The Church of Ireland is facing its biggest ever financial crisis after a 42% slump in the value of its investment funds last year.
The Church Synod, which will be presided over by the Primate and Archbishop of Armagh Alan Harper (below), will be told at its annual meeting in Armagh on Friday that although there was a 12% surplus in its revenue for 2008, its investment funds fell dramatically, from €662m in 2007 to €386m in 2008, as a result of turmoil on global financial markets.
The €276m fall is partly accounted for by a weakened sterling rate, a church body committee report said.
But the main difference is in the reduced value of underlying assets, the report states, referring to the dramatic drop in its investments in financial institutions in Ireland, Britain, Europe and US.
Pointing out that the impact on church income only began to become evident towards the end of last year, the board also warns that the negative economic effect will continue to reduce income further throughout 2009 and beyond.
The board will advise the Church of Ireland Synod — the church’s parliament — that cuts in pastoral services may be necessary to balance income and expenditure. According to the board, this sharp reduction in the market values of investments has placed further strain on the level of statutory funding required for the pension schemes of the clergy.
To meet this challenge the three-day synod will be asked to agree a 2% increase in pension contribution rates to meet a 34.6% drop last year in the value of the Church of Ireland clergy pensions fund.
The effects of the current downturn on finances present the church with its greatest challenge since 1870, when Westminster abolished its status as the state church in a predominantly Catholic Ireland, the body says.
It will also debate a recommendation to amend the Book of Common Prayer by inserting a declaration that the traditional inclusion of the 39 Articles of Religion, which denounce Roman Catholic teachings on the Mass as blasphemous, do not represent the spirit of the church today.