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General Synod digest: ‘Papering over the cracks’ on clergy pay

18 February 2022
Clive Mear/Church Times

Solidarity was “about putting ourselves in others’ shoes”, the Revd Andrew Moughtin-Mumby (Southwark) said

Solidarity was “about putting ourselves in others’ shoes”, the Revd Andrew Moughtin-Mumby (Southwark) said

Clergy renumeration

THE General Synod took note of a report on clergy remuneration. A review had been carried out between January 2020 and June 2021 (News, 25 June 2021) and had been due to come to the Synod last July, but had been postponed in the interests of a slimmer agenda for the online meeting.

In his opening address on the Wednesday, the Bishop of Hereford, the Rt Revd Richard Jackson, who chairs the Remuneration and Conditions of Service Committee, said that the review had looked at appropriateness and affordability as well as adequacy.

The postponement, he said, had given people more people time to engage with the review, and to take into account the increasing anxiety, as a result of a rise in fuel costs (News, 11 February), about heating parsonages. The report was focusing on the long-term approach, he said, but the immediate financial concerns of clergy would be taken into account.

Bishop Jackson thanked clergy for their “dedicated, loving service, sustained in the face of unprecedented challenges” during the pandemic. “Maintaining morale in the face of these challenges is vital,” he said. “It is important to support the proportion of clergy who told us that they are facing financial hardship and feeling anxious about their financial well-being and retirement income.”

The value of the stipend had failed to keep up with inflation, he acknowledged, and the aspirations of the Generosity and Sacrifice report of 2002 had proved to be unrealistic. The global financial crisis of 2008 had required further adjustment, with changes made to the clergy pension scheme in 2008 and 2011 to keep it affordable.

“We are aware that these changes are a source of anxiety, and one of the reasons that prompted the review.”

Figures from the 2021 survey found that 62 per cent of clergy reported “living comfortably” or “doing all right”; 13 per cent were finding it “quite or very difficult to manage”; and 25 per cent were “just getting by” — suggesting, the Bishop said, that stipends were still at a level adequate for most.

The review team had estimated the overall package of stipend, housing, and a non- contributory defined-benefit pension scheme as being worth around £50,000, including a stipend of around £27,000, housing, and a pension giving a guaranteed income in retirement. A large proportion of the package included “not being faced with costs faced by many parishioners”, such as water charges and council tax.

Clive Mear/Church TimesThe Revd Jane Palmer (Salisbury) had expected something “more radical” about structures

Tied accommodation “could be a mixed blessing”, Bishop Jackson said, but there had been general support for keeping it, albeit with some additional flexibility. “It is seen as beneficial to their ministry for clergy to live among the communities where they minister.”

The review also found that the non-contributory defined-benefit pension scheme for stipendiary clergy was “becoming increasingly rare in the wider world”. Commissioned pensions specialists had assessed that, when combined with the state pension, this more than sufficed for a “moderate” standard of living in retirement.

A significant increase in the cost of clergy remuneration would create undue pressure on dioceses and parishes, the Bishop said. “In this context, it is important not to promise more than we can deliver, and [instead] focus on targeted additional support for those clergy who are experiencing financial hardship. Uplifts across the board may not always go where they are most needed.”

A key recommendation was the commitment of the Church to maintain the overall value of stipends and pensions against inflation in the future, although “ultimately, improvements in stipend depend on improvements in giving and improvements in the number of givers.”

Clive Mear/Church TimesJohn Spence, who chairs the Archbishops’ Council’s finance committee, acknowledged the particular challenge of fuel-price increases

It was hoped that guidance on housing would enable greater flexibility, consistency, and clarity in cases, for example, where the vicarage might not be suitable. The review concluded that having a reliable pension was a necessary consequence of providing a house for the better performance of duties.

It had recommended that guidance be produced on “circumstances in which it might be appropriate to make additional payments to clergy on the basis of need, and this will be explored and consulted on in due course”. The recommendations included greater and better availability of financial education, signposting, and support across the Church. “We are also in regular communication with the Clergy Support Trust.”

The review had also recommended the establishment of a diversity fund to support deaf and disabled clergy to meet additional costs.

John Spence, who chairs the Archbishops’ Council’s finance committee, acknowledged the particular challenge of fuel-price increases and emphasised that the Council was willing to make money available from a hardship fund.

The Revd Dr Ian Paul (Southwell & Nottingham) said that stipendiary colleagues had been reluctant to speak about these matters, and lay members had long been concerned. He saw a paradox in regarding remuneration as “adequate” despite its not keeping pace with inflation, and found the figure of one third of the clergy struggling to get by to be a “sobering statistic”.

Clive Mear/Church TimesThe Bishop of Hereford, the Rt Revd Richard Jackson, introduces the clergy renumeration report

The Archbishop of York said that he took very seriously the pastoral care of the clergy whom he served. Some were managing well only because of household income, not stipend income, he said. “For ten years as a parish priest, we brought up three boys on the stipend. I am telling you, it’s really, really hard. And so I welcome looking at targeted additional support. That is the true spirit of stipend, to give us the money we need.” He was “grateful for the report and the direction of travel it indicates”.

The Revd Jane Palmer (Salisbury) recognised that her position as a stipendiary priest was “only possible through the generous giving of my brothers and sisters. Our giving must be spent well.” She had expected to read something more radical about structures in the review. “The report can’t be divorced from the wider strategy reviews,” she said. “This report seems to push the onus back on clergy and support trusts in supporting a growing financial need, possibly because it is too hard a job to change our systems. . . It feels like kicking the can down the road.” Realistic and diverse vocations need “realistic remuneration”, she said. “This is papering over the cracks of the real issues.”

Julie Dziegiel (Oxford), via Zoom, said that she had experience as a treasurer of a large parish, which had given her a degree of knowledge about the clergy. She suggested that archdeacons talk to treasurers about the national guidelines on expenses, how they were to be met, and how to identify people who were struggling.

The Revd Dr Sean Doherty (Universities and TEIs) said that fairness was not a matter of equality, but of needs, and spoke of the stigma of applying for hardship funding. If means-testing was not appropriate for ordinands, why was it appropriate later?

Solidarity was “about putting ourselves in others’ shoes”, the Revd Andrew Moughtin-Mumby (Southwark) said. One vicar might have a partner who earned a large salary, had no dependants, and no worries about finance; another could be supporting dependent children on a stipend, or could be living in a poor parish.

The take-note vote was carried by a show of hands (and green ticks on Zoom).

Read our report on clergy pensions here

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