The Anglican Church of Canada’s national office recorded two consecutive multi-million-dollar yearly surpluses in 2020 and 2021, for a combined total of just over $8 million, the church’s treasurer and chief financial officer has confirmed.
As reported to the Council of General Synod (CoGS) in March, General Synod netted an excess of revenue over expense of $3.6 million. But the corresponding figure for the previous year was also in the millions—just over $4.5 million, treasurer Amal Attia says.
The two figures added together approach the national office’s total spending in 2021, which was $8.5 million.
A 2020 financial statement was presented to CoGS in May 2021, but was not reported on by the Anglican Journal at the time. The CoGS session took place on the weekend immediately after then-acting editor Tali Folkins departed for a sabbatical leave, and immediately before then-editor Matthew Townsend returned from a two-month parental leave—and shortly before the sudden departure of both Townsend and staff writer Joelle Kidd over the sharing by church management of a draft article on sexual misconduct.
The church should plan to carefully steward the combined $8 million in revenue surplus and savings it accrued across 2020 and 2021, say two of its financial leaders. General Secretary Archdeacon Alan Perry and Attia caution that the pandemic years have offered a windfall that will not likely be repeated.
There’s no recent precedent for this, says Perry, noting that over the past couple of decades, the revenue for the church has been trending downward as congregations shrink. “Having a surplus of any kind is quite extraordinary. And especially of this size,” he says.
The surplus should not be taken as a reversal of that downward trend, Perry says. Rather, it represents a couple of key factors that set the pandemic years apart. The first is a substantial savings on money the church normally sets aside for travel expenses as clergy and lay leaders travel for ministry and church governance. When the pandemic postponed some of those meetings and moved others online, the church saved money.
The other major component is that the past few years have been unusually successful for the church’s investments, which increased in value by about $6 million over the course of their eight-year maturation period, says Attia. Some of that comes to the church in the form of capital gains, she says, but the majority of it doesn’t come back in cash until and unless the church decides to sell those investments. As a result, much of that $6 million is in the value of the stocks the church holds, not money it has at its disposal.
“The market as a whole is volatile—it’s not up to us,” says Attia. “I truly believe we should be careful with how we’re spending.”
Taking into consideration this volatility and the broader downward trend in revenue, Perry says he thinks it’s unlikely the church will consider putting the surplus toward new projects.
“What we can’t do with a finite amount of money is start an infinite use of it. For example, if we wanted to a new ongoing program or hire a new person who we would employ forever, that would use that money up in a year. Well, what do we do the next year?” he says.
The more likely outcome, he says, is storing the money in the church’s contingency fund for other unforeseeable circumstances.
“What we can’t predict is what kind of contingencies will come up in the future,” he says. “That’s the point of having a contingency fund; it’s a rainy day fund. It will rain eventually. We just can’t know how much.”
The final decision on how to use the funds will be up to CoGS to decide on once the church’s financial management team proposes a budget for 2023.
“I can’t predict what CoGS is going to determine. What I can say is that it’s unlikely to see a sort of spending spree to use up the money,” says Perry. With a continued surplus far from guaranteed, “the 2023 budget will have to be very prudent,” he adds.