Bid to change handling of fees rejected

24 April 2015

PHILIP MORRIS

Chair: James Turner explains the proposal 

Chair: James Turner explains the proposal 

AN ATTEMPT by the Representative Body - the ultimate legal trustees of the Church in Wales - to reallocate fees from weddings and funerals to diocesan boards of finance rather than the clergy who take the occasional offices was rejected by the Governing Body after a fierce debate.

A similar change was made in the Church of England in 2011. But in England the change made no difference to the priest's income, because clergy had to assign their fees voluntarily to the diocesan board of finance, or have their stipend reduced by the amount of fee income received.

In the Church in Wales, a priest's fee income is in addition to his or her diocesan stipend.

A report detailing the proposal said that "in return for surrendering their fee income, stipendiary clergy would receive a fee allowance in addition to stipend. Serving stipendiary clergy who decide not to sign up to the new arrangements could retain parochial fee income until retirement, or on taking up a new appointment."

The motion being considered sought them to "approve the core principle" of the change, and to request "such further consultation" as was required to allow a draft Bill to be prepared incorporating the change.

Explaining the proposal, James Turner, who chairs the Representative Body, said that a review of parochial fees was commissioned in March 2012. The review group's proposals on fee structures and fee levels were agreed by the Representative Body in June last year, approved by the Governing Body last September, and implemented in February.

"These have been well received in the wider Church," he said, "and the significant increases will go some way, we hope, to provide much-needed assistance to parishes in meeting the costs of churchyard maintenance."

The proposals arose from the second part of the review, he said. "The question of how income arising from occasional offices should be allocated is a considerably more contentious issue, and has been on the Church's agenda for some time."

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Reviews carried out over the years, he said, had identified that "occasional offices fell within the normal duties of a parish priest for which the priest already received a stipend," and that the current arrangements created a "material variation in clergy income".

He went on: "In a small number of cases, a parish priest might earn a five-figure sum from officiating at occasional offices; but, in many more cases, clergy will receive a relatively small amount, perhaps amounting to only three figures."

The review group was "not making proposals lightly", Sandy Blair (Monmouth), who chaired the review group, said. "We are confident that they are fair, that they are affordable and workable, and will create a more equitable financial settlement in the Church.

"We also hope the new arrangements will support the shifting culture in the way ministry in the Church in Wales is provided, as part of a wider exercise to develop ministry areas served by mixed ministry teams."

The Revd Stephen Bunting (Swansea & Brecon) said that he was in two minds about the proposals, because "I completely agree with the theory that occasional offices - weddings and funerals - are a privilege of those who are ordained, and that in a theoretical world we would not need to take a fee for doing this at all.

"But, in that same theoretical world, our Church wouldn't charge anything for occasional offices, because, like it says in the report, it is our privilege to do so. . . But realistically, and unfortunately, we do not live in a theoretical world. . .

"We live in a world where the Church needs income to continue ministry, and ministers need income to offer themselves and their families a reasonable standard of living."

He continued: "I have never met one clergyman or -woman who came into ministry for the money. It simply doesn't happen. They do it because they love Jesus, and want to serve his people."

He said that the work involved in taking funerals, including "the extra visits, the preparation, the writing of eulogies, travel, the service, post-funeral follow-up" was on top of "the rest of my work, [which] doesn't stop [but] just gets moved into the evening, or the night, or even the magical day off. They are hours worked outside the norm, and for that they deserve an additional payment."

The proposals, which, he said, came at a time when morale among the clergy was "fairly low", would "see any clergyperson who does more than one funeral a month and three or more weddings a year financially worse off.

"I and many other clergy simply could not financially survive without the extra income provided by occasional offices. For me, this would be the loss of several thousand pounds.

"There have been times since I have been ordained when I have literally had no money, and only by the generosity of a friend, or a random cheque from my bishop, or a regular appeal to charities such as the Sons of the Clergy, have I been able to survive.

"I know clergy who have taken out payday loans. I know clergy who are riddled with debt. It is only now, through the additional income generated by occasional offices, that I can worry less about money; that I can afford to take my children on holiday. . . I shouldn't have to rely on charity handouts for a normal standard of living."

Canon Steven Kirk (Llandaff) said that the proposals would "create a blockage, with clergy unwilling to move on" from some parishes, and would place an "additional burden on parish treasurers".

The Revd Mark Lawson-Jones (Monmouth) said that "a family with two adults and one child, whose only income is a stipend, is £4520 a year below this Government's understanding of a minimum income."

He said that the proposals adopted a "broadbrush approach that would affect the poorest and hardest working clergy the most".

The Archdeacon of Llandaff, the Ven. Peggy Jackson, said that she hoped the proposals would be the "start of new agenda to level up all the stipends of the Church in Wales . . . and perhaps archdeacons, deans, bishops, and canons ought to say they would take a holding operation until all stipends are at the same level. I would certainly vote for that."

"I cannot vote for a motion that would see even one of our clergy worse off financially," Daniel Priddy (St Davids) said. "I cannot see that this is what we should be doing as a Governing Body, and penalising our members of the clergy in this way."

The Assistant Bishop of Llandaff, the Rt Revd David Wilbourne, spoke of his experience as a priest in the Church of England. "One thing I was grateful for was that, when I took a funeral, people realised that there was no financial benefit to me. I felt that freed me up," he said.

"Two significant and wider issues had come up," Mr Turner said as he responded to the debate. "One is the absolute level of stipends, and I think the second is clergy workloads. Both of those matters need addressing, but they fall outside this motion."

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On a vote, the motion was lost: with 34 voted in favour, and 48 voted against. There were 27 abstentions.

Unfermented wine The use of unfermented communion wine at the eucharist, in a separate chalice, to cater for the needs of alcoholics, opened up "unexpected theological intricacies", the Bishop of St Asaph, the Rt Revd Gregory Cameron, said in answer to a question from Dean Roberts (Monmouth).

He went on: "Given that the full spiritual benefits of the body and blood of Christ are contained in either of the elements of communion, it is hard to understand why the reception of bread alone should not be a pastorally sensitive celebration of the sacrament."

But the Bishops in the Church in Wales, he said, had "authority to make pastoral provision, and may be willing, should a sufficiently robust pastoral case be made, to consider the exceptional circumstances".

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