Living comfortably: the fiction of a stipend?

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This week’s Church Times reported “Clergy living comfortably“. However, my eye was caught by the paragraph that suggested all was not quite as well as the headline suggested.

Overall, about three-quarters of respondents indicated that, financially, they were “living comfortably’ or “doing all right’. Eighty-two per cent of ordained respondents were able to draw on other sources of income than that received for ministry. Those unable to do so were “much more likely to struggle financially’, with several reporting dependency on tax credits and benefits.

It took a while to track down the report, which appeared to be referenced neither in the CT report, nor on the C of E website in any obvious place. It turns out the project is on one of the many proliferating branded sites.

The material there says much the same: first, from the executive summary:

Ordinands report lower levels of financial wellbeing than ordained ministers, while higher levels of financial wellbeing are associated with ministers who are older, part-time, self-supporting and assistant/associate ministers.

Then, from the report:

While most ministers do not report that they are finding life difficult financially, the majority (82% of ordained respondents) are able to draw on personal or household income in addition to anything they receive for their ministry. The minority without additional personal or household income are far less likely to be able to save or to have adequate provision in place for retirement.

It is not entirely clear, at least to this reader with limited skills in statistics, exactly how the different figures relate. Nonetheless, it seems fairly clear there is a correlation between the numbers who find themselves struggling financially, and the numbers of those who are in receipt of the stipend as their only income.

Officially, the Church of England’s stance on the stipend is that it is not a graded or job-related salary, but a sum of money sufficient to live on, without needing to seek paid employment. That has always been partially contradicted by the reality that bishops, deans, archdeacons and canons appear to need more to live on than mere parish clergy. Why they need a higher stipend rather than a more generous expense account has always been something of a mystery to me. It is, at the least, hard to defend against accusation of hypocrisy.

This new research, however, goes further. It suggests that for whatever reason (and I suspect the reasons are complex) there are a significant number of clergy, dependent solely on the stipend, for whom it is not living up to its billing. It does not provide a sufficient sum for them to live on without making economies or enjoying supplements – whether a spousal income, private means, previous employment or state benefits.

This is not the only difficult question that comes out of these initial findings, but it does seem to me to be a rather important one. Is the stipend any longer doing what it says on the tin? If not, why not, and what is anyone going to do about it?

I commend the researchers for honestly asking the questions. I hope others will reflect on what action should follow.

Not exactly the finished articles

BCP 1559I began this series just short of a year ago, and I have been intermittent in my pursuit of its completion. It seems reasonable, however, to attempt to draw some threads together.

The Anglican Communion is clearly in a parlous state at present, and there are a variety of current reasons for that. However, blogging my way through the 39 articles has brought home to me some of the ways in which today’s problems have their roots in the past. There are two particular aspects I want to note by way of concluding the series, before ending with some positive affirmations.

The first is that except for the fairly light revisions reducing Cranmer’s forty-two articles in 1552 to thirty-nine by 1571, the articles have been largely stranded in the past. Cranmer’s original work represented the high-water-mark of Calvinism in the Church of England. Somehow the church managed to live with most of his 1552 Prayer Book and the greater part of his formulation of the articles, long after the tide had receded to a far more moderate Calvinist position.

In various ways the retention of episcopacy, the Elizabethan and Jacobean battle against the Puritans, the survival of the cathedral tradition, the routine of a daily liturgy of set prayers that also incorporated readings from the deutero-canonical books, and very noticeably the trauma of the Interregnum all combined to offset that Calvinism with something much more self-conscious about its (small-c) catholicity. (Yet only with a small “c”. The creation of a national Protestant island identity has outlasted Christian Britain, and survived in the anti-Europeanism that we have seen intensify in recent months.)

In some respects, I suggest, the articles have almost always been out of date, fighting the battles of a very particular period in history, and yet never revised for changing challenges and different debates. In legal terms, the articles are now downgraded to historic formularies (although it took a long time to so) and clearly one among others. This is the preface to the declaration of assent required of all clergy:

[The Church of England] professes the faith uniquely revealed in the Holy Scriptures and set forth in the catholic creeds, which faith the Church is called upon to proclaim afresh in each generation. Led by the Holy Spirit, it has borne witness to Christian truth in its historic formularies, the Thirty-nine Articles of Religion, The Book of Common Prayer and the Ordering of Bishops, Priests and Deacons.

