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Churches having to subsidise rents to get missionaries living in deprived London parishes

PUBLISHED: 17:58 07 December 2016 | UPDATED: 18:09 07 December 2016

Bishop of London Richard Chartres [photos: Diocese of London & Google]

Bishop of London Richard Chartres [photos: Diocese of London & Google]

Diocese of London/Google

Church leaders are having to subsidize living accommodation for their missionary workers because of London's rocketing rents which are forcing many out of the deprived inner city parishes where they're needed.

Sophie and Jamie Underhill at St Peter's Bethnal GreenSophie and Jamie Underhill at St Peter's Bethnal Green

It’s the only way the Diocese of London can get its missionaries like Sophia Underhill and husband Jamie (pictured) living in communities like the East End to carry out their work.

The Diocese has come up with a pioneering financial bond partnership with local housing organisations to buy up properties for missionaries to live close to their churches without being priced out by steep market rents.

“The cost of living in London continues to escalate at an alarming rate,” the Bishop of London Richard Chartres said.

“Stark levels of need and deprivation find themselves juxtaposed with some of the highest property values in the world.

“Yet the provision of housing for frontline workers is vital if we are to continue to serve the most needy and vulnerable.”

The first two properties have been purchased by the Diocese in east London within short walking distances of parish churches.

Sophia and Jamie Underhill have moved into one of the properties on Bethnal Green’s Cheverell Estate, close to St Peter’s parish church where they work.

“It’s a huge blessing to be part of the community,” Sophie said. “Being able to visit pastorally and help out in the community has been eye opening and amazing.”

The other property in the Missional Housing Bond scheme is close to Old Street’s Inspire London Church near Shoreditch, both with rapidly-growing congregations.

The cash was raised from two rounds of crowdfunding which has brought in close to £1million from investors.

Tim Thorlby from the Centre for Theology & Community said: “We hope this Bond scheme promotes a change of attitude in churches towards a more imaginative use of resources to include social investment as one of its regular habits. Social investment is an underused source of finance for the Church and its mission.”

Individual investors in the bonds put in a minimum £5,000 for three or five years at up to two per cent return. Christian trusts and churches also support the scheme.

Churches have an incumbent clergy member who lives in a vicarage, the Diocese points out, but the London property market was becoming difficult for other staff like missionaries to afford to live in their assigned parishes.

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