St. Luke’s church in Kentish town lay unused, a dumping ground for Kentish community rubbish for over 20 years. The church building held everything from stoves, to microwaves and minibus seats. The one thing it did not hold: a Sunday church meeting. This Anglican Church was reborn in December 2011. Jon and Sus March, the 30-something vicar and his wife and their three young children, led a small group of founding settlers to reclaim the church building. The church’s mission and vision statement is: ‘to transform communities’ and they do so by engaging people at their point of need. How do they do this?
St. Luke’s is not a ‘top down’ church in structure and practice. Home groups are called ‘Hubs’ and are encouraged to identify people’s needs, face outward to the community, and plan to transform hurts to healings. There are currently eleven of these groups ranging from an Alpha Hub, to a Creative Arts Hub, two Mothers’ or ‘Crumbs’ Hubs, Compassion Hub and a Metal Hub (more on that one later). What needs are being met? The Compassion Hub holds a Tea Party every six weeks for the isolated, elderly and the vulnerable of Kentish Town. Average attendance is over 20. The local council recognizes St. Luke’s as a befriending community and refers local people in need of friends. The Compassion Hub then opens the church doors to those who are alone and hurting. Recently, one participant said, ‘A year ago the only person I would ever see was my carer once a day. Now I have people from the church visiting me and being interested in me . . . it makes me want to live a bit longer, which I didn’t before.’
At the other end of the spectrum is the Metal Hub. This Hub serves as a bridge in the gap between the church and the Camden metal community. A month ago a Metal music night with Christian metal bands was held at the church. A young attendee on the night said, ‘No one thinks you can be a Christian and into metal music.’ By a wonderful twist, a number of local, older neighbours attended the night. Jon, the Vicar, reached out to an elderly neighbour before the event so she would be prepared for the music. She said, ‘I don’t care how loud the music is. I might even sit in my garden and listen. What your church has done is amazing.’ A Hub leader said, ‘We are showing people that Jesus came for you.’
That is what these two seemingly different Hubs have in common: they build community by serving communities. And they do so by identifying people’s needs and meeting them with Jesus.
How is your church reaching the local community? Let us know in the comments below.
We are all aware of the scrutiny that charities in general including churches are coming under from many sectors of society. Whether a general perception that the church is simply “after your money”, to an increasingly cynical media reporting stories that embarrass churches and their leaders, both the substance of what we do as churches and the image that we portray continues to be important for the reputation of church and Kingdom.
Money has power far beyond its intrinsic value. It was Jesus himself that elevated money to the status of an alternative god when he said that we can’t serve both God and money. Accepting its power and considering the teaching of 2 Corinthians 8 and 9, to protect the reputation of the church and by implication of Christ himself is a good place to start.
No leadership team sets out to bring down the reputation of the church, but that image is either enhanced or diminished by the substance of what the church does, what happens within its buildings and how it carries itself in the community. For example, what impression is created if the building from which the church operates is used for activities that do not support the charitable purpose of the church? We have been aware of church premises being used to run private businesses or as a base for political pressure groups which give the impression that they are operated by the church and share its values.
Similarly where the church is involved in legitimate business activities, how it chooses to operate these businesses is important. A poor level of service; poor customer relations; poor employee morale; all reflect badly on the church and serve to feed some of society’s cynicism. Where the church does have legitimate business relationships with the community these should, as far as possible, reflect the image of integrity, generosity and service exemplified by Christ, recognising that there will be times when they may not.
An additional level of awareness should be brought to bear where it is the church leaders themselves that are involved in the money making ventures. This is not limited to their own separate businesses but extends to activities where there is an overlap with their church responsibilities. For example, this may occur when the leader’s family owns the church building and seeks to rent it for non-church related activities during the week or where the intellectual property rights that attach to sermons and songs which start out as kingdom enhancing can become a conflict of interest and create tension when subsequently they are used as a source of income to a church leader.
Some conflicts of interest can be obvious e.g. appointing a building firm owned by a church trustee to work on a church building project, and of course we need to be conscious to limit these, but other conflicts consist of many small things which in and of themselves may not cause concern, but when put together to form a bigger picture portray the church in a less than generous light.
