Recently someone complained to me that the price of the large candles that we sell in our church, 30 pence, would be multiplied by six or seven times in churches in London, even though the cost price is much less than 30 pence. He asked why. I told him that it is because in London the priest receives his salary from those who buy candles. They are not buying a candle, they are paying the priest. This fact raises the whole question of how we should pay for our churches and our priests. What are the options?
One option is the Greek-Romanian one: the State pays the clergy so that in fact the priests are civil servants. In our view this is a very bad option. First of all, the State is a notoriously bad payer. For example, Romanian priests receive a miserable 200 euros a month, on which they cannot live. However, far, far worse than this, it means that Romanian clergy, from the Patriarch down, are all servants of the State. Sometimes there are the most unfortunate consequences of such a loss of freedom. There is a parallel here with the slavish Church of England, which for the most part follows the policies of whatever atheist Prime Minister is in power. He, after all, appoints all the bishops of the Church of England, making it even more into a bastion of the Establishment. For instance, as one Anglican put it recently, 100 years ago the Church of England was against sodomy, but in favour of fox-hunting, whereas today it is in favour of sodomy, but against fox-hunting. So flows the Establishment tide; the Gospel can easily become irrelevant.
Another option is the ‘candle one’. Not just candles, however. You can charge a great deal for icons, books, crosses, holy water and you can charge, according to a fixed tariff, for baptisms, weddings, memorials, services of intercession etc. The problem with this is that people may well complain about how expensive it is. How can an hour’s work on the part of the priest be priced at £100 and more? (I am told that in the Church of England a wedding costs £400!). How can a 1,000% profit on a candle or an icon or a book be justified? Naturally, people will then, inevitably, start looking at the priest’s car, his wife’s clothes, his house etc. And that is how nasty rumours start and even people stop coming to church. And this, even though the priest’s possessions and his family may all be modest. This is because most of the money raised does not in any case go to the priest at all, but towards the costs of running the church, paying for repairs, maintenance, insurance, heating, electricity, water, the choir etc.
For me there is only one way of financing a church. This is that people become parishioners and begin giving a proportion of their income to the church, paying it directly from their bank accounts to the parish bank account. One question remains. How much should they give? Certainly not a tithe, as in the Jewish Old Testament. We would suggest 2%, of which 1% should go to the priest and 1% should go for the upkeep and adornment of the church. This would mean that for every 100 wage-earners there would be a priest who earns exactly the average wage of his parishioners, and there would be a parish church. On the basis of the ability of a priest to confess 100-200 adult parishioners (of whom 100 are wage-earners) and look after their children, as well as deal with another 100-200 or more irregular visitors, this proposition would surely seem reasonable.