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House-for-duty ministry: a career option?

by
03 January 2014

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From the Revd Stephen Goundrey-Smith

Sir, - I read with interest the Revd Ron Wood's article on house-for-duty clergy (Comment, 20/27 December). My own experience of house-for-duty ministry is, I hope, more positive.

I am in charge of a rural three-parish benefice in the Gloucestershire Cotswolds. I undertake two days' a week and Sunday duties for the local church, but, unlike my two predecessors, I am not a retired stipendiary priest. I spend three days a week working as a pharmaceutical marketing and informatics consultant.

I have been in my current post for more than three years, and was previously an assistant house-for-duty priest in the Peterborough diocese. Unlike many clergy in house-for-duty posts, I have chosen this ministry as a career option.

I have to work hard to balance two jobs with family life, but find it highly rewarding; and, of course, it is a joy to live in one of the prettiest areas of England. Furthermore, I must say that my ministry here is effective thanks to the excellent team of churchwardens and lay leaders, with whom I share the ministry. The three parishes are fully supportive, understand the nature of house-for-duty ministry, and are glad to have "their own vicar" - which house-for-duty ministry makes possible - when they would otherwise be in a six-, seven-, or eight-parish benefice, with a stipendiary priest maybe some distance away.

I recognise some of the problems that Mr Wood describes. I have to be flexible with the work that I do, in order to accommodate funerals and pastoral requirements. Furthermore, I soon realised that some of my parishioners had no idea that their vicar was not full-time or paid. Nevertheless, as I live, work, and socialise in the benefice, I know most of my parishioners, and I believe I have a level of engagement with the parishes which is as good, if not better, than some stipendiaries with larger benefices and more miles to travel.

I would argue that house-for-duty ministry has great potential for enabling effective proclamation of the gospel and discipling of the Church in rural areas, given the current financial trends and the budgetary problems faced by the Church of England. Rather than see it as a second-class ministry, or as a means of housing and getting more work out of semi-retired stipendiary clergy, senior staff of any rural diocese should actively support and develop house-for-duty ministry, as a means of cost-effective ministry, and also to extend the mission of the local church.

In fact, a coherent strategy for development and deployment of house-for-duty ministers is essential, for two reasons.

First, if a benefice or parish has a house-for-duty post, at the current time, it is likely that the post will be filled by an older priest who, for all his or her experience, may be weary from many years of ministry, or may not naturally be able to connect with families and young people. There is a need, in my view, to encourage younger clergy to consider house-for-duty ministry, to ensure that house-for-duty parishes have a larger pool of clergy to draw on when seeking an appointment.

Career house-for-duty ministry is demanding, but many younger individuals training for ordination who have an appropriate professional background would be well suited to this ministry.

Second, a strategy is needed to ensure that house-for-duty clergy are trained and developed in collaborative ministry. The Church is the priesthood of all believers, and there is no such thing as "part-time" ministry for any Christian.

Furthermore, while a mixed economy of ministry, which releases the gifts of the whole Church, is de- sirable for any church, it is essential for a church where the senior minister is not able to spend all his or her time on parish ministry. House-for-duty clergy, therefore, need to be people who can recognise, develop, and release the ministry gifts of others.

If the Church of England can accept current financial realities, actively develop house-for-duty ministries, and encourage parishes to support them, then the mission of the Church - especially in rural areas - would be greatly strengthened.

STEPHEN GOUNDREY-SMITH
The Vicarage, Cheap Street
Chedworth
Gloucestershire GL54 4AA
 

From the Revd Christopher Elliott

Sir, - Having retired from a house-for-duty post earlier this year, I find myself in agreement with just about all of the Revd Ron Wood's article. But I was fortunate, in that I came to a small remote group of three parishes whose parishioners were realistic about their expectations.

Also, having come out of retirement to take up the post, I made the point to the diocesan secretary that I had been in the habit of receiving occasional fees for funerals, etc., and, as I was treated as a retired priest, I was allowed to retain the fees, which did provide a useful supplement to the clergy pension.

My experience was a good one. There is little hope of a stipendiary priest in this neck of the woods, but while house-for-duty in this situation is sensible, local ordained ministry would make more sense, if and when suitable candidates are identified and trained.

If you are a priest, you cannot possibly expect to work to a strict two days a week, plus Sundays, as is written in the job description. How can you say to the bereaved folk on the doorstep, "Sorry, today's not a working day: Come back on Friday"? One deals with things as they come in.

I was fortunate, having other retired clergy available to help out. So, every so often, my wife and I took five days out on the trot, and went to see family and friends. I negotiated this with the parishes, and there was always cover available. So, yes, some weeks, one did work a full week, but then took time out. I think it is called being flexible and realistic.

Another answer is also to think ecumenically, and work more closely with other denominations in partnership: in 2012, at a few hours' notice, I had to drop all my Christmas services for a family emergency. The Methodist minister stepped up to the plate and took over the Christingle, while others took other Christmas services. I actually do not think that my absence was really noticed.

If I was still fit and healthy, I would still be working, because the place is fabulous, with great, loving, and understanding people. In short, we had a ball. Given also a supportive bishop, archdeacon, and one of the best deaneries I have been been part of, I ended my ministry on a high.

If anyone wants a great posting for a few years, try Teesdale in County Durham: three parishes that will warmly welcome you.

CHRISTOPHER ELLIOTT
12 Meadow Close
Middleton-in-Teesdale
Co. Durham

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