Mission Society faces £1m deficit

The Church Mission Society has been forced to cut its spending by £800,000 for 2004 in order to help stem a £1m deficit caused by a slump in legacy income.

In the same week that the Church of England admitted it had lost 100,000 worshippers between 2000 and 2002, the society has confirmed that 2003 was its worst year for legacies since 1981.

Legacy income was £500,000 last year - £1m below budget - and the society, which sends Christian missionaries to 60 countries around the world, has reduced spending to £7.4m. Fourteen jobs have been lost from its 130-strong UK workforce, and grants have been cut by nearly £300,000 to missions in Africa, Asia and the Middle East.

The shortfall was cushioned by a direct mail appeal, which has so far raised £150,000.

"It's been a challenging year," said finance director Paul Breckell.

"Legacy income was lower than at any time in the past 20 years, and this was on the back of reduced reserve levels coming into the year due to the stock market fall." Most of the jobs will disappear through natural attrition, with just a "handful" of compulsory redundancies. But no overseas missions have been shelved.

There is widespread feeling that the general financial problems of the Church of England are beginning to have an effect on the Church Mission Society. Some £2.5m of the society's annual spend of £8m comes from donations from churches.

Mission movement director Canon Chris Neal has been critical of the direction of the Anglican Church in the past. Last year, he said: "The real issue is the Church's inability to make meaningful connections with contemporary culture. This means that the Church is left with an ageing and declining membership, struggling to maintain historic structures and institutions, and is failing to release its creativity and imagination."

The Mother's Union says that churches in England could help to rebuild their dwindling congregations if church leaders spoke out on wider issues.

"We believe that the church has the potential to be politically, socially and culturally as well as spiritually relevant to individuals, regardless of whether they are part of a church or religious community," said Clare Berry, spokeswoman at the Mother's Union.

"But we need to see church leaders coming out with positive, strong things to say about the things that trouble families, and to provide help and advice on a diverse range of issues such as child-raising, education or post-natal depression."

The charity is publishing Mori research that shows the Church is still one of the first places people turn when searching for moral guidance.

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