Bishopscourt: sentiment triumphs over sense

Craig Schwarze

Monday night saw a compelling and impassioned debate about Bishopscourt, the home of the Archbishop. Standing Committee brought a recommendation that Synod sell the property, buy something a little cheaper for the AB, and invest the balance. There was argument back and forth - along with much finger pointing and fist-waving directed at Standing Committee. The vote was taken by secret ballot after 10pm, and the result was announced the following day - Bishopscourt was to be retained. Synod had spoken.

I’ve been a member of Synod for several years, and this is one of the poorest decisions it has made. It was a great triumph of sentiment over sense, and the whole diocese will pay.

Let me explain the situation. It’s a little technical, so please bear with me. One of our “pots of money” is called the Endowment of the See (EoS). This consists of the various financial gifts that our Archbishops have received over the years. The EoS stands at about $70M - yep, that’s a big pot.

We currently use the income from the EoS to fund the Archbishop, his assistant Bishops, their staff, and all their other expenses. The cost of all this is about $3M/year. The income we get from the EoS is about $1M/year. You’ll notice two things. First, we are spending more than we are earning. This is Bad.

Second, you might notice that $1M is not a lot of income to get from $70M. Even a savings account would give you $3-4M on that amount. So what gives? It turns out that the $70M is not sitting in some bank account somewhere accruing interest. About $24M represents the value of Bishopscourt, and this doesn’t generate any income at all. Actually it costs quite a lot of money to maintain, something like half a million a year.

Given our financial difficulties, Standing Committee came up with a perfectly sensible solution. Sell Bishopscourt for $24M+, then buy something more modest for the Archbishop, for about $8M. After expenses you’d have about $15M to invest, and you’d also save on the cost maintaining the big old gothic money pit. Standing Committee reckoned the whole deal would generate $1M/year in extra income, and their figures looked sound to me.

So why did the proposal go down? The reasons given seemed largely spurious to me, and were well answered by the original movers. I reckon it comes down to the fact that Bishopscourt is a grand old building, and lots of people love the place. No-one really wanted to get rid of it, regardless of how much good sense that might make.

Anyway, the decision has been made. It’s a bad decision, and it will cause us some pain. The most immediate consequence is a special 1.14% “assessment” against parish offerings, to make up for the shortfall in the EoS. Yep, you are paying for this decision out of your own hip pocket.

We’ll call it the Bishopscourt tax.