Supporting the Church of England: responding to changing needs through history

From before the Norman Conquest, clergy of the Church in England received income from their living. Tax on that income was paid to the Pope and, after the break with Rome in the 1530s, to the Crown instead.

Queen Anne's Bounty

The poverty of many clergy prompted Queen Anne to use that tax revenue to set up "the Governors of the Bounty of Queen Anne for the Augmentation of the Maintenance of Poor Clergy" in 1704. Governors applied funds selectively to improve poor clergy's income and, in time, to provide and repair parsonages for incumbents of small livings.

In 2004 the Church Commissioners marked the tercentenary year of Queen Anne's Bounty with a commemorative service and the publication of an illustrated history.  Click here to read it.

The Church Building Commissioners

In 1818 the Church Building Commissioners were created by Parliament to create new parishes and provide new churches in areas which had seen rapid population growth during the years of the Industrial Revolution.

The Ecclesiastical Commissioners

The Ecclesiastical Commissioners were founded by Parliament in 1836 to reorganize dioceses, abolish surplus posts in cathedrals and take over both the responsibility for funding bishops and some cathedral costs, and the assets that had supported those responsibilities. The surplus income was to be used "for the cure of souls in parishes where such assistance is most required". They had a major role in financing churches for the new population centres that grew up in the Industrial Revolution and in supporting the stipends of the clergy who worked there.

In 1856 they took over the work of the Church Building Commissioners and from 1907 they became involved with providing clergy pensions.

The Church Commissioners

Formed by a merger in 1948, the Church Commissioners inherited the assets and the work of both Queen Anne's Bounty and the Ecclesiastical Commissioners. The initial focus of their work was on improving the income of clergy, aiming for national consistency of provision (1951 onwards). Milestones since 1948 include:

1950s: First "Green Guide" on parsonage design; Commissioners take on clergy pensions and set up non-contributory clergy pensions; grants made for new churches in new population areas; £1 million provided over 25 years for improving church-aided schools.

1960s: Pastoral Measure introduced, with the Commissioners playing a large part in its administration.

1970s: Appointed first Central Stipends Authority (the Archbishops' Council now has this role); Commissioners' campaign to ensure no clergy are paid below recommended levels and they help dioceses with costs; central payroll service introduced for all stipendiary clergy.

1980s: Improved clergy pension package (two-thirds of stipend, lump sum on retirement, benefits for widows); loans for clergy retirement housing, curates and deserted clergy wives; new drive to tackle unsuitable clergy housing - over the following years, £38 million allocated to the Parsonages Renewal Fund; clergy car loan scheme introduced; General Synod empowers the Commissioners to support the Church Urban Fund and £1 million a year is paid out from 1988 to 1991.

1990s: By the early '90s the Commissioners' fund was over-committed and spending was higher than could be sustained over the long-term, especially with the growing cost of clergy pensions. Pressure to maximize income led to over-investment in commercial property (particularly development) which went sharply into decline in the early 1990s.  Church-wide review led to the Pensions Measure 1997, which provided for parishes to pay for most clergy pension rights earned from January 1998 and for a new funded scheme to be set up for this purpose. The Commissioners provided transitional relief and remain responsible for clergy pensions earned on service up to 1998.

Review of the Church's central structures also led to the establishment in 1999 of the Archbishops' Council to give strategic direction to the Church of England's mission, while providing the Church Commissioners with a clear focus upon their asset management functions and Church support.  As a result of the reshaping of the Commissioners' commitments and their financial reforms, the future cost of clergy pensions is being shared with the wider Church, bringing the Commissioners' financial commitments to a level they can meet, and assets are invested in a balanced way in line with independent professional advice.

Funds (other than for pensions) are being distributed only at a level that can be afforded in the long term, balancing the interests of today's and tomorrow's beneficiary, based on independent actuarial advice.

Further milestones since 1998:

1999: Key strategic objective to "increase our sustainable support for parish ministry in areas of need and opportunity"

2002: Creation of Parish Mission Fund to support parishes innovative mission and outreach projects. Since then, £35m paid out in mission development funding.

2007: Moved from 1 Millbank base to Church House, Westminster.  For the first time all the Church's national institutions come under one roof.

2007: Commissioners facilitate Dioceses, Pastoral & Mission Measure which was the most substantial piece of church legislation for over 20 years and which supports a mixed economy of traditional church structures and fresh expressions of church. 

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