NEARLY half the self-supporting ministers (SSMs) in four
dioceses feel that they are seen as "second-class" by their
stipendiary colleagues, new research suggests.
Although four out of five of the SSMs who responded feel that
they are valued by their church family, and describe their ministry
as "a privilege and a joy", many also express a range of
frustrations in a survey, conducted last year.
Researchers conclude that the "rigid" structures of the Church
have not caught up with a landscape in which, soon, almost half of
clergy will be self-supporting.
A total of 296 SSMs in Bristol, Gloucester, Lichfield, and
Worcester dioceses responded to the survey, conducted by the
diocesan officers for SSM; a response rate of 72 per cent.
Bristol has published its own report of the findings from the
diocese. It shows that 30 per cent believed that being
self-supporting would have a negative impact on applying for posts
in the diocese. Just 16 per cent felt that they had "a voice"
within the diocese.
"There is a responsibility on the speaker as much as there is on
the listener," said the Revd Charles Sutton, SSM at All Saints with
St John, Clifton, who is the Bishop's adviser for self-supporting
ministry, and also works as an organisational psychologist. "You
can have a louder voice by putting yourself in place, as it
But he acknowledged that SSMs in full-time employment could not
attend chapter, deanery, or diocesan events during the working day.
There was a need to ensure that "when appointments are going to be
made, they are made visible to all the appropriate populations. . .
I deliberately go out of my way . . to consider SSMs."
Across the four dioceses, 69 per cent of respondents believe
that SSMs should be considered for senior posts, e.g. assistant
bishop, archdeacon, or cathedral canon.
A briefing note by the researchers is critical of the lack of
SSMs in senior posts, describing it as "wrong and unfair. While
canon law currently prevents SSMs from becoming bishops (and why
couldn't this be changed?), there is nothing to stop
self-supporting ministers from being made archdeacons."
A theme across the responses from the four dioceses is the
belief that SSMs' experience from "outside the Church" is not
harnessed by dioceses.
"Very often it either does not take place, or, most importantly,
it is not known about," Mr Sutton said. "There must be better ways,
and that probably comes through a more intelligent use of ministry
Seventy per cent of Bristol respondents say that ministerial
reviews and professional development (65 per cent) do not include
SSMs. The diocese has committed itself to several initiatives,
including one to "accelerate the process of cultural change to
create a real sense of 'one ministry'".
The survey builds on earlier research carried out nationally by
the Revd Dr Teresa Morgan in 2011 (News,
1 and 8 April, 2011). At
the time, 27 per cent of clergy were non-stipendiary. Dr Morgan
found that many respondents felt "ignored, overlooked, or
under-used". She reported that "almost all SSMs are used to hearing
themselves denigrated as hobby priests, weekenders, or
The findings in the latest research resonated with SSMs in other
dioceses. The Revd Karen Kousseff, a self-supporting Assistant
Priest of Lower Dever, Winchester diocese, has been meeting with
other SSM colleagues for 18 months "to think about ways in which
SSMs might be enabled to flourish better".
She said last week: "It's a gift that needs to be valued,
nurtured, and used, rather than received and then left in a corner,
which is sometimes how it feels."
Her group of contacts was "stunned" by the Bristol finding that
it would take 37.7 full-time stipendiary clergy to replicate the
work done by the diocese's SSMs and ordained local ministers
(OLMs). "This, with on-costs, could be considered an approximate
salary saving in excess of £1.8 million."
The group has made recommendations to the Winchester diocese
about how to improve the position of SSM clergy. These include a
Bishop's adviser for SSM.
Ms Kousseff said: "There seems to be little or no help or
encouragement for how one's ministry might develop post-curacy, yet
there is plenty said about how non-stipendiary resources (including
licensed lay ministers) will play an increasingly important role as
the number of stipendiary priests declines.
"There is something of a disconnect between the need to depend
more on unpaid leadership, and the sometimes implicit idea that if
one were really capable, one would be stipendiary. We're at a time
of great change locally and nationally; so it's an opportune time
to speak out. We really hope that SSM can play a full part in how
we reimagine the Church for the future."
The Revd Nick Shutt, the self-supporting Rector of West Dartmoor
Mission Community, said that improving the deployment of SSMs was
"no easy task", given that they came with an "extremely wide range
of personal situations which are not easy to shoehorn into existing
patterns of ministry".
But, he contined: "I think it is reasonable to ask: Where are
the SSM archdeacons? Where are the SSM bishops?
"Perhaps now that the Church has established parity of
opportunity for women priests in terms of the episcopate, some
thought could be given in a similar way to the ministry of SSMs. .
. This may be a bit dewy-eyed, but I look forward to a time when
ministers are selected on merit rather than on gender or
He went on: "I think I could make a very good case for saying
that self-supporting ministry is the normative form of ministry and
that stipendiary ministry is the aberration."
The Revd Philip Green, an NSM at St Peter's, London Colney, St
Albans diocese, said that, while he had heard the "second-class"
comment from those who had been ordained longer, he felt that his
diocese did "a significant amount" to accommodate SSMs.
"We have a designated member of clergy; and many events are
organised in the evenings." He felt "utterly valued".
The Ministry Division is holding an SSM consultation day
tomorrow, in London. Those wishing to repeat the survey in other
dioceses should email Mr Sutton: firstname.lastname@example.org.
Are SSMs right to say that their ministry is under-valued?