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Letters to the Editor

by
21 January 2022

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Factors involved in the future of stipendiary ministry

From Canon Chris Strain

Sir, — Thank you to Canon David Power (Comment, 14 January) for setting out the argument for a move towards greater non-stipendiary ministry, particularly in view of the Church’s financial challenges. His missional ecclesiology, based on St Paul, is excellent, as is his counter to lumping parishes together so that each community gets part of a paid priest. My observations are about how it works out in practice.

It is right to emphasise that non-stipendiary clergy “are not to perform all that stipendiaries traditionally do, but focus on providing sacramental ministry”; but is this possible, and who undertakes the rest? I believe that I was ordained to lead worship, preach, administer the sacraments, and lead and encourage the church in its whole mission, alongside others; but the reality has been more than that.

I reckon that up to 25 per cent of my time has been generally well spent in ministry beyond, but with the blessing of, the parish (in the deanery, diocese, nationally, ecumenically, in trusteeships, chaplaincies, charitable work, etc.). In addition and more significantly, a further 25 per cent is now spent in management, organisation, fabric matters, compliance, administration, safeguarding, and the like — and this in spite of my best endeavours to share, delegate, and raise up others to take these matters forward.

Owing to a lack of people for many reasons, and increasing expectations and demands, so much seems to fall to the Vicar and the few active lay people, who are also stretched and exhausted. So, I think I have come to accept that I am stipended to be the sacramental priest, to offer a wider extraparochial ministry, and to take on something of the roles of a CEO leader, operations manager, and general functionary, even though I would rather not. Some of my stipend covers these roles that I might prefer not to embrace. It is not ideal, and there may be collusion, but this is the reality of the context. All in all, I think, paid clergy offer good value.

My other main concern is that those who are priested for a non-stipendiary local ministry should have their vocation appropriately tested when there is pressure to appoint someone who can fill the post. For me, three years’ full-time residential training at theological college in the 1980s was possibly too much, but it is important that the right women and men have their vocation tested and undergo formation before they are ordained deacon and priest.

The Church will need to wrestle with these issues in the coming years, but may we realise the value and scope of full-time paid ministry, and not abandon a commitment to stipendiary ordained ministers, who, by choice or otherwise, carry a heavy load for the sake of the parishes to which they are devoted.

CHRIS STRAIN
The Vicarage, 2 Birchwood Road
Parkstone, Poole BH14 9NP

 

From Prebendary John Lees

Sir, — I am sure that self-supporting ordained ministers (SSMs) appreciated Canon Power’s article, but I have to express disappointment on two issues.

First, it’s frustrating to hear the cliché again that the Church’s failings come from secular management theory. There is good and bad in all management theory, but many so-called secular organisations have much to teach us about leadership and managing people — especially in terms of engagement, values, and diversity.

My second concern is that Canon Power suggests that the main value of SSMs is to provide parish cover where budgets can’t cover stipends. When the first auxiliaries were ordained in Southwark in 1963, this wasn’t primarily to create “free” clergy, but to extend the influence of the Church into working life. For many SSMs, the decision not to take a stipend is based on a distinctive calling, not an urge to save costs. Many SSMs minister beyond the parochial, and they offer huge life and work experience, which adds significantly to ministry teams.

Sadly, because the Church is culturally focused on stipendiary clergy, potential SSMs are not always encouraged to come forward, supported, or given opportunities for growth. The time has come to affirm the equality of self-supporting ministry rather than regard it as a second-best, expedient solution.

JOHN LEES
Co-Convener, National Network of SSM Officers and Advisers
3 Vicarage Street
Colyton, Devon EX24 6LJ

 

From the Revd David Ackerman

Sir, — Canon David Power appears to have waited until retirement before making his call for the abolition of a stipendiary clergy. Financial sustainability for the Church might be better seen as based on a paid parochial clergy and raising questions about how money is spent.

The Archbishops have called for a leaner Church: they could start by being paid the same as I am. Dioceses have spent millions on, and continue to trumpet, visions and strategies — to what effect? Those stipendiary clergy who continue to slog on despite the culture that we exist in should ask themselves where exactly are those who come to church because of a well-resourced diocesan vision. What are the fruits of the release of “strategic development money” when a major recipient in Brompton didn’t open for Christmas services?

I would suggest that it is the very opposite of Canon Power’s thesis which will ensure that we survive the mess we are in.

DAVID ACKERMAN
The Vicarage, Kilburn Lane
London W10 4AA

 

Eco dioceses’ task with licence-holding protesters

From the Revd Andii Bowsher

Sir, — It is something to rejoice in to learn that all the C of E’s dioceses have signed up to be net zero by 2030 (News, 14 January). It was also an interesting co-incidence to be reminded that work on reforming the clergy-discipline processes is ongoing (News, same issue). The connection between the two deserves noting and taking further.

