The bigwigs of the Church of England seem to be spending more time in the Houses Of Parlaiment at the moment than in houses of God.


In a Jan 6 statement given to Parliament, the Second Church Estates Commissioner, Sir Stuart Bell, responded to a written question submitted by the member for the Vale of York, Anne McIntosh (Cons.) asking what “steps are being taken to ensure that the stipend for parish priests is sufficient for them to perform their duties?”

Sir Stuart stated the Central Stipends Authority (CSA) believed the “current stipend levels are adequate” for parish clergy. He noted that in addition to a cash stipend, the clergy remuneration package “includes the provision of housing, payment of council tax, water charges and maintenance costs, a non-contributory pension, removal grants and, in high risk areas, subsidised insurance.”

Additional grants of assistance were made by the Church Commissioners, via the Archbishops’ Council to provide “additional stipend support to the least well-resourced dioceses,” he added.

The CSA was guided by the “principles of adequacy, flexibility and equitability,” Sir Stuart said, noting that each year it set a National Minimum Stipend and “strongly encourages dioceses to ensure that no full-time stipendiary minister is paid below this level.”

Clergy stipends are set by dioceses and the Church Commissioners, the November 2008 annual report of the CSA said. It recommended that for 2009/10 a National Stipend Benchmark --- the stipend at which most full-time incumbent status clergy should be paid --- of £22,250 and a National Minimum Stipend of £20,230.

As of 2008 the national average stipend was 10 per cent below the increase in national average income.

COMMENT: This free housing excuse is a bit of a smokescreen. The trouble is we get paid so little money that we cannot afford to buy a house as an investment and as somewhere to live when we are forced to retire (even those who think the private renting out of property is ethical - which I don't). This means that people in secular employment on a wage commensurate to what a post graduate professional should earn, who have bought their own house which will have increased in value, are astronomically better off than a priest on retirement. Okay, many priests come into the priesthood, later in life , with plenty of the world's wealth already in the pockets, and many have wives earning a decent whack. But not all of them. Those of us from council housing and a blue collar background usually have no assets when we sign up.

Furthermore, the Church's reply to Parliament does not give details of the hours priests work - 6 days a week, 10 hours a day on average, often more. I worked out this means our basic wage on average is £3.50, well below the legal minimum wage which we are not entitled to by law because we are employed by God (God employs us but the Church decides how much to pay us - crafty God).

But, as I keep saying, this is the fault of the laity. The bigwigs are only trying to spread out an ever decreasing pot of money. If the English laity were, as a whole (there are of course many generous individuals) , to give to the church just half of what the American laity gives into the TEC coffers, the labourers in their fields could be given the wages they deserve. But this is not going to happen because the laity no longer have any respect for the office of priest. To most of them we are a commodity to be purchased as cheap as they can get away with. Our church cleaner gets a better hourly rate than I do and they wouldn't dare give her the sort of grief they give me. She'd have them in court before they can say "I don't agree with you, vicar."


SERVANT WAGES — 15 Comments

  1. As my friend the senior warden once told the parish, “If you spend more on your Starbucks habit, your gym membership, or your cable television service than you give to the church each month, I suggest that your priorities are misplaced.”

    God doesn’t pay the mortgage on the building. God doesn’t pay the clergy salaries. God doesn’t pay the light bills.

    If you value what you get at church, why wouldn’t you give to support it? And if you don’t, why are you there?


    P.S. And yes I said all of this LONG before I became a rector’s wife….

  2. hi MP, do the laity have a realistic idea of what they can do to change how clergy are paid? Or have they always passively assumed that the church sets wages and whatever they give will not change that? I would have thought the church has only recently started to be widely seen as a bad employer – one that exploits and that should be fought.

  3. To most of them we are a commodity to be purchased as cheap as they can get away with.

    Unfortunately, after 25 years of full-time stipendiary ministry, I have to agree with this statement. It is an attitude that is becoming increasingly obvious lurking underneath our continual discussions in all my 11 PCC’s about how to pay the Parish Share (Quota) to the Diocese.

  4. Doxy,

    Hear, hear!

    We expect priests to be on call 24/7, our parishes to deal with our emotional, spiritual and social problems, to let others shepherd our kids into morality, but complain the minute money is brought up!

    It would be great if the world really operated on compassion and mutual cooperation, but it takes commerce because humans are kinda jerks.

  5. Those of us from council housing and a blue collar background usually have no assets when we sign up.

    And nor do those – and they do still exist, and I seem to remember hearing that the CofE is trying to recruit more of them – who enter the ministry in their 20s. (Yes, my husband is one of them – in another denomination – so I have a personal interest here!)

    We live in a wealthy area, which means a fairly large divide between our income and that of most of the congregation; and that tends to be forgotten, because we live in a nice house. Some time ago I needed to have a non-urgent medical procedure, so went on the waiting list. A well-meaning but clueless church member enquired why I didn’t go private. When I had finished laughing hysterically and picked myself up off the floor, I told her I didn’t believe in it, but even if I had, we couldn’t afford it. She replied, amazed: “You mean the church doesn’t pay for private medical insurance?” Er, no!

