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Letters to the editor >

Retired clergy: the housing scheme, and their ministry

From Ray and Anne Lane
Sir, — We were pleased to read (News, 1 April) that the Church Commissioners have had another successful year of investments in 2004 — but shocked and saddened to see the Clergy Retirement Home Loans Scheme called a “money-spinner”, with a 16.5-per-cent return in 2004.

The scheme was set up to provide mortgage loans for priests who, on retiring, are needing, aged 65-plus, to buy a home, but would not qualify because of age and income to have a mortgage from the High Street.

Under this scheme, the repayments rise year on year, in line with the increase in clergy pension; so the increase does not go to try to keep up with inflation, but disappears into the rising repayments to the loan scheme.

A normal mortgage is eventually repaid, but, under this scheme, the amount of the loan moves with the value of the property. Since property prices increase year on year, so the loan increases, and under normal circumstances will never be repaid, unlike a normal mortgage.

When the property is eventually sold, the Church Commissioners receive back the same proportion as of their initial investment, i.e., if they paid for one third of a property worth £150,000 when it was sold, say, 15 years on, for £280,000, they would receive back one third of the new price, making the “loan repayments” no more in real terms than rent.

This is surely usury, and an iniquitous practice by the Church Commissioners, and a miserable way for them to be treating their own pensioners.

These retired clergy deserve to be treated more even-handedly, and with more respect than as a useful earner for the Church Commissioners.
5 Hovendens, Sissinghurst, Cranbrook, Kent TW17 2LA

From the Rt Revd Frank Sergeant
Sir, — The Executive Council of the Retired Clergy Association (RCA) is grateful for the contribution that Bishop Gavin Reid (Comment, 10 March) and correspondents (18 March) have made to the discussion about the right use of the clergy in retirement, and their reservoir of talents available to the Church.

While a considered policy and codes of good practice do exist in some dioceses, to the benefit of both the diocese and the clergy in retirement, it would be difficult to propose a national policy. There is not an even spread of retired clergy over the country, and although it would be helpful to match the needs of pastoral provision with the retired clergy’s need to minister, it could be detrimental to the freedom that retirement brings.

It would be helpful if the dioceses could agree on a broad basis to propose the same fees payable to the retired clergy for casual and occasional offices, as well as the recommended mileage rate for travel. It has to be recognised that when retired clergy receive two-thirds of the fee payable for occasional offices, they are making a contribution to the stipends of the present full-time clergy. I need say little more, as the excellent article “Come clean on fees” by Jane Soanes (Comment, 7 January) has covered this matter. She raises the problem of cemetery and crematoria fees, which must be addressed.

As far as synodical representation at all levels is concerned, decisions have been made that deny a place in General Synod for the retired clergy representatives; and that must be accepted. There are, however, ways and means of ensuring representation for the retired clergy, and this means taking initiatives locally.

Finally, a major problem is communication, without which there can be neither effective explanation nor consultation. The RCA tries to enable these things to happen; it does not pretend to be a trade union, but it does attempt to gather retired clergy together for support and the discussion of common interests.

Groups for retired clergy, whether RCA-based or not, are influential in the pastoral care of the sick and elderly clergy, as well as being a point of reference. The RCA acts as such a point of reference nationally, and has received attention and courtesy from the central bodies, for which it is grateful.
Chairman, Retired Clergy Association
32 Brotherton Drive, Salford M3 6BH

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