Rathmell Old School in the Yorkshire Post

Rathmell Old School in the Yorkshire Post

As villagers know, Rathmell’s former primary school is still the subject of Church of England efforts to wrench it from the village and flog it for property development.

Now, the Yorkshire Post has picked up the story of the school, and journalist Grace Newton has written an article which will be in the print edition of the newspaper on Thursday 19th November (so go out and buy it!), and which is already on their website, under the headline:

“Row over potential sale of Yorkshire Dales village school turned community hub by the Church of England – whom charity claim have never owned it”

It is well worth a read.

Villagers have reacted to the story, and to the memory of the closure of the school and the Diocese’s role in that decision, with some notable comments (nameless to protect the innocent):

[governors at the school were] involved in discussions with the local authority and the diocese about closure. It was never even suggested that the diocese considered itself the owner of the buildings. Appalling behaviour to suggest so now.

…it was upsetting enough when the school had to close. Now to be claiming ownership is adding insult to injury.

I was given to understand the Church would always have the needs of their parishioners at heart. This is a form of plunder.

Church should be supporting the parishioners. Only about money I’m afraid. Certainly not my idea of Christianity.


What is the Church of England?

In case anyone is not familiar with the Church of England, it is a multi-billion pound investment vehicle backed up by a strong internal legal department. The C of E exerts considerable influence over lawmaking at a national level, with 26+ of its high-ranking executives sitting in the House of Lords.

The Church of England was founded in 1534, by serial spouse-murderer and domestic abuser King Henry VIII, as a divorce mechanism. This some 1500 years after Christ “overturned the tables of the money changers” and said, “Is it not written: ‘My house will be called a house of prayer for all nations’? But you have made it ‘a den of robbers.’” (Mark 11:15-18)

Putting Jesus’ words aside for a moment (or for 500 years), the Church of England has gone from strength to strength, and its financial activity has long represented a successful model of the power of “managing a diverse portfolio […] spread across a range of asset classes” [cf Commissioners report] including hedging Sterling in the foreign exchange markets. Another key part of its remarkable financial performance is its taciturn property management business, which, at conservative estimates, owns some 105,000 acres of land in the UK, worth £2 billion in 2019.

The Church of England…

  • has an £8.9 billion endowment that generates £1 billion income per year [source], with an average annual return over the last 30 years of 8.5% (10% in 2019)
  • has relatively recently decided to make its investments more ethical by starting to divest from fossil fuel companies and “indiscriminate” weapons manufacturers. As of the 2019 report, 8.9% of its investment assets were held in “defensive equities”. The C. of E. now uses its leverage at investor and board level to tweak the sustainability strategies of extractive companies including fossil fuel giants Exxon and BP (both famous for their oil spills), tax-light offshore bribery and money laundering company Glencore (who operate coal mines), BigPharma corp Bayer, and Brazilian wood pulp company Suzano
  • has apparently also earned from its investments in unethical loan companies and companies with poor environmental records
  • receives around £42 million in government funding (in the form of VAT offsets) per year
  • outlined its goals for 2020 [source] as:
    • “achieve a real rate of return (target: CPIH+4%) to allow the Church Commissioners to meet their pension obligations”
    • “attract, retain and motivate high-calibre staff. Promote and support staff engagement, performance, belonging and inclusion to maximise the effectiveness of the executive’s delivery of the Commissioners’ goals”
  • has identified the importance of its so-called “rural assets”, stating on page 27 of the Commissioners’ report that “Sales and strategic purchases are part of the ongoing active management of the rural portfolio which has been […] crucial to the underlying long-term performance of the fund. We continued to progress conversations in collaboration with some of our most progressive tenants to help develop higher-value opportunities and to drive capital and rental performance.” In the “Strategic Land” sector, the Church has “seen the completion of a number of key sales throughout the year; these have generated capital receipts of £18.1m”.

NB. The Church also has a small faith-based outreach and membership unit (congregation sizes at Rathmell’s own church reportedly being around the same number as there were Primary School pupils when the Diocese and LEA decided it was no longer viable to keep the school open… with the slight difference that people attend church for half an hour, one day a week, with a slight uptick on high days and holidays, while children attend school six hours a day, five days a week, with a marked downtick in the holidays). UK-wide, attendance of the Church’s once-popular weekly events halved between 1968 and 1999; just over 1% of the UK population are now regular churchgoers. In 2008, the Daily Express published a prediction that 2020 would be the year in which more people in the UK would attend mosque than church. (For comparison, supermarket chain Morrisons – also based in our Diocese – has 12 million weekly attendees, and is not the biggest UK chain by a considerable margin.)

By exerting the undeniable power of faith over its generous and well-meaning members, the Church amasses a further £329 million in donations per year, or £15 per week, per donor. Some might accuse the church of using the psychology of fear to extract donations from ordinary people, given the organisation’s institutional reinforcement of an un-evidenced belief in a judgment-based tiered afterlife system, in which inheritance in the speculated next life depends largely on meekness in this life – especially incongruous given the circumstances that led to the Church’s founding by Henry VIII.

It goes without saying that the church (especially our own village church and its parishioners) does an enormous amount of selfless, good and valuable work. But it’s easy to forget that when Head Office is on an asset grab in the village.