The Church Times has also been reporting from time to time the appearance of licensed clergy in courts of law to answer charges relating to environmental protests. Thankfully, most have been found not guilty by reason of their actions’ being motivated by the overriding need to help protect the ecosystem. Nevertheless, if any should be jailed or given suspended sentences, presumably this would show up on a DBS check.

This prompts me to suggest that the next step for eco dioceses is to declare that those holding a bishop’s licence to minister and who have suffered legal penalty for protesting in the ways that these clergy have will suffer no detriment. In addition, eco dioceses should bring forward policies to support bishops’ licence-holders and guide them in relation to environmental protests.

Care for the integrity of creation is the fifth mark of mission, and we need to nurture and protect our most prominent missionaries of the fifth mark. I would welcome discussions on how we do this — and speedily.

ANDII BOWSHER
52 Fern Avenue, Jesmond
Newcastle upon Tyne NE2 2QX

 

Concern about new appointments from Lambeth

From Mr John Brydon

Sir, — I write in support of Rebecca Chapman’s letter last week regarding the appointment of the Archbishop’s Appointments Secretary and the lack of transparency. Hard on its heels, we now have Canon Flora Winfield appointed as the new Third Church Estates Commissioner. That makes two in as many weeks out of Lambeth Palace, the circumstances regarding the appointment appearing to be identical to the concerns raised by Ms Chapman.

Canon Winfield appears to be a good theologian, but with little or no practical experience regarding some of the key requirements of her post, namely a property and financial background. It is also worth noting that in the previous job description an interest in heritage was listed as a key requirement. This has disappeared in the latest job description, and so presumably is not now considered important?

Of greater concern to me as we struggle to pay our parish share and maintain the building are the salary details. This is shown as £80k for 12/13 days’ work a month, up from a previous £45k for eight days a month and before National Insurance and pension contributions. Even allowing for the increase in days, it represents a minimum uplift of £7k.

My parish priest, along, no doubt, with many others, would welcome an increase of this size or even a modest one. It certain pays to be a bureaucrat in the Church of England nowadays rather than work six days a week on the front line.

JOHN BRYDON
General Synod member
8 Daniels Road
Norwich NR4 6QZ

 

Reconciliation process needed in troubled Llandaff

From the Revd Dr Lorraine Cavanagh

Sir, — I read with sadness, but with no great surprise, of the ongoing bitter acrimony that prevails in the Church in Wales (Letters, 7 January, 14 January), specifically in the dioceses of Llandaff and Monmouth.

Having served all but a year of my life as a priest in one or other of these dioceses, I share the pain experienced by many of my fellow clerics. But I also retain good memories of some of the best clergy I have ever worked with. My time in Llandaff was made bearable, and my ministry as a university chaplain made tenable, by the wise and gentle support of its suffragan, the Rt Revd David Yeoman. I believe that, like many who have unhappy memories of the recent past in the diocese of Monmouth, we are being equally well served by our current Bishop.

The fact that there are still good people in key positions in the Church in Wales suggests that there is a possible way out of its present unhappy period of darkness in regard to its internal relationships. What is needed is genuine repentance, forgiveness, and healing. Reviews, reports, and articles in the press do little to further this process, since these only put those who have been publicly exposed into a position of angry defensiveness, thereby prolonging the acrimony.

Instead, I suggest that an extended exercise in private reconciliation be undertaken, facilitated perhaps by one or two people who still retain a modicum of trust with both clergy and laity. Reconciliation would need to be initiated by those who have done the bullying or been unaccountably rude to clerics they perhaps barely know. Their consciences should remind them of these moments, and of the individuals concerned, and should prompt them to seek them out, speak to them in person, and ask for their forgiveness. Forgiveness needs to be asked for if it is to be genuine.

Might this be a Lenten exercise for the Church in Wales episcopate? The rest of us, meanwhile, could pray for those who undertake it.

LORRAINE CAVANAGH
Bryn Heulog, Llantilio Crosseny,
Abergavenny
Monmouthshire NP7 8TH

 

Fine words on nuclear weapons not enough

From Sue Claydon and Rebecca Dillon

Sir, — On Monday 3 January, the five declared nuclear-weapons states (China, France, Russia, the UK, and the United States) issued a rare joint statement saying “a nuclear war cannot be won and must never be fought.” While the words are welcome, they are not matched by deeds. Every nuclear-armed state, including the UK, is either expanding or modifying nuclear arsenals — or both.

The postponement of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty Review Conference to August gives more time for nuclear-armed states to work on a concrete plan for reducing nuclear arsenals in advance of their elimination. This is the stated aim of the Non-Proliferation Treaty, which the UK signed 50 years ago. We hope and pray that the UK can ensure that some progress is made.

SUE CLAYDON
Chair, Anglican Pacifist Fellowship
REBECCA DILLON
Co-Chair, Christian CND
162 Holloway Road
London N7 8DQ

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