Models of charity, cooperation and shared ministry: Parish-to-parish loans
by Ana Watts
When the Rural and/or Struggling Parishes Task Force wrote its report, a parish-to-parish loan was not among its recommended support options — because nobody had ever heard of such a thing. Today the diocese hails parish-to-parish loans as models of charity and cooperation, examples of shared ministry at its finest, and the embodiment of the kind of transformational change envisioned by the Nicodemus Project.
“What could be better than helping out one of our struggling parishes?” asks Gil Carter, a member of the Diocesan Finance Committee and treasurer of the Parish of Sussex, the first parish to make such a loan.
St. Mark's, St. George under construction 2003
The Parish of St. George incurred a hefty debt when its church burned to the ground and had to be replaced. The result was a vibrant parish with a wonderful new church and a cash-flow problem that compromised its programs and ministry. When it came time to renew the loan the diocesan finance committee suggested the parish look to another parish with capital to invest and secure a loan at more favourable rates.
The Parish of Sussex fit the bill.
“We had been recently blessed with a significant bequest,” says Mr. Carter. “The money was to be invested and the income used to benefit the parish. We felt helping another parish would benefit our parish and honour the spirit of the trust.”
So the Parish of Sussex lent the Parish of St. George the money to pay off its mortgage at terms more reasonable than the bank’s. Lower payments significantly improved the parish’s cash flow, and the debt was secured by a mortgage secured by the diocese, which had also guaranteed the bank loan. The diocese, in turn, took appropriate measures to protect its own interests.
Church of the Resurrection, the Nerepis and St. John under construction
Six years ago eight congregations in the lower St. John River Valley amalgamated to become the Parish of the Nerepis and St. John. They worshipped in a school and conducted a very successful capital campaign in order to build the Church of the Resurrection in Grand Bay-Westfield, which opened last year. As successful as the campaign was, the parish was only able to finish the first phase of construction and was still left with a debt of nearly $1 million. It was financed by a loan from the diocese and a series of loans from a chartered bank.
“Part of the bank debt had a very aggressive timeline — we needed to pay $100,000 in just three years,” says the Ven. Vicars Hodge, rector of the parish and archdeacon of St. Andrews. “The monthly payment was $3,334. Altogether the parish needed $10,000 a month to service debt and our cash flow was severely taxed.”
"What we needed was help to reorganize our debt in order to reduce our monthly payments,” says parish treasurer Jamie Morell. “Through Canon Fred Scott, the diocesan treasurer, we negotiated a loan with the Parish of Fredericton. Some of the assets it had invested in a chartered bank are now invested in us, a sister church in the diocese. Their capital is secure and a huge burden has been lifted off the shoulders of the Parish of the Nerepis and St. John.”
The Parish Church was glad to be able to help another parish while protecting its assets. “The bottom line is that the Parish Church is getting a better rate of return on the money we invested in the Nerepis and St. John than we do when we invests in the bank,” says Parish of Fredericton treasurer Jim Dysart. “And at the same time, the Nerepis and St. John pays a lower rate than is required by the banks.”
"These transactions may be financial,” says Archdeacon Hodge, “but it isn’t really about bank accounts and investment portfolios. The assistance of the diocese and the generosity and willingness of parishes to help one another enables the Church to meet the challenges of the future. We need to be willing to explore new and transformative ways of doing things, realign our priorities and methods in order that we can proclaim the Gospel of Jesus Christ.”
Parish Church warden Lorne House agrees. “Although not our main concern, the financial arrangements to us were very favourable. More importantly, vestry saw this as an opportunity to respond to our parish vision and purpose — to become a truly blessed and provocative church and cultivating a deeper relationship with God and one another.”
Clearly the emerging diocesan program of inter-parish loans is transforming mission and ministry. The Parish of Sussex was so pleased to be able to help the Parish of St. George, it recently lent money to the Parish of Quispamsis as well. Its new rector has a growing family and the parish needed to buy a rectory.
“As a member of the diocesan finance committee I would encourage other parishes in positions similar to ours to invest in the vibrant but struggling parishes we see around us,” says Mr. Carter. “I know there are some who are already considering it.”
Perhaps the Parish of Sussex may even make a third loan one of these days. It was recently blessed with yet another generous bequest.