picture” would likely hold true for most dioceses.

Edwards also noted that there has been a great deal of variation in how dioceses in the ecclesiastical province of Canada have fared, given disparities in infection counts and government response. In New Brunswick, he says, the government communicated openly with the church.

Huron

After the March shutdown, “the diocese of Huron assured all parishes and clergy that ministry would continue, that leadership was needed more than ever, and that it was a great time to invest in our common life—that the church would be needed to lead during this time,” says Bishop Todd Townshend.

The bishop says members responded generously and losses were primarily felt around now-impossible activities like rentals and fundraising. “A healthy uptick in automatic pre-authorized givings to our churches has been experienced,” he says. Townshend also cites the CEWS as sustaining the pastoral workforce, in combination with gifts received.

The diocese has seen savings from travel and meeting costs, as well as slight hydro savings. A virtual synod was held in September “at a greatly reduced cost.”

Indigenous Spiritual Ministry of Mishamikoweesh (Northern Manitoba Area Mission)

The pandemic has not significantly affected sources of funding for 2020, says Bishop Larry Beardy, suffragan bishop of Northern Manitoba Area Mission. Among these sources Beardy counts the national church, the Council of the North, donations from the parishes and communities in Northern Manitoba, and the diocese of Brandon, which is in the third year of a four-year funding commitment.

Beardy says it is unclear what will happen in the future. “I’ve been in consultation with … an elders advisory group. Basically what we said was, during COVID, parishes cannot provide any funding towards any of the work for Northern Manitoba.” Instead Beardy says they hope to work with local leadership to open up communication with the federal government.

Further uncertainty comes from the Indigenous church’s vision for self-determination, which may include the creation of a fifth province in the Anglican Church of Canada.

Montreal

“Early on in March, we decided to give the parishes a six-month break from diocesan assessments,” Bishop Mary Irwin-Gibson tells the Journal. “We also paid for one month of payroll for the clergy” before becoming eligible for the CEWS.

The bottom line, she says, is that churches have all had respite. Assessments were further suspended through the end of the year, to resume in January.

“Some parishes have really been propelled into a much more efficient means of being in touch with their parishioners,” Irwin- Gibson says. One parish, St. Barnabas in Pierrefonds, even got itself out of debt during the pandemic. Others may not be able to adapt—and survive—“because they were just too tired or too few on the ground.”

She says parishes that did not have preauthorized or online giving struggled more than others. Parishes that close, though, will need to make that decision on their own.

Moosonee

The diocese has experienced “a full range of situations” during the pandemic, says Patricia Dorland, chief financial officer. Parishes that depended on fundraising efforts for revenues have been “heavily affected,” while those that quickly enacted alternate means of collecting donations have remained steady, she says. “Parishes who had previously worked at faithful stewardship are well placed with comparative or even slight increases in financial contributions.”

While the diocese has not offered any kind of jubilee, no clerics have been laid off due to suspension of worship. Along with the CEWS, she notes that travel costs—for meetings, episcopal visitations and clergy with multi-point parishes—have decreased, at the price of greater isolation.

The diocese plans to remit the full assessable amount to the national church in 2021. It will also need to determine, she says, whether virtual gatherings are effective for intimate sharing and compassionate listening.

New Westminster

The diocese has been able to provide $1.73 million in financial support to its parishes, says Shailene Caparas, director of finance. Assessments were cancelled for five months, while the diocese paid salaries of priests in parishes with less than $750,000 in consolidated trust. Parishes were also authorized to draw up to 20% of their funds out of the trust. In the fall, the diocese added $132,000 of support for technology grants for livestreaming needs, and it underwrote the cost of Zoom licenses for the pandemic’s first six months.

“We also initiated appeals and offered recommendations to the federal government to ensure our parishes would be eligible for the available government subsidies,” Caparas says.

The pandemic has moved the diocese into exploring how to “to serve God’s mission with our finances—in lieu of envelope giving, almost all parishes now have the online giving option.”

In 2021, salaries for clergy and lay staff will be kept at the current level. Before the pandemic, the diocese decided to increase its commitment to the national church and has maintained that through 2020, despite the financial challenges it is facing.

Niagara

At the fall synod, Budget Chair Gerry Anthony said that in recent years, the diocese had managed its resources well, according to a news update posted Nov. 9 on the diocese’s website. As a result, he said “we are heading into the next year in a relatively good position, all things considered.” The $3.6-milllion 2021 budget forecasts a deficit of $473,000, he said, though the diocese plans to cover it by drawing on its investments and selling property in 2020.

The budget sets aside $250,000 for parishes unable to meet their usual contributions toward diocesan mission and ministry and $30,000 in grants to help them with new technologies; it also eliminates interest on receivables to help cash-strapped parishes.

Canon Jody Beck, the diocese’s treasurer and director of finance, said employment expenses would decrease in the 2021 budget, which would not include a cost-of-living increase. The diocese is cutting expenses in travel, in-person programs and other ways, and is planning a targeted stewardship campaign.

Ontario

A surplus for diocesan operations is forecast for the end of the year due to reduced expenditures, executive officer and financial officer Alex Pierson says.

The CEWS played a major role in reducing the impact of lower income within churches. The diocese of Ontario has created a “Pandemic Church Support Fund,” generated mostly by CEWS contributions. It has provided a grant program to assist churches with technology to support online worship, and forgiven interest on insurance invoices that were billed to church accounts in February.

The move to online worship has resulted in financial giving from people not normally part of a congregation. In general, Pierson says, churches with pre-authorized giving programs saw less of a decline in income due to the pandemic. COVID-19 will likely “accelerate the end of life” for some congregations and buildings that were already facing challenges.

