From the Revd Roger Stokes
Sir, — “Our calling under God to be mission-led, caring, learning, expectant and generous.” Since those words appear near the top of the home page of the Winchester diocesan website, I assume that they are meant to shape the diocese’s mission.
How are they to be reconciled with the decision on Saturday to cut a number of mission-oriented posts in the diocese? Some years ago, the then Clergy Appointments Adviser observed that clergy who are licensed rather than beneficed have less job security than any other group of workers. It seems that now we are beginning to see the reality of that.
The Central Stipends Authority uses certain principles in recommending an appropriate level for clergy stipends. The first one listed in its annual report is that the stipend should be adequate “for clergy to discharge their duties without undue financial anxiety”.
Now we are seeing increased anxiety about whether or not clergy will continue to receive any stipend at all. Those most likely to suffer are those licensed to posts at the forefront of the Church’s mission. These clergy have skills and flexibility, but, unfortunately, secular employers will not recognise their gifts and experience as being transferable — even though leadership in a voluntary organisation poses more challenges than in a commercial one.
In July, Bishop Scott-Joynt ended his ordination charge with Eugene Peterson’s translation of 2 Timothy 1.6-7: “The special gift of ministry that you received when I laid hands on you and prayed — keep that ablaze! God doesn’t want us to be shy with his gifts, but bold and loving and sensible.”
The reality of the situation facing some of our colleagues is not going to encourage us to keep our special gift of ministry ablaze. Rather, there is a strong temptation to be sensible and take the safe option. Does that help present the gospel afresh to each generation, which the preface to the Declaration of Assent reminds us is the Church’s calling?
Over the years, Unite has repeatedly called on the Church to be professional in caring for its clergy, aspiring to the best standards of Christian care rather than not even rising to the minimum standard required by employment law. The fact that Winchester diocesan synod was presented with this budget with no opportunity for amendment, and so close to end of the day, suggests a breakdown in the process of forming the budget.
Had those responsible not heeded the warning signs, both in the general economy and the views of PCC treasurers? Individual clergy and their families will pay the price for this failing. Is that just in God’s sight?
St Martin’s Vicarage
76 Clapham Road
Bedford MK41 7PN
From the Revd Philip Maddock
Sir, — I was dismayed to read of the dilemma being presented to the Winchester diocesan synod on 28 November (News, 27 November).
Certainly, a case can be made for saving any of the sector-ministry posts being lined up to be axed in order to try to balance the diocesan budget. I would like to make a case for some people who would be very badly affected if the removal of the post of Chaplain for the Deaf and Hard of Hearing goes ahead.
For profoundly Deaf people, of whom there are more than 50,000 in England and up to 1500 in Winchester diocese, this would be a disaster. They have little or no usable hearing, and rely on British Sign Language (BSL) for communication, as their ability to use English, both spoken and written, is severely restricted by their inability to hear.
In order to access the ministry of the Church, they rely mainly on the services of sign-language interpreters. The chaplain must be a sign-language user in order to provide pastoral care, occasional offices, etc., and the chaplain also has the task of co-ordinating the services of the interpreters at places where the Deaf people worship.
Without the chaplain’s ministry, Deaf people would find themselves cut off from the Church as most parish priests would find themselves unable to communicate except at a quite rudimentary level. These facts seem to be very little understood in the Church at large.
When our Lord walked this earth, he may well have been concerned about the recruitment and training of rabbis for all the synagogues, or how their congregations could afford to keep them adequately staffed and in good repair. The Gospel record, however, clearly shows that he was a great deal more concerned with the plight of the poor, the orphans, the widows, and people with disabilities.
Perhaps if the Church of England were to be less concerned with the prevailing economic climate and to follow more assiduously the example of Jesus, seeking to adopt his priorities for ministry, then situations like the one Winchester diocese now faces would be less likely to occur.
Adviser for Ministry of and among
Deaf and Disabled People
Great Smith Street
London SW1P 3AZ