“I look forward to welcoming you to St. Andrew’s as Junior Curate. The stipend is £350 p.a., less Income Tax, £1.50 per week house rent and rates, then 35p per week for NHI, 35p p.w. for Pension contribution and also expenses for postages and ‘phone contribution.
If you are single, that’s sufficient for you to have bread and Jam, but if you take your jam in the person of a wife, then that’s up to you!”
So wrote my soon-to-be Training Vicar who was noted for his straightforward replies to people, realising that his curate would have a partner in the shape of Hazel, my fiancée whom I married three months before my Ordination to the Diaconate.
True I was being paid more than the then general going rate for a normal employee, but I admit it would have been a financial struggle had we not (between us) been still making and selling clergy vestments, enabling us to live reasonably comfortably. (As I had to do at College to fund my fees for 2 years).
Money was tight at St. Andrew’s, and in those days if a parish wanted (or needed) a curate it had to find the money to pay him. The annual Summer Fair needed in one day to raise £350 for one curate’s stipend, a mammoth task for a working-class parish.
However, help was at hand. Desperate to fill a vacancy of the parish rated “the worst in the Diocese” for its disunity and other serious problems, the Bishop had offered me the post of Vicar of Holy Trinity that at that time would not normally have been offered to a priest who was only 30yrs. of age. coming to his first benefice.
At the announcement of my appointment which surprised everyone, one priest suggested that “there is much fluttering in clerical hen houses as a result”.
However, my stipend was raised immediately to £550 p.m. so that Hazel and I went and bought an Austin 7 Saloon (£35)!
Imagine our surprise when a few months later, the Diocesan Secretary rang me to tell me that without any contribution from the parish I and all like me were having our pay raised to £1,000 per year!
How? Simply that rather belatedly, the Church Commissioners (who handle all the central funds) had brought in Accountants to check over all the Church’s assets, finding that as the income from many had not been up-dated for many years, money was now flooding into their coffers, enabling them, not only to increase the stipends, but to shoulder the cost of our future pensions which would now be payable at 65 yrs. rather than the existing retirement age of 70!
To satisfy the concerns of the current clergy, they created a “hostage to fortune” in that the pensions would be tied to the clergy stipends and would be two thirds of the Minimum Stipend.
At £1,000 per year that meant a pension of £660, plus a lump sum on retirement, to enable clergy to have money to pay towards buying a retirement home.
At that same time, the parish Diocesan Quota was only £80 per annum, clergy stipends being met in full from ancient endowments.
No one seems to have for-seen the possibility of inflation on the scale that followed. If the going rate for a stipendiary priest is now some £22,000 pus house and Council Tax, much of the Endowment Income goes to fulfil the pledge to the pensioners.
That is why our Parish Share is so very high and why we cannot afford to pay as many clergy as in the past.
We need urgently to cope with our task of providing pastoral care and outreach to the parishioners. But that is where our Church’s money went, giving dwindling congregations an impossible task. Christmas theme next week continued thoughts in the New Year.
I was on my way from a meeting at the Cathedral returning home to Taunton in the late 1950s and on the way I thought it might be nice to call in and see a friend, Joe Stewart who was Vicar of Burrowbridge.
On that bright summer afternoon, I was surprised to see Joe sitting in a deck chair doing the “Times” crossword!
“No” he replied; “The answer to your question is ‘No’ and what better way could you spend a sunny day?”
“Well” I said “Surely there is someone you could visit in the parish?”
“Look” was the reply, “I have only 350 people within it, and if I visited them too frequently, they would say, ‘What, you again?’” (It is now part of a 3-parish group).
I saw his point and drank the offered glass of cider and settled down for a chat.
So, when I took charge of the “Six Pilgrims” Parish (described last week) with a TOTAL of 675 people in 1992, I discovered that before a previous “reorganisation” there had been 3 priests caring for them!
What on earth did they do?
The answer is, very little, despite there being 6 parish churches.
As I had told the Bishop, they could be cared for very well, with my spending 1 day a month in each parish, visiting the folk there, plus 2 services on a Sunday (as they did worship and work together) and pastoral care, but able to reach them from Glastonbury (where we lived) within 20 mins. in an emergency.
“Couldn’t you have ordained a Reader or have a retired priest to cope with the worship with some of the pastoral work done naturally by the congregation?” I asked the Archdeacon.
“No” he said; “We have no policy for that kind of Ministry”. My reply of “It’s about time that we did” was not welcome.
