IMAGES such as the one above leave me wondering whether bishops engage in contests to see who can flounce about in the most extravagant costumes.
It’s almost as if they’ve just stepped off the set of Pose, an award-winning American TV series about drag balls in the 1980s and early 1990s.
I discovered the pic on Grace + Truth, where, in 2013, John Kuhrt wrote:
Despite growing up in the C of E, I have never got used to the pomp and ceremony which surrounds a Bishop. What Bishops wear in church services is just ridiculous.
How have we created such religion out of following someone who lived so simply? Have we ignored Jesus’ critique of those who “like to walk around in flowing robes and be greeted with respect in the marketplaces,and have the most important seats in the synagogues and the places of honour at banquets.”? (Mark 12:38)
The fondness for such bizarre dress borders on fetishism and increases the distance between ordinary people and the church … In what other organisations would senior people wear clothes which so ostentatiously differentiate themselves from others?
Another question that needs an answer is who pays for the finery of these pompous old queens?
Part of the answer lies in a new report that claims the C of E Synod members are appalled by the amount of money bishops earn, and who are calling for them:
To stop living like Kings or Queens while the Church of England goes bankrupt.
Church officials released new financial data ahead of the sitting of General Synod, the Church’s legislative body, which will run from Friday to Monday.
The data reveals that bishops’ “lavish lifestyles” cost £100,000-a-year on top of their salary. Thank to the churches “opulent” generosity, many enjoy houses with more than six bedrooms. They have gardeners, chauffeurs and lots of dosh for entertaining and hospitality.
And fancy frocks.
The Church of England’s 42 diocesan bishops each earn £46,180 per year. On top of that they receive up to £100,000.
In written questions submitted ahead of the conference, Sam Margrave, a lay member of General Synod and a former local councillor, asked Church Commissioners, who are responsible for managing the Church’s £9.2 billion investment fund, details relating to bishops’ spending in 2020.
The published data shows that the average annual cost of the ongoing maintenance of bishops’ houses is £70,310 per house, that 26 bishops live in houses with more than six bedrooms, and that:
A number of bishops have staff who will on occasion do some driving for them in particular situations.
It also showed bishops had an average local expenses spend of £36,976, and their average spend on meetings and hospitality was £3,200.
However, in 2019, for a pre-Covid-19 comparison, average local spend was £53,446, and average spend on meetings and hospitality was £15,238.
Responding to the latest data, Margrave said:
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.
Parishes are having to find the Parish Share which is a tax on local Churches, some of which goes to the national church.
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.
No one needs to live in a £2 million house. There are plenty of large houses in every diocese near an estate church. It’s time bishops got out into the real world and stopped living like Kings or Queens while the Church of England goes bankrupt.
In response to Mr Margrave’s question submitted ahead of General Synod, Dr Eve Poole, Third Church Estates Commissioner, said:
This question has not been asked since 2015 so we are grateful for its timeliness: in the light of Transforming Effectiveness, we are currently working with bishops to review episcopal costs, so we invite members of Synod to contact the Secretary of the Bishoprics and Cathedrals Committee with any views they may have on this subject.
She added that Church Commissioners are required to provide a house for a diocesan bishop which is “reasonably suitable for the purpose”, and that their stipends and support for their ministry is paid as per the requirements of the Episcopal Endowments and Stipends Measure 1943.
Bishops’ expenses are effectively delegated through the the block grant process, so individual queries would need to be taken up with bishops directly.
In 2017, Rev Ian Paul, an academic theologian, said:
A piece of attire which communicates absolute authority has no place within Anglican understandings of ministry. To most, and I suggest especially the young, bishops in mitres put them in another world.
It looks daft and it does not signify anything in the Church of England. It makes them distant and it makes them look silly.
Hat tip: Robert Stovold