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National Estate Churches Network
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National Estate Churches Network
World News

Estimated '4-fold' fuel bill increases will make most estate churches unviable, says bishop

by Donna Birrell

There are concerns that heating costs in some churches in low-income communities could lead to some of the buildings becoming unviable. 

A new study being carried out by Dave Champness, the National Church of England's Estates Evangelism Consultant, is looking into the impact of the fuel crisis on estate churches. 

So far, the research has found that the average fuel bill for a church on a social housing estate with more than 500 homes or in an income deprived community will increase from £4,579 in 2019 (6 per cent of income) to £21,000 ( 26 percent of income) this winter.

Rt Rev Lynne Cullens, Bishop of Barking and chair of the National Estate Churches Network, which is an ecumenical network for Christians living and working on UK housing estates, told Premier: 
"That's a four-fold increase. It will make most estate churches unviable, so unable to offer the services that will be demanded of them.

"Churches are anxious to offer warm hubs and warm spaces, but they don't have the funds to do so.
"We have 2,500 Church of England estate churches in this country, that's about a fifth of the total number of parishes and they are in areas on the whole that are low income communities. 

"So we've gone as estate churches from offering cultural enhancement to emergency first aid. 

"They are providing support to some of the most vulnerable people in this country. So if those churches aren't viable and don't survive, then the communities that they serve will be in desperate need".

Last week, the energy regulator said the price cap for millions of households in Britain would jump 80 per cent to an average of £3,549 a year from October, but with no cap for businesses some have reported facing hikes of more than 300 per cent on their energy bills. 

Britain's pub and brewing industry on Tuesday called on the government to outline an urgent support package to prevent eye-watering increases in energy costs causing irreversible damage to the sector.

Bishop Lynne said something must be done to prepare and help churches for what's to come. 
"At diocesan and national level, I think there's a need to consider how best we equip our parishes generally, to serve in this time of crisis," he said. 

"What support local and national government are able to offer - we are key stakeholders as church and we should be bold in asking for what we need to support the communities we serve. I think also the diocese needs to consider how we protect our income deprived communities and what central funding might be available.

"We also need to look at how we speak into the issues of social injustice and the growing inequality that we have in the country. God's vision is to fill the hungry with good things and for the rich to be sent away empty. But our current system of taxation, coupled with increasing constraints on benefits does precisely the opposite of that. So how do we speak into those issues of inequality that cause crises like this to be so much more acutely felt by those on low incomes?"

Bishop Lynne, who is also chair of the Church of England's Estates Evangelism Task Group, said there are practical things people can do to reduce the amount their church has to spend on heating. 

Her ideas include joining together in one church for worship rather than in several, creating a warm hub that alternates between churches and meeting in smaller rooms at church. She would also like to see congregation members knit or donate socks, gloves, scarves and hats and put them in boxes in churches for people to take away.

Dave Champness is asking for more estate churches to send in projected gas and electricity bills for their church buildings compared with the same period last year. You can email them to [email protected]


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