It honours them, but this is far from a ringing endorsement of their present value. In practical terms, most lay Anglicans are fairly unaware of them. If asked about what statements of faith are used by Anglicans, most would be more likely to answer in terms of either the Nicene or Apostles’ Creed. (Nowadays, with the disappearance of Matins and Evensong, probably only the Nicene Creed.)

The articles themselves, of course, strongly suggest their own reformability by the place they give to scripture, and the statements they make about the possibility of error even in ecumenical councils. Unfortunately, no-one found a way to reform them in practice, however needed or desirable such reform might have been. One thing I believe I have shown in my examination is that there is no group currently in the Church of England that really upholds the articles in their entirety, however much some small conservative evangelical groups claim so to do.

This lack of an agreed mechanism for, or possibility of, reforming the articles (and perhaps thereby making them a useful set of boundary markers for the contemporary church’s thinking and practice) leads into the second problem that seems to occur again and again. There is no really coherent ecclesiology in the articles, whether that be working out the relationship between congregations and the catholic church, or the eschatological nature of a divine society in human and historical institutional form. The Holy Spirit gets short shrift in the articles. Assertions about a national church are hardly well-grounded theologically, and depend on a mix of misapplied Old Testament typology and a pragmatic obedience to the monarch as the only alternative to papal authority.

The role ascribed to the Crown-in-Parliament becomes in practice a fig-leaf for covering diversity and calling it comprehensiveness. But once Parliament admitted first Dissenters and then Roman Catholics, its role as a lay assembly of the church gathered round the chief lay minister of the Realm could no longer be upheld with any integrity even by the most romantic, Erastian or imaginative Anglican. The question of where authority resided had always had an inadequate answer, but then even that inadequate answer was exposed as a fiction.

Furthermore, this model was not fully capable of export, although it appeared to function within the British empire about as well as it functioned at home. But in the USA, with its democratic traditions, lay votes were far more powerful than anywhere else, and its polity was far less episcopal than its name suggested.

By contrast, in the newly reshaped post-imperial cultures of Africa, even among evangelicals, bishops have attained a power, status and authority that would embarrass many an ultramontane Catholic. (That confusion worse confounds the dialogue of the deaf between many Anglican bishops today.) It seems clear to me that what Anglicanism needs most is a vast amount of ecclesiological work, that actually tries to address some of these many inherited problems.

Having said all that, you may be wondering whether there’s any point to being an Anglican after such an indictment. But if my trawl through the articles has revealed what I see as significant problems, it has also helped me clarify where I think the strengths lie.

  • Its doctrinal statements exist in the context of a worshipping church, and more of what it believes can be found in how it prays than in abstracted arguments.
  • It shows a commitment to rooting itself in the scriptures guided by the scriptural reasoning of the patristic era especially, but also tradition more generally.
  • It tends to distrust absolute commitments to inerrant truth and absolute authority, even if it achieves this both through and at the cost of muddle and mess.
  • It is necessarily particular, and if that has proved to be a real problem in its concept of monarch and national church, it is nonetheless essentially committed to genuine inculturation.
  • The now outdated model of Crown-on-Parliament still bears witness to an essential role for lay people in the governance of the church, which is always balanced by its commitment to episcopacy.
  • Wherever possible, it is a both-and church, and not an either-or one, however confused and confusing that can sometimes be.

There may be many occasions when the grass looks greener on the other side of the Tiber, but in the end I think that short list reflects something more of who I am. It is perhaps the character of Anglicanism which resonates with me. But it is, I think, a changing character in a very swiftly changed and changing society, and perhaps that makes the development of good ecclesiology a more urgent task.

