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300th anniversary of Queen Anne's Bounty, Westminster Abbey

Thursday 4th November 2004

An address given by the Archbishop of Canterbury, Dr Rowan Williams, at a service in Westminster Abbey.

'Where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.'

What we do with our money proclaims who we think we are – whether we know it or not, whether we like it or not. A few years ago, a bishop of the Church of England pointed out, in a powerful book on the theology of our economic habits, that, in several decades of making a regular confession, he had never been asked by his confessor any questions about how he spent his money; as if this were not part of how a person defined themselves before God and before the world. But all our actions in some degree reveal us; why should our economic life be different? Why should this too not be an area in which we help to shape our eternal destiny, a matter of sin or holiness?

Queen Anne's Bounty was established in order to help the Church of England to be holy. An extravagant statement? No, because it was a move to assist the church to be itself. The situation that prevailed at the beginning of the eighteenth century was more chaotic and unjust than we can easily imagine: a good study for anyone who thinks that our current financial anxieties are uniquely awful...The Church of England had been stripped of its assets by greedy monarchs and gentry ever since the first days of the Reformation. Cranmer, Parker, Laud and many others fulminated against the steady drainage of resources and the withholding of what was properly owed; and meanwhile the effects of clerical poverty and the gross inequality of clerical incomes created a situation in which clergy were forced into pluralism or into secular trade to stay afloat, or were at the mercy of unscrupulous patrons. The Church's pastors and teachers were often not free to preach their convictions for fear of losing their position (as Stephen Hicks' excellent history makes plain); but the rank injustice of the whole system also, in another and ultimately more serious way, prevented the Church itself proclaiming the truth in which it was created.

Queen Anne began to make it possible for the Church to understand itself properly again; to make its own decisions about doctrine and pastoral deployment, to regain self-respect as a supernaturally grounded body, not a badly funded department of state. The Church – for all that the eighteenth century was not one of its great eras – at least was able to shed some of the appalling legacy of unscrupulous depredation by the secular power in the century and a half before. And it very slowly recovered some sense that to put wealth at the service of the most needy was a central aspect of the gospel vision. Without all this, holiness, corporate holiness for the community, could not be realised. Without Queen Anne's Bounty and all that flowed from it, including the final merging into the Church Commissioners, the Church of England would have been stuck with the arbitrary, uneven and distorted patterns imposed by both local and national rapacity, the compulsion that intermittently arises in English society to stop the Church thinking strategically and coherently and independently.

Where your treasure is...The Church's disposal of its resources is about where its heart is, now as much as three hundred years ago. And if we ask now what the priorities should be for the successors of those who first administered Queen Anne's Bounty, the answer is pretty clear. The calling is to assist the Church to be itself, to be holy. And the means for realising this holiness is to do with freeing the Church - freeing it to shape its future and to reveal its character as Christ's Body by a more generous and just distribution of resources. The successors of Queen Anne's Governors are now asking, more boldly and clearly than perhaps ever before, how this is to be made a reality. But they cannot answer such a question unless the entire Church of England moves into a deeper awareness of the kind of Christian community it believes that God wants it to be. The Church Commissioners are the people to whom the particular ministry has been given of realising the vision that the Church has of its future. And the Church at large needs, I suspect, to catch up here. here is still in many quarters an assumption that the Commissioners are little more than managers of funds, who, like a lot of such people, dislike accountability, guard the levers of power at what they consider the centre, and enjoy obstructing other people's plans. Where a myth like this is in place, it is no wonder that mistakes, real and imagined, are not easily pardoned, or that the delights of evading or bamboozling 'the management' figure high in the pastimes of some in the Church.

But if there were ever any truth in that rather bleak picture – and there have of course, to put it diplomatically, been seasons of good and less good management, good and less good communication and accountability – things have undoubtedly moved on in recent years. The question from the Commissioners is more and more insistently, 'How can we serve the Church of the future?' And, as I have said, that can only be answered if English Anglicans overall have a clearer picture of that Church.

What might such a picture look like? I can't speak for the Church of England as a whole (no-one can), but the trends that are gathering force are these. We know that our much loved and treasured parochial system is not equipped to meet all the challenges of young, mobile populations, whose patterns of life and work are not those of their parents' and grandparents' generations. We need to ask what resources can be put at the service of new things – not just in the form of supplementary funding for parish ministry but in the shape of seed money for mission initiatives. The Commissioners' commitment to 'the cure of souls in parishes' will need to be understood generously and imaginatively – though we should be idiots if we attempted to reinvent the wheel, or to tear up our history and leave the front line of parish ministry exposed or neglected. It is for dioceses to think creatively about how to connect the old and the new, to encourage traditional parishes to share prayer and energy with new initiatives in church life, and above all to help break down the perennial suspicion between the historic mainstream and the risk-taking innovators. The historic mainstream, after all, had its origins in risk-taking innovators, not least in the development of the original Anglican vision of the educated pastor in every community in the land – not a mass-priest, not a Puritan lecturer, but an animator and teacher and friend to a whole population. Queen Anne had, fortunately, recognised that this bit of the Reformation vision could not be realised with the untidy and unfair provisions that had grown up. Today, that Reformation vision is as credible as ever; but it has generated new and varied expressions, which need professional, responsible development.

And that other aspect of Queen Anne's concern, the rectifying of injustice between rich and poor communities in the Church, is also a contemporary priority. Formulae are hard to devise, and constantly subject to revision; poverty may turn out to be not exactly where we thought, and some will rightly ask questions about the effects of appearing to penalise the growing and flourishing churches. But ultimately, we cannot pretend to be living as the Body of Christ if we do not constantly scrutinise what we have that can and should be at the service of others less visibly resourced – whether this is money, personnel or skill. And it is not only human justice that demands this: it is the conviction that in Christ's Body we are all called to give Christ into each others' hands by giving who and what we are into their hands, lovingly and hopefully and attentively, rich to poor and poor to rich as well, for the flourishing and justice of the entire society of the Church – and so for justice in our world too.

These are some of the hopes and concerns that are stirring our Church; these are also the hopes and visions that the Commissioners are eager to serve in honest partnership with their brothers and sisters. Their skills and professionalism are put to ever more complex use – in helping with the legal complexities that constantly overtake us, in resourcing the continuing struggle, more and more in the public eye, over the future of our buildings. This last is, of course, yet another aspect of that financial catching up which Queen Anne began, catching up with the drainage of resource away from the Church that had got a hold in the early modern period and whose ill effects are so clear as we battle to maintain national treasures on the income of a charity largely supported by the least economically prosperous. These are stretching times, and we need exactly the professional devotion that the Commissioners offer in order to continue Queen Anne's purposes.

Where your treasure is...To see the Church, our Church, as standing on the verge of unprecedented possibilities, to see Christ in his Church doing new things, is indeed to have our hearts engaged, warmed, as we sense Christ walking with us into that uncharted future, where all we can be wholly sure of is that he sits and eats with us as he always did, giving us his life for our food. Our treasure is, by most of the contemporary world's standards, modest, but it is real and effective matter for God to use. Queen Anne knew that the Church needed such treasure for the Church to shape its own life, its ministry, its future, according to the treasure of the Gospel given to it by the Lord, not to be at the mercy of those with other, less transforming agendas. Our prayer today is that the Commissioners and all who serve the Church's housekeeping, its oikonomia as the Greeks said, may have a heart ready to follow the vision Christ is teaching us, to serve the justice, the comprehensiveness, the passionate renewing and converting energy that is the lifeblood of Christ's Body.

© Rowan Williams 2004

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