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Letters to the Editor

by
05 July 2024

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Clergy stipends: time for the Commissioners to step in?

From the Revd Ben Rundell-Evans.

Sir, — I enjoyed the article from Bishop Philip North advocating for clergy to be treated with equity regarding their stipend (Comment, 14 June). As he observes, the reduction of stipendary clergy has led to a rise in workload, and yet there has been a reduction in stipend in real terms since 2009. The National Church, as he observes, “sits on billions of pounds”, and, while it is keen to provide funding for projects, it doesn’t invest in its clergy. A new funding model is indeed needed.

The National Church Institutions employed 97 people, at year end 2019. At year end 2022, this has risen to 150 people with benefits of more than £60k per employee. Of these, 76 earned £60k-£80k, 28 earned £80k-£100k,33 earned £100k-£200k, 11 earned £200k-£400k, and two earned more than £500k. A small factor of this increase may be due to inflation, but this inflationary rise is far from being matched in clergy stipends. Clergy work six days a week on an average of £27,270.

The work of the National Church is important for the future of the Church as an institution. However, it can be hard for parishes to see a growth at the centre while enduring decline at a parish level.

BEN RUNDELL-EVANS
Address supplied


From the Revd Sam Maginnis

Sir, — The Church of England Employee and Clergy Advocates (CEECA) welcomes the Bishop of Blackburn’s call for a “new deal” for stipendiary clergy. Last year’s Wellbeing Survey conducted by the Faith Workers Branch of Unite showed that 90 per cent of CEECA members have experienced stress in ministry, due primarily to a lack of support, poor work-life balance, and demands on performance. Its results have recently been corroborated by the national Ministry Team’s Living Ministry study, which found that one third of stipendiary incumbents exhibited signs of clinical depression, and one third did not trust their diocese to look after their wellbeing.

There is a growing sense among frontline clergy that institutional expectations are adding to the pressures of ministry without proper reciprocal care and support. CEECA receives a steady stream of enquiries from clergy struggling with unpastoral treatment by their diocese, or experiencing real distress over whether the Church values their ministry. As Bishop North points out, if the underlying culture is left unchecked, then distrust and disillusionment among stipendiary clergy will only increase, alongside stress and burnout, curtailing many fruitful ministries and the wider mission of the Church of England.

No missional strategy can succeed without our local church communities and the clergy who lead, shape, and inspire them; so properly investing in stipendiary ministry must be top priority for our diocesan and national leaders. Restoring the value of the stipend is part of this, and CEECA continues to campaign for national funding to ensure clergy in every diocese can receive a fair and adequate stipend: Bishop North’s proposal for a uniform national stipend may well be the simplest and most equitable way to implement this.

SAM MAGINNIS
Chair, CEECA (Church of England Employee and Clergy Advocates) and
Accredited Representative, Unite Faith Workers Branch
Holy Trinity House
Blunts Way
Horsham RH12 2BL


From the Revd Simon Grigg

Sir, — Whilst it is nice, and unusual, for a bishop to issue a cry for better pay for the clergy, Bishop North states that the only way he can put up stipends is by hiking up the parish share.

Not so. Bishop North’s diocese has been awarded a whopping £25.5 million in SMMI funding (News, 14 June). Surely some of this largesse could go towards paying the clergy a decent stipend? Or, heaven forbid, maybe the bishops and archdeacons could get along on a clergy stipend (with an allowance for expenses) themselves? I’m sure the pay would go up then.

SIMON GRIGG
Rector, St Paul’s, Covent Garden
Bedford Street
London WC2E 9ED


From the Bishop of Dudley

Sir,I write in support of Philip North and his call for “a new deal for underpaid clergy”. Dioceses contributed considerable sums to get the Church Commissioners out of a financial hole in the 1990s. This could now be returned to dioceses to enable the proper renumeration of our clergy and investment in our parishes.

MARTIN DUDLEY

The Bishop’s Office
3 Parsons Street
Dudley DY1 1JJ


From Mr Stephen Parsons

The diocese of Bath & Wells circulated a helpful breakdown of the costs to assist church members considering the diocesan budget. This gave the cost of a vicar as £55,000 per year, made up of three elements: a stipend, costs of housing, and pension contributions. Seeking a benchmark against which to assess this, I solicited the average salary for a social worker: I got a figure of £40,000. The same superficial search for typical salaries yielded senior care-workers at £25,000, counsellors at £30,000, teachers at £40,000.

I make no claim for the accuracy of these figures, but they suggest that the bishop’s observation that real incomes of clergy have been eroded in the wake of the great global financial crisis is true for many, if not most, occupations.

STEPHEN PARSONS
Wickets, Beercrocombe,
Somerset TA3 6AG


. . . and need they also shore up those dioceses with funding deficits?

From Nigel Lewis

Sir, —Two recent articles in the Church Times have highlighted the severe financial challenges facing most dioceses (News, 28 June). There is a call to action.

