Nfld. & Labrador

Anglican diocese running out of cash, selling assets in 'hemorrhage situation'

The eastern Newfoundland diocese isn't immune to the impact of COVID-19, and sent out a dire letter this week warning of potential layoffs and building closures.

Listed Synod office for sale with $1.5M asking price to stem bleeding

The eastern Newfoundland diocese isn't immune to the impact of COVID-19, and sent out a dire letter this week warning of potential layoffs and building closures. The bishop's office, pictured here, is now for sale. (Malone Mullin/CBC)

The Anglican Diocese of Eastern Newfoundland and Labrador has announced it's running out of money and may need to stem its losses with layoffs, closures and sale of assets.

In an Oct. 5 letter obtained by CBC News, the diocesan finance committee said COVID-19 lockdown measures — which prevented gathering for worship for months — had a "devastating impact" on the church's finances.

"While a number of our parishes continued to receive offerings and donations via drop-off collections and electronic means, it is clear that COVID-19 has negatively impacted our stewardship," the letter says.

Archdeacon Sam Rose told CBC the pandemic has exacerbated previous financial struggles resulting from a reduction in church attendance.

"Like most organizations the onset of COVID accelerated this rapid decline," he said Thursday.

Parishes largely operate on vitally important income from collections and fundraising dinners, Rose said.

"That essentially all came to a stop. We're seeing now … the side effects of being shut down and locked down for the last six months."

Severe deficits

The letter outlines immediate emergency responses by the church last spring, including the receipt of $663,000 from the federal wage subsidy program, the bulk of which the diocese used to pay staff and clergy from April until Aug. 31.

Despite federal support, the church is operating at a $65,000 monthly deficit and expects to run out of money by mid-2021, the letter stated. Some parishes have been unable to pay their clergy.

"We are dependent on the gifts given to us by our parishes," Rose said, noting that 90 per cent of the diocese's income is generated through parish revenue. Rose said much of that money is used to pay staff, administrative costs and ministries throughout the province.

The Anglican Cathedral of St. John the Baptist in St. John's is one of several dozen properties operated by the diocese. (CBC)

"Don't get me wrong, we have very healthy parishes," Rose said. "It's the central office that is experiencing this setback right now."

The diocese will end 2020 some $670,000 in the red, according to the finance committee's estimate. 

Office for sale

The report suggested selling diocesan assets as a short-term fix. Its vacant office property at 19 King's Bridge Rd. is listed for sale with an asking price of $1.5 million. 

"We must stress that the sale of property to provide operating revenue is an emergency response and must not be considered lightly," the letter says, "as it only provides a Band-Aid solution to a hemorrhage situation."

Officials within the diocese are hammering out a plan for the coming months, which may include building closures and layoffs. "Our way of being the church may look very different in the months to come," the letter said.

The committee noted that electronic donations should be encouraged.

"We are pleased to see over 30 of our parishes are reopening for public worship, albeit with COVID-19 restrictions in place," the letter said. 

"It is vital that to maintain financial health, parishioners are encouraged to continue to give financially to support their parish and diocese and that convenient opportunities to give (e.g. electronically, pre-authorized giving, etc.) be made known and easily available."

Read more from CBC Newfoundland and Labrador

With files from Ted Blades

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