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Clergy shortages in the north: not just a question of imagination

30 January 2015


From the Revd Rebecca H. Watts

Sir, - In Jane Austen's Pride and Prejudice, the disgraced Wickham has to leave his regiment in the south of England and redeploy to the "regulars" in Newcastle, "a place quite northward". The Revd Rachel Mann (Comment, 9 January) is right to observe that certain 19th-century novels (which include representations of Anglicanism) are located in the world of relative privilege and in the south.

A glance at the Newcastle diocesan website will show that many of the posts currently advertised up here are non-stipendiary or house-for-duty. This means that those selected for these posts will be drawn from those who can survive without a stipend, or those of a certain age drawing a pension. Women clergy, in particular, may feel a pressure to accept a non-stipendiary position if their partner has a salary. Younger male or female clergy with children thinking of relocating to the north would surely struggle to survive on the income of their non-clergy spouse. Lack of money in Newcastle diocese is the reason that more stipendiary positions are not on offer. Clergy are hardly likely to relocate to the north for unpaid positions.

The catholicity of the Church of England is at stake. Solutions may be for wealthier link dioceses to contribute to their partner diocese (Winchester is linked with Newcastle); church-planting into existing small congregations, and the formation of relationships with ordinands from the south during their training. There also needs to be a recognition of the fact that Newcastle diocese is largely rural and has a low population outside its urban and "market-town" centres. Rather than the management of decline, what is needed is an investment in paid clergy for the purpose of growing congregations, especially in places where the majority of people are living.

The north is poorer than the south, and the crisis of recruitment in the Church in the north follows naturally on from the lack of money available to employ clergy here.

7 Westfield Avenue
Newcastle upon Tyne NE3 4YH


From the Revd Rachel Wood

Sir, - Thank you for the Revd Rachel Mann's article "Far from those dark, satanic mills". As an English graduate brought up on Teesside, and having experienced four northern dioceses as a priest and married to a priest, I would love more literary role-models of northern ministry to affirm and inspire.

Although currently out of print, another novel by Catherine Fox, Love for the Lost, is a moving and resonant imagining of ministry in the post-industrial landscape of the north-east. Richard T. Kelly also had a go in Crusaders.

The impact made by post-industrialisation on the churches and ministry in the north-east is in real need of a considered and creative theological and literary response.

St Hilda's Vicarage
Preston Gate
North Shields NE29 9QB

From the Revd Anna Macham

Sir, - The Revd Rachel Mann makes an important point about the (literary) association of the C of E with class privilege. But I feel more hopeful about the ways in which contemporary fiction is already starting to reimagine Anglican clerical identity.

To give just three examples: Adam Foulds's "The Rules are the Rules" (2010) is a heartbreaking, chilling story about a gay vicar isolated in faceless suburbia (could be north or south) who, while reaching out to his underprivileged community, hides behind work and ritual to avoid confronting his fears.

Nicola Barker's strange, hilarious novel The Yips (2012) is set in Luton, and has a female vicar with an activist background who has to rethink her life and ministry.

Samantha Harvey's story "Flowers Appear on the Earth" (2013) is set on an island off the Cornish coast and features a vicar who cries with the residents when disaster strikes their factory, and stands by the disenfranchised factory workers when they are poorly treated by Westminster.

These might seem small examples, but they are sensitive, well-observed, and humane depictions from major voices in contemporary fiction which seem to me to be about anything but clerical aspiration to higher levels of society. I find it encouraging that - while the background of the clergy depicted is still middle-class - modern authors are choosing to emphasise the more positive aspect of establishment, in that they take priestly ministry and its power to help change a local community seriously.

Anna Macham
St Philip's Vicarage
Avondale Square
London SE1 5PD

From Mr Richard Pratt

Sir, - After seeing the article by the Revd Rachel Mann, may I offer a possible insight from secular life into the apparent reluctance of clergy to move from south to north?

In the 1970s, my then employers decided to move their R&D establishment out of London to Wiltshire. The majority of our predominantly male workforce transferred, not least because we were descending the house-price gradient (I sold a two-bedroom flat in London and bought a three-bedroom semi.)

In the 1990s, a different employer performed a similar exercise, consolidating several R&D establishments into just one in the Midlands. This proved a much more difficult project: although our workforce was again predominantly male, many felt unable to move, because it would have meant that their wives would have had to seek new jobs. Even some of those who did move found themselves commuting long distances (by Midlands standards), while their wives commuted an equally long distance in the opposite direction.

Meanwhile, a multinational company for which I also worked had great difficulty moving its German employees between the Ruhrgebiet and Bavaria, in either direction, for much the same reasons.

Nowadays, clergy, whether male or female, are much more likely to have a spouse with a career of his or her own. If you have a parish in Gravesend and your spouse has a job near London Victoria, it may be no great hardship to move to Slough, while Croydon would probably be beneficial; but moving out of commuting range of London is much more problematic.

Moreover, for an incumbent who must be resident in his or her parish, dividing the commuting load with a spouse by living halfway between your different places of work is not an option.

187 High Road, Chilwell
Nottingham, NG9 5BA

From the Revd Brian Cranwell

Sir, - In my last parish, I had a semi-retired part-time assistant priest who had served in the British Army during the Second World War after being a refugee from Germany in the 1930s. At the end of the war, he was accepted for training for ministry, and went to Westcott House.

In his second year, the students received a visit from the Archdeacon of Sheffield (in gaiters), whose purpose was to encourage young ordinands to serve at least one curacy in the industrial north. My colleague remembered his punchline: "You won't find the Kingdom of God in Tunbridge Wells."

Having no experience of northern industrial cities, my colleague came to Sheffield for his summer placement, then subsequently as a curate on completion of training. He remained here until his death in his late nineties.

Having little experience of the north myself (being brought up in London), I came to Sheffield from abroad in the early 1970s to attend a university management course.

After ordination a few years later, I had no wish to go anywhere else. My elder brother, who lived in Chelsea, never failed to comment during his visits on how much better a quality of life we had here (and cheaper) than in London.

9 West View Close
Sheffield S17 3LT

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