Not quite the plain meaning

oath on bibleComing to the end of this series on the thirty-nine articles, I take the final two together, since they raise essentially the same concern. Their statements perhaps, first of all, remind us that the articles are in many respects more like boundary markers than a confession of faith. Certain positions are dealt with and options ruled out simply because they are there, rather than from any significant internal logic. Continue reading “Not quite the plain meaning”

The power of the sword

bush-blairThose who say that religion and politics don’t mix live in a different thought world to that of the articles, as well as most of human history. Although the inseparable nature of politics as religious and religion as political has been apparent at a number of points, it is nowhere more evident than in the thirty-seventh article. More than many, it breathes the air of a bygone age, but it also throws up subjects like capital punishment and war which really need whole series of posts in their own right. Continue reading “The power of the sword”

Crown and mitre?

lords-spiritualThe article on the homilies, discussed last time, intrudes a little on the logical sequence. In many respects, article 36, the topic of today’s discussion, follows more logically from the thirty-fourth, which I suggested was flirting with Erastianism.

XXXVI. Of Consecration of Bishops and Ministers
The Book of Consecration of Archbishops and Bishops, and Ordering of Priests and Deacons, lately set forth in the tine of Edward the Sixth, and confirmed at the same time by authority of Parliament, doth contain all things necessary to such Consecration and Ordering: neither hath it any thing, that of itself is superstitious and ungodly. And therefore whosoever are consecrated or ordered according to the Rites of that Book, since the second year of the forenamed King Edward unto this time, or hereafter shall be consecrated or ordered according to the same Rites; we decree all such to be rightly, orderly, and lawfully consecrated and ordered.

What we can see in this article is perhaps the clearest statement of Anglicanism as a via media present in the articles. On the one hand it wishes to maintain against Rome that the ordinal contains “all things necessary” for ordaining men to the historic threefold ministry of the Church. On the other it wishes to maintain against Geneva (the Puritans) that there is nothing “superstitious and ungodly” in the rites provided. Continue reading “Crown and mitre?”

The learned preacher?

clergy-processionSome thirty years ago, I remember Professor Tony Thiselton, then principal of St John’s College, Nottingham, stunning a classroom of seminary leavers. Apart from a small number (myself included), those present were charismatic evangelicals. Everyone showed signs of bemusement shading into incomprehension as Thiselton lectured passionately on the importance of wearing one’s academic hood with clergy robes. Continue reading “The learned preacher?”

Excommunicate or persuade?

excommunicateSometimes the Anglican articles make especially obvious the different context in which they were written, and reveal some of their underpinning assumptions. This is the case with the thirty-third:

XXXIII. Of excommunicate Persons, how they are to be avoided.
That person which by open denunciation of the Church is rightly cut off from the unity of the Church, and excommunicated, ought to be taken of the whole multitude of the faithful, as an Heathen and Publican, until he be openly reconciled by penance and received into the Church by a Judge that hath authority thereunto.

More explicitly than any of the articles overtly dealing with ecclesiology this reveals certain assumptions about the Church. It places more weight on authority and discipline, and therefore on the Church as an institution. It stresses the Church as not so much a local congregation, as an interdependent body. And underpinning it seems to be a clear assumption that there is only one Church in this realm of England. Continue reading “Excommunicate or persuade?”

The queering of celibacy

Wedding ringsThose who sometimes compare the thirty-nine articles to a confession of faith overlook the practical and non-confessional nature of some like the thirty-second. This deals entirely with the non-credal topic of clergy marriage. It is also (at least nowadays) not an issue between the Roman Catholic and other Churches. The Vatican is quite clear that this is not a matter of divine law, but of ecclesial discipline and tradition, which the Church could change as and when it chooses. Moreover, in the significant number of former Anglicans now working as parish priests in the Roman Catholic Church, many RC parishioners are getting accustomed to a married parish priest.

In some ways, therefore, there is little to say about this article. In other ways, however, it is well worth some reflection, even if what follows is a little disconnected and incoherent. Continue reading “The queering of celibacy”

Sharing the sacrifice

Lamb of God, attributed to Francisco de Zurbarán
Lamb of God, attributed to Francisco de Zurbarán

For some people, the Church sometimes seems to be a “yesterday’s controversy preservation society”. This has been notable, for example, in some of the arguments over justification by faith that have raged, particularly in American conservative evangelical circles, around Bishop Tom Wright’s work. It is also true, I think, of many Christians’ discussions of the Eucharist. Here, then, is one such controversy from the Reformation, which certainly continues to impact discussions about liturgical texts and ecumenism. The thirty-first of the Anglican articles deals with the question of eucharistic sacrifice. Continue reading “Sharing the sacrifice”