MORE than a third of the recipients of financial aid from the charity Sons and Friends of the Clergy say that they could not have coped without this support, research suggests.
Widows, ex-spouses, and retired clergy told researchers how the money had helped to pay for basic essentials, including food and heating.
The research was conducted last year by the National Council for Voluntary Organisations (NCVO), and included an online survey completed by 471 people, all of whom had received a grant in the past three years.
This week, the interim registrar of the Sons and Friends, Tim Jeffery, suggested that the financial situation of clergy and their dependants was often not well understood by congregations, and that some were in “quite extreme situations”.
Each year, the charity awards grants totalling about £2 million to about 1200 beneficiaries. In the past three years, more than half (58 per cent) of the money went to serving clergy, 16 per cent to divorced or separated spouses, 14 per cent to retired clergy, and three per cent to ordinands.
The survey found that more than one third of respondents had received three or more grants in the past three years. This was particularly true for widows, ex-spouses, and retired clergy, many of whom were “clearly experiencing extreme hardship”. The NCVO researchers concluded that grants were making a “substantial difference” to the lives of beneficiaries.
Several people described how they had cried on opening the letter and finding a cheque. One respondent described how a grant had enabled her to leave a difficult relationship, and set up home for herself and her children: “Your grant has translated into filling my freezer and food cupboard, having adequate heating in winter, school uniforms, decent shoes, and coats.”
Another described how the grant had helped after a marriage breakdown had left him feeling suicidal. An ex-spouse described how the support had “saved her life” after her husband left her with a young child and no financial support. One family had been able to send their child to the cathedral school, to escape bullying at a village school.
The NCVO concluded that the charity’s work was “highly effective”, but that grants alone would not solve all beneficiaries’ problems, and that work to support them in other ways was required.
”The context in which clergy are working is changing dramatically,” Mr Jeffery said. He referred to the growing number of self-supporting ministries, and the need to prevent people from getting into financial difficulties in the first place.
A single earner on a basic stipend, with a large number of children and a spouse who needed to be at home, could find him or herself in a “quite extreme situation”, he said. The same was true for divorced or separated ex-spouses of clergy who had left the clergy home and had nowhere to go.
The charity’s vision statement was: “Flourishing clergy serving God’s people”; but, “if you are deeply worried about your financial situation and kids’ being able to go on school trips . . . it’s hard to flourish,” Mr Jeffery said. “What we want to see is the Church looking after its clergy so they are able to flourish.”
Sons and Friends of the Clergy is an amalgamation of seven organisations, the earliest of which was founded in 1655. It has assets of almost £90 million.