The self-supporting (unpaid) priests of the Church of England met recently for a big conference. The main thing to come out of their discussions was that they felt that the hierarchy of the church and their stipendary colleagues viewed them as second class, not-quite priests.

They are not being paranoid, it is the truth. Non-stipendary ministers not only have to put up with being taken advantage of by a cash strapped institution always looking to get work done for free, but they are, on the whole, treated as second class priests and kept on the outside of the church structures. What is more, they are constantly reminded that they are different to "real" priests by the terminology used by the Church, at all levels.

For example, I have just received this email from my diocesan office:

Why not just say that John served all his active ministry as a "priest" at Cambois? That's what he did and was. I may be wrong, but I don't think a stipendary priest would be labelled as such in his or her death notice.

We know from the experience of people of other races and/or faiths than the majority in a country that words can be, and are, used to belittle and denigrate people, especially minorities and those without much authority and power. The Church of Christ should be more careful in its language.

Mind you, I am not surprised that such hierarchical language is used in my diocese where the ordained priesthood is split into "senior staff" and everyone else, and where there are definite unwritten rules about how important you have to be to get offered a post in one of the "important" parishes.



  1.      I have found that to be true in my neck of the woods too. Although only the word “priest” is ever used, folks know who are paid and who are not since there are so few paid positions. Part of it is, perhaps natural: non-stipendiary clergy can’t always be available due to their secular job requirements, so the emphasis is given to stipendiary priests. I do think, however, the gifts and efforts of those who donate their time is not sufficiently appreciated and celebrated – this goes for lay volunteers too. I have been both unpaid and now paid clergy, and I’ve seen a huge difference in how people deal with me, but perhaps that is because I can be more available than I ever could before. I do put in more hours than I could before, but that’s not the main difference I feel; the main change has been that because I now can have constant involvement, I am more aware and connected to everything happening in the parish. I no longer have to make the hard choices on a daily basis between my job and activities in my parish. Without unpaid clergy, however, many churches in my diocese would have no clergy at all, and many of these clergy are quite proud of the fact they are uncompensated. I’m guessing the main difference in treatment seems not to be in areas where you are the only unpaid clergy, but in areas like mine where there are both.

         Now, this is just a discussion of the treatment of paid and unpaid clergy, in other words, how we handle the reality on the ground. The question of the justice of not paying clergy and the justice of what reasonable compensation would be is a completely different issue.

  2. You know, that’s one of the reasons The Episcopal Church stopped having any distinction. The people making these decisions finally decided that a priest is a priest. We used to have something called a “Canon 9” priest. No more. I think it was a good move.

  3.      You’re right, Elie, that we’ve done away with Canon 9, but I would suggest (at least among the clergy) folks know the difference between seminary-trained and what are now called “locally-trained”.

  4. Well, back in the old days we used to have something called “reading for orders” that was not all that different. I don’t think that bit can be helped. But at least there’s no canonical distinction.

  5. Well I can tell you that in my diocese, at least, the whole scene of how and where and when and in what way a person will be prepared for ministry – any ministry – is all up for grabs. We know things cannot remain the same as they were. We’ll try new things, fail, try, fail, but in the end we must change all around.

  6. And what of the laity who don’t get paid and then pay the bills? I’m pleased to see that you gave us a nod in your comment, Rick. As I see it, we’re in a constant struggle not to be viewed as chopped liver.

    Chopped liver is always served as a side dish, never as a main dish. It therefore makes a good metaphor for someone who’s being treated as unimportant or dispensable.

  7. Whoops! I forgot to mention the laity in a post solely about clergy. In particular I forgot to mention Mimi, an American lay person, in a post about English clergy. I’ll just go and throw myself under a bus -it’s the very least I can do to atone for my sins.

  8. A friend of mine who spent many years looking for a paid position helped me to see this discrimination. Her name was always left off the list for diocesan convention, clergy retreats, etc. It was as if her ministry didn’t really count, or she wasn’t really a priest in the diocese. I think it’s hard to get out of our minds that “priest” means “priest working in a parish.” Anything other than that is…not quite.

  9. I forgot to mention the laity in a post solely about clergy.

    “…solely about the clergy” rather proves my point, doesn’t it?

    No need to throw yourself under a bus, MadPriest. That seems a tad excessive as a penance.

  10. I’m not 100% sure, LKT, but I think many self supporting priests in England are completely disenfranchised. For example, I cannot vote for clergy members of synod or lay members of synod.

  11. Oh shit. It’s worse thanI thought. I posted something on a German polar bear the other week and forgot to mention the laity. Also, on checking, I find that there are hundreds of anti-clerical cartoons on this blog and no anti-laity cartoons. I am so remiss. Where is that bus?

  12. This is interesting.
    Many years ago my mother made some disparaging comments about the NSM clergy of the parish church where I worshiped as a teen. Her objection to NSMs was the fact(as she saw it) that they had chosen to remain in highly paid and well respected professions and to be priests(as she saw it) on Sundays, rather than embrace the whole clergy life(including the inadequate salary) in its entirety. I did then and do now disagree with her thoughts, and as N is now serving as an NSM assistant locally, I would resent any such assumptions now.
    But it might give some clue to certain people’s attitudes, however flawed and false their logic.

  13. Hmm… that’s interesting, Zen. I’ve not encountered that. I wonder if it could be true also of clergy’s attitude toward non-paid clergy.

  14. [MP & Mimi, to your rooms! And that’s SEPARATE rooms, as you two appear likely to give in to your passions, again. }-p]

    That death notice is disgusting—up there w/ the sort of “while _____” stereotypes, which are always designed for us to view a class, not a person.

  15. JCF, I think you posting at exactly the same time as I did kicked my comment out of the room! Now what did I write…

    Yup, Rick and Zen, that’s part of it. Also part of it is the threat we stipendiary clergy feel. Why, we think, would a congregation want to call us when they can get the work done for free, and with someone who doesn’t have as much perceived authority to go around changing things? Of course I would think diocesans would love NSM clergy and treat them like gold since they do minister for free and that’s good for the budget.

    Sigh. And here I am trying to figure out how to continue to serve a church that can’t afford me but which is on the cutting edge out there doing real edgy gospel stuff – hispanic ministry. They deserve a full time priest to help them make this happen. But I can’t afford, frankly, to work for free. Sigh.

    And now I’m copying this in case blogger kicks me again!

  16. I wonder if it could be true also of clergy’s attitude toward non-paid clergy.

    I don’t think so. Perhaps they feel NSM’s are free labour and a threat to the careers of stipendary priests. The Church can afford to treat their clergy badly if they can be replaced easily with volunteers. Many NSM’s do not have lucrative careers. Many are women without jobs living off their husband’s salary.