The last of the 3 reports on ministry issued since 1950 suggested that to cope with falling clergy numbers driven by financial concerns, could not acceptable lay people (especially licensed readers) be ordained solely for the purpose of enabling Sunday worship?
They would be called ‘Local Ordained Ministers’ having a ministry restricted only to their own parish.
I know that the Bishop of Salisbury approved of this, but there was resistance by many of the full-time clergy.
You may not realise it, that until the late 1950s, only Free Church ministers were paid by their congregations; the Church of England clergy were paid almost entirely by endowments; some from as early as the 11th century (as at Wootton when I first moved there in 1969). The dead paid our stipends!
Inflation soon put paid to that, so the stipend now has kept pace, plus the cost of housing, expenses, etc. generally, more than twenty times as much as then!
In addition, because of financial errors in the 1950s, we pensioners receive two-thirds of that figure, costing more than £18,000,000. That is why I never ask for a fee for any duties I undertake, for much of the funds meant to pay working clergy stipends are now being diverted to pay pensioners. You will see that only by cutting somewhere can the books be balanced.
As a result a question mark hangs over us “How, as inflation continues and congregations diminish are we to provide worship and pastoral care for the whole of England?”
The preferred option is to reduce the number of stipendiary clergy, but is that the right way forward? Is it wise?
When I was working at Swanmore from 2011-2013, the essential outgoings were no less than £1,080 per month.
The real weekly income was barely sufficient to pay the Parish Share of £112 per week! Insurance, heating and sundries meant that a legacy was raided just to pay their running costs.
The Bishop sighed as we discussed the probable fate of six tiny Somerset parishes that had refused to be “reorganised” involving breaking up the tiny group that had only recently been “reorganised”.
The authorities tend to think they have control over such things, expecting parishes to fall into line with their wishes; the truth is that none of this can really be carried out, unless the parishes agree. The only people who can “close” a parish church are the Churchwardens if they feel they no longer have a viable set-up.
Discovering that they felt (there were only a total of 675 people (with six parish churches to maintain), as one Churchwarden said, that “they had been abandoned because they wouldn’t agree to this scheme!” and left priest-less.
Taking a service in the interregnum I was very angry at the rural Dean’s comment that “We will leave them to stew” leading to my writing a letter (2 sides of A4) to the Bishop that I thought this attitude was unacceptable, especially in that the parishes had said that all they wanted was a priest to conduct and possibly lead them, and they would run themselves.
Because of depression caused by the work load at Wootton in trying to bring a parish from the Victorian era into the present day, I was exhausted in that like so many clergy, they hated to delegate even the simplest of tasks, so had I, to the detriment of my physical and mental health.
Not receiving a reply to my original letter, I sent another copy to the Palace, “assuming that my first letter didn’t reach you as I have received no reply”, receiving a quick postcard saying that my first letter had been received and would receive a reply.
That came in a summons to “wait upon the Bishop” at the Palace to discuss the matter, which I duly did.
“I don’t know what to do with the “Six Pilgrims” said the Bishop, “would you consider going there and try and solve the problems, we will meet all your expenses”?
Although I lived at Glastonbury, 10 miles (20 mins.) away I thought it would be possible and so arranged to meet the Churchwardens (12 of them!).
Like the Methodists who largely run their own chapels, leaving the Minister to conduct the worship and provide pastoral care, I presented the gathered worthies with the proposal that we would draw up a contract; they would take on all the day-to-day problems and anything that didn’t need a clerical collar, and I would provide leadership, pastoral care and the conduct of services. The rest was their responsibility.
So I relinquished all those unnecessary jobs that clergy take on and glory be (!) because Iwasn’t formally licensed there were no clergy meetings that I was obliged to attend!
They were as good as their word, and my approach was to model our partnership on Methodist lines, which meant that at least I had the opportunity to be a real parish priest with time to visit and meet the people.
They had agreed that to make it work properly with 6 parishes, they would need to “work and worship together”; so with the slogan “One Church with 6 churches”, happily moving around and sharing everything (including fund-raising) as far as possible, and leaving me to be a priest and pastor.
I had agreed to be there for a year, not the 6 months the Bishop had suggested, for I expected there to be some teething troubles, but there were few of these, and Hazel and I had the happiest Ministry a priest and his wife could enjoy.
As I said to an astonished Archdeacon “I’m not being paid to do all this work as I have a pension and don’t need the money, instead if I had to, I would willingly pay for the privilege of serving such a united and supportive family of people”!
We need to seek to change from “going to Church” to “Being the Church” with all that entails.
