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Self-supporting ministry: responses to Dr Morgan’s article

08 February 2013


From the Revd Graham Lewis
Sir, - As the current generation of clergy speeds towards retirement, the Church has a unique opportunity to revolutionise its provision of priestly care through the active promotion of self-supporting ministry in the context of flexible ministry.

Multi-church ministries, the inevitable consequence of treating stipendiary ministry as the norm, are bad for both clergy and people; but self-supporting ministry allows ministry to flourish in any church. Self-supporting ministers (SSMs) with roles outside the Church bring a different perspective to their church ministry and can reach the parts of society that stipendiary ministers cannot. SSM incumbents with other responsibilities create a new dynamic in the church as "every-member ministry" becomes an enforced and modelled reality rather than a dream.

In short, self-supporting ministry needs to become the main route for future delivery of priestly ministry.

The reported decline in SSM vocations, especially among the young, is a deeply worrying trend; if we are to grow churches, then we need a rapidly increasing number. But why is this even a question at selection? (I understand that the official selection is now for leader or assistant, but anecdotal evidence says that dioceses are interpreting this as meaning stipendiary or SSM.)

If the point of training is "ministerial formation", then surely the time to make decisions on the "form of ministry" is after the training, not before? And that decision cannot be binding for all time; an environment in which moving between self-supporting, house-for-duty, stipendiary, shared diocesan and parish ministry, etc., is a regular occurrence, and accomplished without institutional earthquakes, would give both clergy and dioceses more freedom in deployment.

I am told that this would create uncertainty for those in training, but I fail to see how this is different from training for any other role in life.

The Revd Dr Teresa Morgan's latest article ( Comment, 1 February) outlined the positive developments in recognition of self-supporting ministry since our survey and report of 2011 (available at www.1pf.co.uk), as deacons and priests are increasingly treated in the same way in terms of selection, training, and deployment, whether they receive a stipend or not.

It is in the structures and attitudes of the institution that the differences remain. It is time to put an end to this. The thinking that SSM means sub-standard ministry is deeply ingrained. Potential ordinands are told: "You're too good to be SSM." Full-time training is regarded as the gold standard, although there is no evidence that it produces more effective ministers. The guidance on fees assumes that the reform of tithes has never happened, and that all incumbents are stipendiaries operating in strict geographical boundaries. This is not going to change as long as we treat self-supporting ministry as an anomaly to be managed.

Welcome though the new interest in it is, this needs to be transitional. The final position should be true common tenure, in which a stipend is merely one of a number of options for supporting a particular ministry at a particular time, and in which flexible ministry is the norm.

53 Oastview, Gillingham ME8 8JG

From the Revd Linda Boon
Sir, - NSM to SSM: does the change in abbreviation indicate a change in attitude? Having started a new job in police training several years ago, I spent the first two weeks wondering what the funny smell I kept encountering could possibly be; then it suddenly dawned on me that it was probably testosterone.

I had never before worked in a predominantly male environment, having spent the previous 20 years in a branch of community education staffed mainly by women. It wasn't just the funny smell of course: every conversation was peppered with incomprehensible (to me) three-letter abbreviations, and every introduction included reference to how long one had been in "the" job (is there any other?) and how long one had "to go" to the 30-year (for them) retirement point.

So it was that I realised how difficult it is to see your own culture objectively until you step out of it - or someone different steps in.

As a newly ordained self-supporting minister, I have a sense of déjà-vu; and the article by the Revd Dr Teresa Morgan crystallised my feelings. One TLA has been replaced by another, but both NSM and SSM centre on one issue only: money.

I trained on the part-time Yorkshire Ministry Course, where most students could be classified as SSM. Semi-jokingly, this was variously self-defined as "spouse-supported ministry", "savings-supported ministry", and "state-supported ministry", as well as "self-supported ministry" - our financial situations were as varied as we were.

At the end of training, we have offered ourselves as full-time, half-time, weekend-only - you name it - resources to Church, and we bring a whole variety of gifts, skills, and gaps; and yet what defines us, it seems, is where our money doesn't come from.

I am not sure that the people I minister to as a deacon either know or care exactly what category I fall into, or what status that does or does not confer within the wider Church. My training minister entirely understands the opportunities and limitations that having a part-time curate affords, but then he would: he is a part-time vicar, holding another post in the diocese. I have spent one career trying to demonstrate that I can do more than fill gaps as a part-time trainer/teacher; I hope that that is not my future as an SSM.

Of course, St Paul made the point that he supported himself by the work of his own hands, and the disciples clearly still took their fishing seriously; but where they got the wherewithal to live is hardly the defining mark of their ministry. So why should it be of mine?

Cowgate Manor Barn, Shaw Mills
Harrogate HG3 3HP

From the Principal of the South-East Institute for Theological Education
Sir, - Readers of the Revd Dr Teresa Morgan's excellent article on self-supporting ministers might like to know that the event she refers to in her final paragraph will take place on Saturday 18 May at Southwark Cathedral, beginning with a service of thanksgiving in the morning, and continuing through the day with further activities.

It should be a wonderful opportunity to celebrate the new horizons for formation and vocation opened up by the Southwark Ordination Course (whose first students were ordained in 1963, and whose successor institution we are), to affirm the rich and varied contribution of self-supporting ministers over five decades and to reflect together on some of the opportunities and challenges for ministry today.

Further details of "A New Pattern of Priesthood", organised jointly with the Ministry Division and the diocese of Southwark, are available through our website.

Room Hf17
Canterbury Christ Church University
North Holmes Road
Kent CT1 1QU

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