Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Methodist Housing at #netrootsuk

Recently I attended the Netroots gathering in London. Organised by the TUC and various online activist groups, this was the day that the (self defined) progressive left would cast-off their shackles and embrace the net.

In among the stories and workshops, my beloved Methodist Church got a namecheck, and for me it proved a refreshed wake up call.

The Methodist Church in Finchley is like many others, a local church for local people. As part of it's financial dealings it rents out property, this time at a potential 50% discount to a local person. So what needy person requires housing in the borough?

Step forward hammer of the firefighters, Cllr Brian Coleman MLA local Conservative assembly member with an income of £128,000. It isn't known why this arrangement exists or why such a substantial deduction is given. Approaches from a journalist to the local minister yielded nothing.

For me what shocked me about this tale wasn't that the church was housing a very controversial figure, instead it was a reminder of the current status of Methodist property. Due to laws and regulations, Methodist property (when sold) should always go the highest bidder. This means a house of justice & equality could potentially be sold for luxury flats because a housing association didn't offer enough. Thankfully this injustice has been spotted and a paper (direct word download of paper) has gone to Methodist Council suggesting How this can be changed.

Yet it isn't just the disposal of property that can present challenges. As someone who has lived in church property I developed strong opinions on the principles under which property should be let. To my knowledge (though) there is no central ruling on the principles under which property is let only some exclusions based on what can't happen in Methodist Church name anyway.

The Methodist Church owns a large amount of property and I'm due many others own or let housing. The simple question is are we reflecting through our rentals the principles we pray for on a Sunday?


{EDITS - Altered 'pay' to 'pray' in last sentance
              - Altered 'Methodist Church in Barnet' to 'Methodist Church in Finchley'}

7 comments:

  1. Good post. Given the ploicy of his party I would have thought he would not wish to have subsidised housing. He already receives in my book far too much dosh. Frankly I favour a maximum wage of £100,000 per annum. Then we might be all in it together to borrow a phrase from the councillor's political heroes.

    I agree that there are significant questions for the Methodist Church

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  2. Surely there must already be some guidance on the church's use of rented out accommodation? Just as church halls have distinct restrictions on use, one would imagine that any residential property ought to be used either to generate the maximum income for the use of a parish, albeit in an appropriate manner compatible with the ethos of the church, or be used to accommodate disadvantaged families or even church members in real need of a low rent property? If I were a church member I would be very uneasy about such a lack of clarity on this point and try to lobby for an urgent enquiry into such cases. I am surprised that apparently no local Methodist has raised any questions in regard to this. Acting as a landlord surely requires a Christian body to act according to Christian principles, and to support those in the most need.

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  3. The Church Council is responsible for all that goes on so I'm sure they will have raised some questions and/or agreed it.

    Because the church is a charity then it will have to file accounts and annual report so that should provide some more information in the not to distant future.

    Warm Regards

    John

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  4. It is possible that this tenancy was granted before Assured Shorthold Tenancies came into being in 1988, meaning that Cllr Coleman is effectively a sitting tenant and cannot be evicted on the grounds of earning too much.

    Unfortunately, many charitable organisations have let out property over the years without seeking proper advice beforehand. They are being naiive to assume that prosperous tenants will do the right thing and give the flat up for someone more deserving.

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  5. John, do you mean that each Methodist parish has its own autonomous church council? I don't don't know anything about such things, being a (very sinful) Catholic - and in Catholic parishes you generally do as you are told, rather than engage in democratic decision making ...

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  6. Hello Dave and Mrs Angry

    You are both raising some interesting points. The property in question is likely to be owened by either the church or the circuit....but first...a brief guide to Methodist Structures....

    The Methodist Church structure could be described as each church having its own relative autonomy, however they are also part of a circuit (a bigger group of churches), a district ( a regional group of churches) and the Connexion (the national church body - so no one church is independent of another - we are all working together but managed locally in line with nationally agreed standards/guidelines/laws). The structure covers both ministers (those with a dog collar) and property.

    Therefore in this situation it could be either the church or the circuit that own the property. Each have their own 'council' that meet to discuss matters of concern. The council is often (but not exclusively) chaired by the minister and has a mixture of local officials (eg treasurer) and specially elected members of the congregation.

    From the fact they are registered as a charity means council has become (I think - my knowledge is hazy on this point) a trustee body. Depending on income their accounts will become public very soon.

    If you would wish more information I'd suggest calling into the church in question and asking to speak to the minister about the situation - I'm sure they'd either be able to set you right (eg if wires have been crossed and what is above isn't the truth) or explain why what appears to be happening is happening.

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  7. hmm .. thanks John, food for thought ....

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