The challenge and joy of raising funds for the Wren Project

By David Loyn, PCC champion and liaison for the Development Department.

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‘No man can be rich, but he must be rich either by his own labours, or by the labours of other men helping him…If other men help him to work, then those riches are his neighbours’ as well as his.’

The words are by Gerald Winstanley in 1649, in promoting a radical alternative to what he saw as unacceptable compromises against true democracy after the end of the monarchy in the English Civil War. His movement, the ‘Diggers,’ advocated the abolition of property holding, since all land was a ‘common treasury,’ to be managed by all, for all. The utopian vision lasted less than two years, crushed by landowning interests. And all such idealistic attempts have failed since, from Prudhon’s ‘Property is theft’ at the end of the nineteenth century, to the communist revolutions of the twentieth. They all reverted to authoritarianism, and universally failed to reduce poverty, or deliver justice.

Winstanley was inspired by his reading of the message of Christianity, which in places makes extreme demands. We are told by Matthew, ‘Sell what you possess and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven.’ Love of money is said to be the ‘root of evil,’ we cannot serve both money and God.

But without money we cannot do any of the things we want to do­­—host people experiencing homelessness and a free counselling service, support refugees, rent space to a social enterprise supporting prisoners, etc, etc, let alone run the liturgical cycle of services and pastoral support of a busy parish. Delivering our corner of the kingdom of God on earth costs money, which cannot all be raised from the congregation. So what ethical guidelines should we follow? Where does the compromise lie between the extremes of the idealistic vision of those like Winstanley, who would have no relationship with capitalism at one end, and just accepting donations from any legal source at the other? Where are our red lines?

That is the profound question now facing us as our development team do the hard work to get to the finishing line of £20 million to deliver the vision of the Wren Project, which will transform our ability to do all the things we want to do. They are around halfway to their target in terms of pledges (although not yet money in the bank), and there is still a mountain to climb. In a meeting after church this month, followed up by a zoom call, Lucy laid out the challenges, and there was a stimulating discussion. The following questions emerged:

  • Should we follow the Church of England’s ethical guidance on investment in donations? (There is no separate C of E guidance on donations; we need to make it up as we go along.)
  • Are there moral differences between individuals and companies?
  • How much should we be informed by the norms of wider society?

These are not easy questions; ethical dilemmas never are. We have wealthy neighbours in the parish who are oil companies and arms manufacturers. Are all energy companies unacceptable as donors? Is there a moral difference between BP, who are willing to forgo profits in order to invest in research on renewables, and Shell, who are not? If we support the idea of having armed forces in order to defend the nation, or support Ukraine, then are we only turning down potential donations from armed manufacturers because of how it looks, and would be opposed by purists? Should we not be authentic to what we are?

There is very little money around for civil society or arts organisations, and ‘church’ has negative connotations that are hard to counter. And as we have seen in the Baillie Gifford affair, an extremist line on investment ethics led to the withdrawal of this major sponsor from book festivals altogether. I use the word extremist advisedly. BG’s supposed investment in fossil fuels was in supermarkets who may sell petrol. The result was not to reduce investment in fossil fuels or Israel, but weaken the capacity of book festivals to be the agents of beneficial social change they can be.

St James’s does currently have a rigorous due diligence process to vet potential donors, and the development team have turned down some donations which did not pass the test. It might be that the rules are right. But should we revisit the question? We are considering this at an Awayday for the PCC next month, and as the elected PCC member whose role is to liaise with the development team, I would be happy to take any thoughts into the meeting. Do email

St James’s Church was built 35 years after Winstanley’s idealistic failure to share all things in common. And now, 70 years after the rebuilding that followed wartime damage, it has fallen to our generation to refurbish the church and the surrounding buildings, making the church a space of beauty that can fulfil its mission in this extraordinary location in the centre of London through the twenty-first century and beyond, and at the same time use the garden to showcase best practice in plants that will adapt to the climate emergency. And we want to deliver rehearsal and performance space for musicians. It’s all church.

The development team have followed Luke’s guidance. ‘For which of you, desiring to build a tower, does not first sit down and count the cost, whether he has enough to complete it?’ We will not start the work on the Wren Project until we have the money, but how do we raise it while remaining true to ourselves, and our desire to do justly, love mercy and walk humbly?