Saturday, 24 July 2010

When is the Church not the Church?

I'm a bit late in the day on this, but someone at work alerted me to this recently and I was a little horrified so I decided to do some digging.

After an 18 year legal battle, a couple have been forced to sell their farm house in order to pay more than £200,000 in repairs to their local parish church because of an archaic medieval law making some land-owners liable for repairs to nearby churches. The Wallbanks have also racked up £250,000 in legal costs contesting this decision which was initially overturned by the Appeal Court as a breach of the couple's human rights. However the PCC (Parish Church Council) then took the case to the House of Lords, who overturned the appeal on the basis that the Human Rights Act did not apply because PCCs are not Public Bodies. 

This is what the Church of England had to say about the case (see here): 

"The Church of England has financial responsibility for 45% of the nation’s Grade 1 listed buildings and many other architecturally important churches. 70% of repair bills are met by local fundraising, with only a minority coming from English Heritage, lottery funds and other non-church sources. This places a considerable financial burden on PCCs, which largely rely on voluntary giving to support their work. Against that background, the Church cannot be expected to forego sources of funding to which it is entitled unless it receives adequate compensation." 

This makes me really angry! 

In the Bible, in the New Testament, the apostle Paul refers to the church as "the body of Christ". The analogy is, that when Jesus lived on earth he went around showing people, by His words and actions, what God was like. He loved people, He taught them, He did miracles and He showed compassion. He also had some angry words to say against systemic corruption and abuse of power! Now that Jesus is no longer physically here on earth, His church - those who follow Him and are filled with His Spirit - have become His "body". We're supposed to go around doing the things that He did and still wants to do through us, His disciples. 

When the church puts financial gain - even financial need - first, and uses this to justify forcing a couple to sell their home for a liability that in real day to day terms (as opposed to obscure legal terms) has little or nothing to do with them, it forfeits the right to be called "the body of Christ" - since Christ would never have dreamed of treating anyone in such a way!

To find out more about the Wallbanks' case from their own perspective, see here, although the site has not been updated since before the couple sold their farm and the petition is now closed, so it looks as though they have sadly had to give up their fight.

1 comment:

  1. Your not the only one to feel sad, even angered by this. The ramifications go wider than just this couple loosing their home. The whole local community will be put off the 'church' in their area. This is hardly a way to show love or to help grow the church.


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