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Clergy pay: a snapshot of concerns

by
02 July 2021

Pat Ashworth sifts through answers to the survey about clergy living standards

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CLERGY serving in dioceses with higher levels of deprivation, such as Sheffield and Manchester, find their living standards to be generally higher than the majority of their parishioners, an extensive survey carried out as part of the Clergy Remuneration Review 2020 (News, 25 June) has found.

That is the case for 38.3 per cent of the clergy in Sheffield, one of an identified “top six” dioceses comprising also Birmingham (38 per cent), Manchester (35.8), Truro (28.1), Leeds (24.6), and Exeter (21.2). Conversely, in the “bottom six”, 46.7 per cent of clergy serving in Guildford judged their living standards to be below the majority of the parish, followed by Rochester (34.4 per cent), Oxford (33.8), York (32.9), Salisbury (32.3), and Winchester (29.1).

Expectations were crucial, the survey found: “Those who maintain continuity with previous living standards experience the least impact on their [financial and material] wellbeing, while unforeseen events and circumstances can have serious financial implications.”

Clergy drew on a wide range of resources to manage current and future finances, “and the need to plan is held in tension with God’s provision”.

All stipendiary clergy with an email address in Crockford’s Clerical Directory and who had not opted out of being contacted by the National Church Institutions (NCI) were invited to take part in the survey: 3700 did so.

The majority of clergy who responded reported that they were “living comfortably” or “doing all right”; but 25 per cent were “just getting by”, and 13.2 per cent were finding it “very or quite difficult” to manage. On the aggregate level, the review calculates, “Clergy seem to be managing to pay bills, just about afford to go on holiday and generally to avoid debt.” Just over half, 54 per cent, of the clergy had no debts: car loan or hire purchase was the most common form of debt for the rest.

 

IN ALL, more than 60 per cent of the clergy have a household income greater than the UK median. More would struggle without a working spouse or partner: two-thirds (67 per cent) of the clergy reported having an extra household income. One-fifth (22 per cent) of those without spousal income were finding it difficult to manage financially, compared with 11 per cent who had.

Many clergy with a career before ordination were helped by savings from previous earnings, including other pensions. Those in the 40-49 age groups, and those with dependent children, were generally the worst off; those over 60 the best. Forty per cent of retired clergy were helped by savings from another source, including inheritance.

Two-clergy couples were a significant presence in the survey: 8.9 per cent (271) of clergy who responded to the main survey reported that their spouse or partner was ordained, or in training for ordination. More than one tenth (10.8 per cent) of those couples share a stipend; 8.2 per cent suggested that their spouse or partner was an SSM because a suitable stipendiary post was not available.

 

ALTRUISM Is apparent among the clergy. More than one quarter of clergy were regularly choosing not to claim their full working expenses, owing to concerns about their parish’s finances. Reluctance to claim was found to be more pronounced among clergy whose parishes were unable to pay the parish share. The review poses the question: “To what extent does this raise concern that some clergy might be subsidising struggling parishes?”

When it came to pay structures, more than half the clergy did not favour a higher stipend for those working in parishes where responsibilities were particularly demanding, nor for “hard to fill” posts. Three-quarters (75 per cent) agreed that variations in stipends between dioceses should be minimised.

 

CLERGY were very exercised about housing, which represents a significant proportion of their remuneration. More than four out of five (85.96 per cent) who responded to the survey were living in a house provided for them. As for the others, 3.12 per cent of the total were living in housing on which they were paying a mortgage; 8.38 per cent in a house they owned outright; and 1.35 per cent in one for which were paying rent.

Clergy are encouraged to buy a house of their own in preparation for retirement. In the survey, only just more than one-third owned one: 1293; 102 had inherited one.

One third, however, did not feel that they were on track to having adequate provision in place for retirement; one fifth (22 per cent) expect to need assistance from the Church.

