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.
The Vicarage, Cheap Street
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.
12 Meadow Close