Ever thought what image your church might be giving?
We want to believe that the relationships and trust that are central tenants of church life mean that financial fraud would never take place. Sadly, and often all too late, we can come to realise that this is not always the case. Recent statistics from the National Fraud Office showed that charities remained vulnerable to fraud (with 25% of those reported involving those within the organisation) supporting the view from the Charities Commission that many charities have weaknesses within their fraud prevention policies and that their trustees have gaps in their financial understanding.
Two recent incidents that have come to our attention, highlighting the potential for financial and reputational damage to churches if they do not (even from the best motives) operate simple controls over their finances.
In the first case, a church trustee responsible for putting on conference and other church events requested these to be operated within a personal bank account so that he could deal more efficiently with the numerous suppliers required for these types of events. Some of the money was diverted for personal use with the church hearing of it when the suppliers pressed them for unpaid bills. This cost the church over £10,000 with some difficult pastoral issues thrown in for good measure.
In the second case a church was in the midst of a building project and to ease the administrative burden of getting joint signatures to cheques etc. money was transferred into the personal bank accounts of a church member who was responsible for overseeing the project. Unbeknown to anyone within the church that individual had financial difficulties and used some of the money to relieve them, leaving the church out of pocket to the extent of more than £20,000.
It is important that churches maintain financial controls over funds recognising that it almost never the most appropriate course of action to transfer management from a church bank account to that of an individual simply to ease an administrative burden, however well trusted and regardless of the position that person might hold within the church. If the administration and controls have been designed correctly at the outset, to try and avoid them, inherently removes the very protection that they were intended to provide.
Our briefing paper financial controls in churches and small charities sets out some of the more basic controls that all churches should try to adhere to. In addition, the Charity Commission’s paper CC8 internal financial controls for charities provides further insight. Making good use of the controls in both papers will serve to prevent many situations similar to those set out above from becoming an issue in your church.
A brand new initiative for 2013, sponsored by Stewardship’s give.net and backed by the NHS, asks a vital question: what if the UK church saw blood and organ donation as part of its giving?
A new survey suggests that while individual church members may have a significant interest in
donating blood and organs, the bigger picture shows that it is not encouraged by UK churches as
part of their committed Christian giving.
The survey was conducted by Christian Research on behalf of Kore as part of the fleshandblood
campaign launched earlier this year in partnership with NHS Blood and Transplant (NHSBT).
The survey shows that close to 10% of Christians have given blood in the last year compared to 4%
of the general population who have given blood in the last two years, and almost half of all Christians are registered on the NHS Organ Donor Register compared with 31% of the general population.
However despite these strong levels of engagement the overall findings reveal that many churches in Britain do not yet see blood and organ donation as a part of its giving, with an extremely low 0.3% of respondents stating that either blood or organ donation was a frequent part of their churchʼs teaching and over 75% saying that neither blood nor organ donation was ever mentioned or encouraged by their church.
The Rt Rev James Newcome, Lead Bishop on Healthcare for the Church of England says,
“Extending our understanding of the central Christian themes of generosity and stewardship to
include blood and organ donation has the potential to tangibly transform the giver and the receiver.
The benefit to others is not only life enhancing but can mean the difference between life and death.”
fleshandblood Campaign Director, Juls Hollidge commented, “The church has always been known
for its spirit of generosity. We want to encourage churches and church leaders to explore what it
would mean if, alongside all its other great work, the Church were to see blood and organ donation
as a part of that desire to be generous.”
This unique campaign seeks to equip individuals and churches as advocates for blood and organ
donation enabling them to raise awareness of this key issue with their family, friends and community and potentially help to save thousands of lives each year.
Many churches are in the vital role of supporting and encouraging a mission worker, but what does this actually mean?
In our new paper, Senders’ Guide, Mike Frith demonstrates that mission is a team game and covers the key areas necessary to maintain a strong and enduring partnership between sender and the one who is sent.