My own diocese of Guildford (I am a former DBF chair) has no substantial financial assets and remains almost entirely dependent upon parish share to fund clergy, staff, and its contribution to the national Church. Even this diocese, in an “affluent” part of the country, is not immune to the impact of ageing on its base of givers. It is apparent that parish-share increases in recent years have only been held low because stipend and salary increases have been way below CPI, plus the effect of pension shortfall contributions temporarily ceasing.

From January 1998, the Church Commissioners walked away from future service pension funding for clergy, following the poor performance of their portfolio. The Church Commissioners’ asset base has now recovered very strongly, but the institution it seeks to support is in danger of collapse. In 20 years’ time the Church may resemble a huge investment fund with massively diminished activities unless urgent action is taken.

Surely it is now time that the Commissioners re-assumed their historical responsibility for clergy pensions, combining the C of E pensions fund in addition to their own pre-1998 pension liabilities. This would free up millions for dioceses to spend as they see fit, potentially including uplift to clergy stipends and as a priority maintaining parish clergy roles.

All dioceses would benefit to a roughly similar extent and the financial burden lifted from the dioceses (and therefore the parishes) would be clear and transparent.

NIGEL LEWIS
Farnham
(Full address supplied)


From Sir James Burnell-Nugent

Sir, — I read with interest Madeleine Davies’ report on the Diocesan Finances Review paper (GS Misc. 1384) which has been prepared for the July General Synod.

May I also draw readers’ attention to the small print in the paper that reveals the ways in which most diocesan finance teams are underperforming. Most dioceses are not doing nearly enough to maximise revenue from the assets which they manage for their parishes or to control their own costs. Small wonder that diocesan deficits are expected to rise from £29 million in 2022 to a total of £62 million for the 42 dioceses by the end of this year.

Only 10 dioceses have adopted total-return accounting to maximise funds for clergy stipends, thereby reducing their combined total unrestricted deficits from £25.7 million to £3.4 million. Worse, only three dioceses have nearly doubled their returns since 2015 by replacing glebe investments with higher yielding financial investments. Why haven’t more dioceses done this?

On costs, it shows that only seven dioceses have managed to reduce expenditure from 2019 to 2022.

The Review paper indicates an “increased dependency” of dioceses on central grant money; but using this to perpetuate diocesan inefficiencies is in nobody’s interest. I hope that Phase 2 of this revealing Review will focus in further detail on how the dioceses are failing the parishes. It is the parishes (not the dioceses) which need central financial support to ensure their survival.

When the Church of England’s 2022 Energy Cost Grant was distributed by the Archbishops’ Council, via dioceses, directly to parishes, the exercise revealed how little money flows down from dioceses to parishes.

This excellent Review is a must-read for every bishop. It is a wake-up call for diocesan finance staffs to take bold steps to improve financial performance and prune their excessive overheads, to generate more revenue to pay stipends for parish clergy. Radically improved diocesan financial performance, inter-diocesan collaboration, and office cost-cutting are a matter of great urgency.

JAMES BURNELL-NUGENT
Sheepham Mill
Modbury
Devon PL21 0LX


Case-by-case use of NDAs in the Scottish Episcopal Church

From the Bishop of Moray, Ross & Caithness

Sir — During the course of an interview with your reporter Francis Martin (News, 21 June), I was asked about the use of non-disclosure agreements within the Scottish Episcopal Church. I said that I had not been aware of the use of NDAs. I realised subsequently that I had been mistaken.

I am aware that my wrong answer has caused upset and concern, and has brought confusion instead of clarity. I very much regret this. There was never any intention to mislead or deny the existence of the NDA.

The question of whether NDAs should be used in the SEC was raised at General Synod in 2021. The matter was then addressed by the Provincial Personnel Committee later that year. The committee’s response in the annual report for 2021, stated: “The Committee . . . considered that use of an NDA would require to be considered carefully on a case-by-case basis. While recognising that it would not be appropriate to be used in all cases, it would nevertheless be unwise to commit to never using such an agreement.”

MARK STRANGE
Bishop of Moray, Ross & Caithness and Primus and Presiding Bishop of the Scottish Episcopal Church


Misalliance

From Katia D’Arcy-Cumber

Sir, — I write regarding the letter to the Archbishops of Canterbury and York, released by The Alliance last week (News, 28 June).

The letter itself is not a surprise. What drew my particular interest was the use by some signatories of the title “UK Global Majority Rep.”. While the intention may be to indicate that the signatories in question are Global Majority representatives within The Alliance, this is not clear.

Assumed authority to speak on the behalf of others is deeply problematic, as is the inference that all people of any particular group hold the same perspective. There are a great many GMH folk, of whom I am one, who do not hold with the Alliance’s stance and welcome the progress made thus far. There are also a good number of us who hope and pray for a time where all people are treated equally in God’s Church.

KATIA D’ARCY-CUMBER
General Synod Member
Trustee of Together for the Church of England
5 Nevada Road
Canvey Island
Essex SS8 8EX

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