From the Revd Robert S. J. Charles
Sir, — The alarming projection of declining clergy numbers for the diocese of Blackburn (Real Life, 10 February) highlights a problem for the whole Church. I cannot believe that Blackburn diocese is unique in this respect.
It says much about the insanity of continuing to enforce compulsory retirement when the Church needs clergy, and the Government for its own economic reasons is encouraging people to remain in work longer. It is true that many clergy are more than happy to retire at 65 or earlier, but others are willing and able to continue in ministry beyond the present retirement age.
One of the problems, as well as a lack of joined-up thinking, appears to be financing the clergy. Many dioceses are glad to shift the financial burden for their clergy from their own budget to that of the Pensions Board: some clergy are invited to take their pensions prematurely, and yet remain in office, which effectively passes the responsibility for part of a stipend to an already fully stretched Pensions Board. To put it mildly, this is an unworthy and immoral gesture on the part of a Christian organisation, as well as counter-productive to the mission of the Church.
As one viewing the situation from the comfort of retirement, I am bound to say that it is my perception that many parishes are receiving a raw deal. The dioceses, a bit like the National Health Service, are seen as top-heavy with administrators. It would do parish morale a great deal of good if many diocesan posts were combined with the charge of a small parish that would otherwise be grouped.
Another change that the General Synod will not accept is the need to reduce the number of bishops. Their episcopal workload is so reduced that the office of suffragan bishop should be abolished, with the possible exceptions of those in the dioceses of Canterbury and York. It will be argued that bishops are busy and have full diaries, but this is not with uniquely episcopal duties, since confirmations and ordinations are now much reduced.
The strength of the Church of England has always been its presence in every community. The present emphasis poses a real threat to its continuing well-being.
It is little wonder that clergy numbers are falling, when the traditional ministry of the Church is so undervalued.
ROBERT S. J. CHARLES
8 Old Bystock Drive
Exmouth, Devon EX8 5RB