Mike is the Director of OSCAR, the UK Information Service for World Mission, and regularly runs workshops for churches to engage with their role as senders. The next ‘open’ workshop will be at our offices in Loughton on Saturday 2 February. For more information or to book, visit www.oscar.org.uk/training
Readers of this blog will know that some, but not all, churches must register as a charity with the relevant charity regulator (the Charity Commission in England and Wales, the Office of the Scottish Charity Regulator in Scotland, and shortly, the Charity Commission for Northern Ireland).
In England and Wales, the temporary Exception from Registration for certain denominational churches with a gross income of under £100,000, which was due to end in October 2012, has again been extended - this time to 31 March 2014.
Churches that should be registered with the charity regulator but haven’t yet done so, are advised not to delay and risk losing out on valuable tax reliefs given to charities. This advice follows a change in tax legislation which means that registration with the regulator is essential.
Let’s try a quick quiz!
How well did you get on? I guess that your pass mark varies depending on whether you are a church leader, a trustee or a member of the congregation.
The role of trustee requires someone who is mature, responsible, trustworthy and has the spiritual interests of the church at heart. Often, church trustees tend not to be self-publicists and so could be very ‘low profile’. They are, however, a body of people with legal authority and so everybody should know who they are – look on your charity’s entry on the Register of charities at www.charity-commission.gov.uk for some of the answers!
If you were able to answer the quiz questions above with ease you have probably got a clearly defined, properly appointed and publicly recognised body of trustees who are functioning very well. If not, you might want to do some research and perhaps tighten up in some areas.
If there are no properly appointed trustees, the results can be chaotic, disruptive and expensive. Sometimes more than one group of people claims to be the trustees and they squabble with each other for control. This can happen in Christian charities.
The recently published investigatory report into the Brotherhood of the Cross and the Star provides a fairly gripping narrative and shows an extreme case of what can happen if there is no properly appointed trustee body. This charitable company ended up in dispute with a Local Authority and on the brink of a High Court order to wind up the company, after years of failing to heed warnings. Eventually, the Charity Commission had no choice but to step in and appoint a solicitor as Interim Manager to salvage and preserve the resources of the charity. Without prompt action, the charity was on the verge of ‘going under’. The rescue was successful, so that eventually new trustees were properly appointed, a plan was devised for the future and the charity is still on the Register. Unfortunately, quite a lot of resources were mis-used and wasted along the way.
Trustees have a responsibility to understand, manage and control the financial activities of their charities. It is all too easy to think that financial loss happens to someone else, not to you: “it really couldn’t happen here”. Yet you can still find yourself facing an unwanted financial situation as events unfold around you. This was the case with a church recently who, for the lack of some basic controls, found themselves facing a £10,000 loss, the danger of unwanted publicity, and a pastoral issue thrown in for good measure.
The church administered conferences, receiving income and paying expenditure from a separate bank account. Suddenly, suppliers to the conferences started contacting the church asking about bills that hadn’t been paid.
After investigation it transpired that the bank account used for the conferences was managed by a single administrator, in fact it was a ‘ministry account’ under their sole control. They had used the account for personal transactions – intending to simply ‘borrow the funds’ for a short while. However, they had been unable to pay the account back and it now looked as if they never would be able to. The suppliers believed they had been supplying the church, and had issued invoices to the administrator in the church’s name and were now looking for the church to settle.
The cost of remedy was higher than the funds lost from the account. It included the pastoral issues that flowed from this failure and the legal costs that were incurred to ensure that the Trustees achieved what was needed to fulfil their responsibilities concerning the loss of charity money, and to the Charity Commission.
Simple best practice is that every bank account a charity uses should be controlled by more than one person. This may take a number of forms but usually requires all payments (or at least all those over a certain sum) to be authorised by two people who are independent of the persons incurring the expenditure, and of any recipient of the payment. In the case referred to us, it was made more complex by the fact that it wasn’t strictly a church bank account and therefore it was uncertain whose money was held in the account. Trustees don’t need to be the ones who do everything but, as can be seen from the cost of dealing with this issue, they do have to have policies in place to cover all aspects of the church’s finances.
More information on financial controls can be found in the briefing paper issued by Stewardship at http://www.stewardship.org.uk/documents/briefing-papers/Financialcontrolsinchurches.pdf
blogs by the Stewardship team and selected guest writers.