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The retirement of the clergy: further contributions

13 September 2013


From the Revd Michael Johnson
Sir, - A letter (9 August) asked whether, after retirement from stipendiary ministry, "the extraordinary sense of loss" was unusual. No, it isn't. I live near a town where priests have retired and felt utterly bereft.

The Revd Nicholas Read (Back Page Interview, same issue) points out that a key decision in his life followed the move from self-supporting ministry (SSM) to stipendiary ministry, which was "my biggest regret ever. . . The Church . . . turned me into an employee and completely botched the process." I believe the two items are connected.

I, too, retired after more than 40 years of ministry, serving in 11 parishes in three dioceses. But I was an SSM (without a priest-in-charge for more than ten years). I had advantages over your other correspondent. On retirement, I stayed in our own home and community and was granted PTO on the day of retirement. I never had to depend on the C of E for housing, income, and status,but had the gift of a licence to minister in several parishes, one of which was always effectively my own, and in which I never took fewer than 60 services annually.

My calling was from God, not the C of E, with freedom to develop a unique ministry outside my parish. On retirement, I had no feeling of loss, nor felt my ministry was over. Whether ordained or lay, in post or retired, there are myriad opportunities - but it is no use waiting to get an offer.

1 Halke Cottages, Sheldwich
Kent ME13 0LR

Sir, - In both my two previous ministries I have encountered some very negative experiences of retired clergy.

The problem was not so much clergy who retired into the parish from other areas, but NSMs who had held assistant posts and because of housing and family, remained in the parish and continued to attend the church.

In my first, I was appointed a team vicar, but found myself quickly having to give leadership during a vacancy. I replaced a team vicar, who retired and continued to live in the parish. After a fortnight's holiday, he returned, refreshed and ready for the next phase in his ministry. He asked for a monthly preaching and presiding slot, which was granted. In the congregation, however, were several other retired clergy who also asked for a monthly slot. As I would need their help in the future, I could not afford to alienate them, and so accommodated them on the rota. The result was that I (the only stipendiary cleric on the team) often sat in the congregation, as we lacked room in the chancel and Sundays in the month for everyone's ministry desires to be fulfilled.

The "retired" priest at my next charge proved to be my Nemesis. Before my appointment, I met him and found him most affable. He assured me that he had retired and was simply available should I need any help. Because there were no other priests in the team, I was glad of his help.

For many decades, he had been given charge of one of the smaller churches, an arrangement that suited previous Vicars. Being more of a hands-on type, and trying to make the church more outward-looking and relevant to a changing culture, I quickly found that even the smallest of changes were bitterly resented by him and his family, who were a powerful force in the church.

As more clergy joined the team, there was obviously less for all of us to do on the rota. He resented the curtailing of his ministry and falsely accused me of wanting to be rid of him. This infuriated his family even more, who turned against me with much venom, almost destroyed the church, caused me to take two months' leave of absence, and was a factor in my leaving my last post.

Before applying for my present position, I ascertained whether there were any retired priests in the congregation, and, on finding there was none, felt safe in applying.

Priestly ministry is a life-long call, but it does not always "need an altar" or a regular slot in the rota in order to be fulfilled. It can be exercised in a greater freedom for intercessory prayer, or simply being an encouraging presence.

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