Ottawa

Parishes in the diocese of Ottawa have felt varied financial impacts from COVID-19, according to Canon Linda Hill, executive archdeacon.

“Some smaller parishes that have been financially struggling for years are finding that COVID is bringing them into a crisis situation,” she says. “Our bishop is committed to being personally engaged in talking with them about what the future holds, but it can be a difficult time for those involved.”

One parish saw its decision to close accelerated by the pandemic, she says. “But many parishes have received amazingly steady and generous financial support from their parishioners, and that, along with government wage subsidies, has allowed them to maintain their ministry commitments including outreach to those in need.”

Hill says support offered to parishes came from collective diocesan resources.

Territory of the People

The Territory of the People, like other parts of the church, applied for and received the CEWS when it qualified for it, says Bishop Lincoln McKoen. While the church “is facing basic questions around financial sustainability,” McKoen says the more existential questions concern the church’s nature and its future need for buildings.

McKoen says the diocese has budgeted accordingly for 2021. “While we are presenting a negative budget for approval, excellent financial stewardship over the past years has allowed the Territory to be able to weather this crisis.”

Qu’Appelle

Bishop Robert Hardwick launched an Easter appeal at the online diocesan Easter service, but money collected was to be used for community outreach rather than church expenses. The diocese promised to match funds raised, which totaled $42,947.

“In most cases, the generosity of the faithful continues” within the diocese, Archdeacon Catherine Harper says. “The diocese has been blessed during this time by the receipt of bequests,” she adds.

Reduced travel has meant savings, as Harper notes that investments in Zoom accounts are less expensive than travel. Some parish support staff have been laid off, while parishes have lost rental income. The diocese has asked parishes to submit yearly comparison figures in order to determine its eligibility for government benefits.

Quebec

The diocese of Quebec has not modified its 2020 budget, according to Marie-Sol Gaudreau, director general. While it has not offered any specific aid to parishes in 2021, it is planning a relief package for 2021, she says.

The diocese has seen reduced travel and meeting costs, but no synod-related savings as it had not planned on meeting in 2020. For 2021, the diocese has approved a deficit budget, “therefore sustainability issues are certainly a concern,” Gaudreau says.

“For the moment, since a deficit budget was approved, the diocese will have to rely on its investment strategy to be able to meet its cash flow requirements” in 2021, she says.

Toronto

At the start of the pandemic, the diocese of Toronto provided a three-month jubilee for payments related to clergy remuneration and diocesan allotment, says Rob Saffrey, executive director. “The cost of this was approximately $4.5 million dollars and will be covered from the sale of some vacant land owned by the diocese. Our parishes have indicated that this has helped them significantly and many of them are approaching the end of the year in reasonable financial condition given the overall state of uncertainty.”

Saffrey notes that the suspension of in-person services has led to changes that could not have been foreseen in 2019. “Many of our churches are livestreaming their services and have enhanced their ability to receive donations from various online platforms. We anticipate that many of these changes will continue.”

Synod will move online for 2021.

Western Newfoundland

“We will finish 2020 with a balanced budget,” Bishop John Organ says, expressing gratitude for parishioners’ generosity.

Organ says the CEWS “significantly bridged the gap of lost income due to COVID-19” and “made a huge and positive difference for us financially.” He says the diocese is in a better position to cope with challenges that come in 2021.

Digital technology has helped save 50% of travel and hotel costs, the bishop says. “We have become more adept and comfortable with technology and it will remain in use on a diocesan level and also, I suspect, at the ecclesiastical province and national levels.”

Yukon

The diocese has not adjusted its budget during the pandemic, Bishop Lesley Wheeler- Dame says. None of the parishes of the diocese are self-supporting, the bishop adds, so the diocese hasn’t put in place additional financial aid for parishes but has focused on the shift to virtual meetings. While budgets for meetings have gone unspent, she says, donations were below normal year-to-date.

Wheeler-Dame says the technological changes have also raised questions around bandwidth and isolation.

An advisory committee will explore how to plan for the years ahead, with a report expected at the end of March. In the meantime, Wheeler-Dame says, “I don’t think all is doom and gloom. I think that we need to be cautious.”

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One Response

  1. It is all the more important to regenerate the tradition of the Pioneer Mission. In the middle of the 19th Century the plan and function to build and sustain the work was to send the Priest to many remote place across this country and regions to serve i any number of point placement. From their own ability the Priest reached to the People by services conducted in the Daily Office from the side of the wagon or horse. The parish was a virtual theme place where they landed or got off the transit. Those who are able to come, received Communion or worship had the will of Communion. In my military time we called Gun point theology. The guard post became the place and all who were not busy, were able if willing to be in service. I remember great tales of wine and wafer and a homily that was fresh and inviting to the Officers and Men who attended. The celebrant had 15 minutes as duty had to be continued.

    In a very drastic way we had the love of Communion and the presence of the Celebrant for a few minutes , then returning to the work the Parish of the Gun Pit became the tradition of Service and Self in a vastly unique way.

    Many years later and the same theology applies and adapts to the community. Alms and Oblations are replaced by prayers and consecration of water, some wine and the blessing of the healing touch of the Celebrant. My only regret is the touch of N.. as she/ he blessed me my gun mates, Then again the he sentry post trench returned to be called the Alter of holy Hand grenades’. We all need to be reminded the worship is not a place but the very space of unity and holy spirit, by Gods Covenant with us all in nay place or time of gathering.

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