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ENGLAND, June 15, 2001: The Church of England is in financial turmoil. It is merging parishes, chopping jobs and relying increasingly on "weekend priests" who are happy to work for nothing. It is squeezing the faithful for donations. Last autumn the Diocese of London admitted that it was raiding its reserves at the rate of US$1.6 million a year. A recent report suggested that the Church of England's 44 dioceses will be $17.6 million in the red within two years. A survey last month revealed that hundreds of priests now rely on State benefits to support their families. With stipends averaging about $27,200 a year, they have little choice. One great paradox about the Church is that although it embraces the principle that worldly possessions are not of great important, it managed to accumulate immense wealth during the Middle Ages. "There is always talk of the state being asked to help," one former cathedral dean says. But perhaps the reluctance to appeal for state help is rooted in a deeper unease: a feeling that the Church of England, far from being at the centre of the "British Establishment" is increasingly marginalized in a society that seems to get more secular by the day.