By John Martin, in London

Scots long had a standing joke: coins in the church collection meant the presence of English visitors. In the last decade or so, however, the scene has begun to change. Members of the Church of England are beginning to take stewardship to heart.

Figures released at the end of July show that total giving for 2013 hit a record £953 million (U.S. $1.476 billion) to cover the church’s central mission and ministry costs. The funds came from a combination of regular and one-off donations, as well as investments and legacies.

It signals an increase of £24m from figures in 2012. In addition to supporting the church’s work at local, diocesan, and national levels, parishes continued to give more than £46m to other organizations around the world, from food banks and children’s charities to relief and development.

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Says John Preston, the church’s national stewardship adviser: “In the context of income, the average ‘church member’ contributed 3.3 percent of their income to the church: 2.9 percent to general funds, and a further 0.4 percent to special purpose funds for building maintenance and youth work.”

Church members also contribute generously in kind to community work, he said.

Preston said the church is experiencing a culture change in giving patterns: “Giving has tripled from the 1.1 percent we saw 35 years ago.”

But Preston is under no allusions. The baseline is still low, he said, and “the challenge to give generously remains.”

One important change is the way diocesan finance committees assess payments to central funds. Critics often called the traditional system a “tax on success”; a levy calculated as a proportion of parish income could discourage local mission.

When Archbishop Justin Welby was still Bishop of Durham, he moved the diocese toward voluntary giving and income increased. Gradually other dioceses have followed suit.

For hundreds of years the Church of England has drawn on inherited assets to pay its clergy and care for its buildings. A lot of people in the pews still think parishes are supported by the Church Commissioners. In truth, the Commissioners’ resources can no longer even cover clergy pensions.

In the United States charitable giving is a way of reducing an individual’s tax bill. Giving to charity does not reduce one’s tax in the U.K. Instead, the government returns tax payable to designated churches or charities, so a basic taxpayer’s £10 gift becomes £12.

Image by doctor_bob9, via morgueFile • http://mrg.bz/QX1VBx

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