“Are you the new minister?” a lady asked as I was coming out of the parish church; I was slightly abashed, for after all, surely, it was only Free Church clergy who were described as “Ministers”.
“No”, I replied, “I’m a priest; one of the curates”.
“Oh, you’re a Roman Catholic” she said.
I tried to put her right. Being newly ordained, I was rather proud of my new status. There is nothing to be said for cocky young curates (of which, sadly, I was one).
Discussing this with Alfred, the senior curate, he agreed with me, until we were discussing it with John, our Vicar, who quickly disabused of such pretentious notions.
“Yes, you are priests, (he said), but there is no mention of them in the whole of the New Testament, only Bishops, and if you know your Church history, you will only find them, and any assistants were the forerunners of the priesthood. Eventually they were called “Presbyters” meaning “Elders” who were called into being to assist the Bishops as the local congregations grew.
Remember, that the Early Church was very much an embryo body, meeting in each other’s houses, and it’s quite possible that the host might have presided over the worship”.
Luke in the “Acts of the Apostles” describes the first mention of other assistants in the creation of the Deacons, whose task was primarily to oversee the day-to-day running of the pastoral work.
They presided over the organisation of the distribution of the shared goods to the Christian members.
However, as John the Vicar pointed out, Jesus described His role, as “One who serves”, also “I come among you as one who serveth”, to minister to God’s People and it follows from that, they in turn were to “serve” wherever there were needs, whether spiritual or just distribution of food, clothing, shelter, etc.
Therefore, if we are to think about the role of the congregation, not only are they to be ministered to, but in turn they are to be “ministers”. Servants who are to follow the example of our Divine leader.
I may be a priest, but foremost together with you, the gathered People of God we are “All in it together”, we are all called to be “Ministers”, servants; our Ordination is in our Baptisms, and unless we realise this and accept this role and seek to find our place within the Church where we can “Minister”, The Church has no future.
“The trouble with the Church of England” said my neighbour, John an ex-army officer, “It isn’t that we have no resources, we simply are not using what we have to the best possible end”.
I nodded in agreement, for it was (and still is, true).
We were discussing the future needs of The Church in providing pastoral care and leadership, when often there are problems that could be easily solved. These require the removal of prejudices and for common sense to prevail, especially among the upper echelons of The Church of both clergy and laity.
This was the late 1980s, when it was clear that not only were fewer candidates appearing for the Ministry, but more seriously, if we had the number of clergy really required, we couldn’t afford to pay them.
From the time that I was ordained nearly 70 years ago, there have been no less than 3 reports to deal with the problem. What happened to them?
Simply that the final one was too radical for some of the clergy to countenance?. The result? They were all left on shelves, gathering dust, which was also the fate of an earlier brilliant report on Evangelism in the 1940s, which was set aside so that the Church Assembly could discuss Canon Law revision!
Strangely, much of the opposition sprang from older clergy (including Bishops and the rest of the hierarchy) who saw them as an attack on their positions and standing.
After I had been installed in Holy Trinity (Taunton), after a couple of years, through careful planning, good pastoral care and innovations, there were no less than 120-130 communicants each Sunday at the Parish Communion.
My curate had gone to pastures new (London’s east end) as he thought that Taunton was too soft for an enthusiastic youngish priest.
There I was, with no one to administer the chalice, meaning I had to rush up and down the altar rail, first with the hosts and then the chalice. It was expected that this would usually be done by someone who was ordained, being at least a Deacon.
I saw help coming because the Church Assembly had decided that Licensed Lay Readers might administer the chalice, provided the diocesan Bishop approved. The Bishop of Bath and Wells, didn’t, so this relief wasn’t available, although the service was unnecessarily long as a consequence.
There was a fear that this might be the “thin edge of the proverbial wedge” and so in some way lessen the gap between ordained and lay folk.
Yet, we had at that time many parishes often with more than one Reader, so we struggled on, until common sense prevailed (too late) and provided they were authorised, anyone, not necessarily a licensed trained Reader, could assist in this important role, as they do today.
This reluctance to engage with anything that might lead to real changes, positively using our human resources in what currently might be unorthodox ways seems endemic in the Church of England.
The days when congregations could sit safely in their pews without being involved too much are past; priest and people, we are all in it together and we’ll think about that next week, if you can bear it.
How strange this is when we look at the early Church set-up. Compared with our present bureaucratic system (which was based on the political structures of the Roman Empire), in its infancy the Church was people-based. No longer so.
We’ll talk about this again, if we may, next week. Subject “Every Christian a Minister”. GCR