Getting on for one half (42.5 per cent) were not fully aware of the CHARM (Church’s Housing Assistance for the Retired Ministry) scheme. And, at present, one quarter of retired clergy are benefiting to some extent from income or payment received from covering services and from conducting funerals and weddings.

The diocesan consultation which accompanied the remuneration review reported the average capital value of a parsonage to be £463,989. Manchester had the lowest average, at £250,000, and Guildford the highest, at £749,000.

Just more than half of those surveyed said that the size of their parsonage house made it difficult to run or heat. More than half believed that clergy should have the flexibility to live in smaller provided accommodation in or near their benefice, should they wish to do so. A small majority would prefer the flexibility of receiving a housing allowance rather than living in a provided property. Older clergy were more likely than younger to agree that they would rather receive more stipend than live in a provided house.

 

ALTOGETHER, 28 dioceses responded to the consultation, of which 23 believed the current clergy remuneration package to be adequate and 18 to be appropriate. Their findings throw light on several aspects of the pay package review and the lives of the clergy. Respondents cited many clergy benefits, including the professional counselling service; the ability to move relatively easily over a wide geographical area; the availability of sabbaticals; enhanced parental and sickness benefits; and access to some bursaries for their children’s education.

As mentioned, however, nearly one in eight clergy reported that they were struggling. Dioceses’ ability to help out varied widely: one diocese noted that it had significantly more funds available to support hardship than it was currently receiving recommendations or applications for. One diocese paid grants of between £500 and £3000 to clergy experiencing hardship; in another, the range was £18 to more than £24,000.

On issues relating to financial hardship in retirement, there was some awareness of occasions when retired clergy living in private rented accommodation had not been able to keep pace with rising rental costs. This had led to some “going rogue” with funerals (i.e. bypassing the diocese and working directly with funeral directors), even when their health meant that this should have stopped, one diocese reported.

Three others noted that clergy could be quite dependent on fees from occasional offices for additional income in retirement. Those in the greatest need had worked for para-church organisations with even fewer pension benefits.

 

DIOCESES were asked whether they felt that the current package was a factor in attracting new vocations to ordained ministry, including among a greater diversity of people. Only 11 dioceses thought it did;14 said that the package was very rarely raised in vocational discussions with potential candidates.

Some found that, because the package included housing, it was often viewed favourably by those from less advantaged backgrounds. But, for some dioceses, “the bigger issue for clergy recruitment currently is uncertainty of their employability in the longer term, especially with the widespread talk of cuts.”

Dioceses were asked whether the pandemic meant that their approach to clergy remuneration would have to change in any way. One responded: “In the current circumstances of huge uncertainty for many people in the country, I think the clergy will be regarded as very fortunate to have assured housing and incomes with great security of tenure when many people will be experiencing the opposite. We think this should be noted in any published review.”

Another pointed out the future likelihood of fewer clergy and more lay positions, which “might mean a bigger salary but less housing obligations”.

Just more than half responding to the diocesan consultation felt that there would not be any long-term impact of Covid-19 on the ability to support clergy remuneration via the parish-share system. But others did: concern was expressed that it had led to a permanent reduction in congregation numbers, accelerating an existing trend and impacting on correlated giving.

“It reinforces that any steps to increase the cost of the remuneration package are unrealistic,” one said. Another said: “We are not ourselves calling for any reduction in the package in the light of Covid-19, but we acknowledge that some others may need to do so. If this happened, there would need to be some regional variation in stipend level to reflect variations in the cost of living.”

Approaches to remuneration had to change, anyway, the dioceses concluded — not because of the pandemic, but out of a desire to adopt a greater range of ministry models (and accompanying remuneration). “We will make this journey within the current framework, but it would be considerably easier if the framework offered a wider range of options.”

Forthcoming Events

20 September 2021
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25 September 2021
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With Stephen Cottrell, Peter Stanford, Lucy Winkett, and Rowan Williams.

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