  6. do the laity have a realistic idea of what they can do to change how clergy are paid?

    Cathy, some of us do. Regrettably those of us who do tend to get marginalised in the politics and our recommendations thrown out as radical, or impractical flummery. The prevailing policy is to carry on frittering away the family silver, whilst anticipating investments (ethical or otherwise) and/or pasing the collection plate with a baseball bat will eventually plug the hole in the pension fund.

    I’m not totally averse to MP’s stance on the laity. The principal of tithing in our bit of the world (I’m churchwarden in a neighbouring parish) only serves to prove that the avergae weekly disposable income in Newcastle is £10.00. BUT there are also issues of ownership and democracy here. Local congregations do feel that they have no cntrol over these things and therefore have absolved themsleves of responsibility. The current financial policy simply views them as a cash cow to be milked more regularly and for greater amounts. At the same time they are ferociously independant and whilst they don’t mind surviving off the backs of parishes like MP’s, they would not suffer the thought of actually closing their costly little church, to which they contribute less thana third of the cost, and actually join another parish.

    I spoke to them all about this last year in church. Reaction was negligible. Not Quite a Sermon.

    The only practical solution to improve conditions for existing clergy, is to rationalise the parish system, dispense with localised geographic livings AND thereby lose at least one third of all clergy posts, to give the C of E a fighting chance money wise.

    That, and in general stop being complete dicks in the face of society.

  7. Yep! My lot can’t their heads round the fact they get a full time priest for £0 an hour. When the husband works, girlies don’t really need stipends do they? But OCICBW and it is my choice as I am frequently reminded.

  8. themethatisme wrote, Lose at least one third of clergy posts.

    How is that helpful for those priests who lose home and stipend after a year (according to Common Tenure)? If priests are already working 6x10s how do you expect the remaining two-thirds to pick up the slack without having breakdowns (personal or marital) or worse. I personally know of at least one case of a first post incumbent who killed himself primarily because he had to run five parishes.

  9. hiya themethatisme, thanks for that, I’ve just had a read of what you said and your sermon, & I’ll probably look at it again tomorrow. I can’t believe the reaction was negligible – that’s a bit poor. Vagueness about how much it costs to run a church is one thing, refusing to respond to direct information another.

  10. Fr. Darryl, I don’t expect them to pick up the slack as you describe it. Part of what I see as a possible solution is to detach the clergy from the geographic parish.

    If localised communties want to have a church then they must be prepared to pay for it and its upkeep. That clergy pay and conditions are maintained as they are is a simple question of economics. The organisation CANNOT improve the condition for those who are because it cannot afford to. It is already in the process of reducing the numbers in post but this is being done by ‘natural wastage’ so individual parishes are left at the whim of their diocesan bishop as to what will happen to them next and this is when priests are finding thenselves running 2,3,plus parishes. It is happening by default through accident and cowardice rather than by planning.

    Clergy are already working such long hours and looking after multiple parishes. The suicides, the mental breakdowns the appaling levels of stress related illness are all symptoms of the same problem. The proper role of priest has become lost in a morass of other responsibilities not the least of which is simply managing decline; not upsetting the traditionalists, whilst attempting to be all ’emergent’, producing at least 8 ‘fresh expressions’ and being youth worker and social worker and community development officer…. shall I go on?

    If they are doing 6×10 hour days a week they are not doing themselves or their congregations any favours. Ontology/vocation is not a licence for self-destruction. What you describe as ‘slack’ I would describe as often uneccesary responsibilities, just no-one, including the clergy themselves has the guts to say no.

    So yes, I accept that what I say does sound a tad radical, but I would go for some radical surgery soon rather than this protracted, long drawn out painful dwindling.

  11. I agree with you, Tmtim. But their is still, somewhere deep inside of me, an eternal optimist who hopes against hope that if such radical surgery became an observable reality then, maybe many in the laity will choose generosity and sacrifice rather than loss.

  12. I am too an eternal optimist as you know. I couldn’t do the work I do otherwise. I am not pleased by what I suggest, but remember that in parishes like mine the generosity is unlikely in the extreme, so a fresh wave of generosity in St. Francis & St. Barts etc. will have to be generous enough to cover the other parishes as well under current arrangements.

  13. Of course. We already raise enough money at St. Francis to pay for a priest and more. My worries for the future, which are selfish to a large extent, are worries for the whole church, because tomorrow I could be in a parish like yours.

  14. There are many of us, with good degrees (even people with higher degrees and over 20 years of experience in our field, like myself) working in the private sector in the UK, whose salaries are substantially less than the stipends you are quoting. And we don’t get “free” housing or any employer contributions towards our pensions.

    Some people just don’t know when they are well off.

  15. Battersea Boy, your low wage is not the result of my higher wage. Both our wages are the result of people taking the piss out of us. Your predicament makes me even angrier than I am about my own.