I see that the ex-rector of Teme Valley South, the Reverend Mark Sharpe, is suing the Church of England for constructive dismissal. This footnote in the papers is actually a hugely important issue and if he is successful could, I believe, have disastrous consequences for the church and for clergy and churches.For those of you who aren’t clergy I need to go behind the scenes so to speak. Currently clergy are Office-holders, this means that we are not employed by the Church of England. Indeed under UK law we are employed by God (always good for a laugh when you are asked to fill in who your employer is, used it for good effect on a number of occasions!). This has the very important consequence that we are not answerable in the same way to the Bishop as we would be to an employer. For example if a Bishop asks us to attend a meeting we can refuse! But more importantly it means that bishops and senior staff cannot dictate to churches. It gives churches a freedom of operation and enables churches like Springfield to develop and grow and mature with a very light hand.
Other things include the idea that we can a Stipend and not a wage. A wage is one that reflects our value and the worth of the job. A stipend gives enough money to live on (on a good month) but does not pretend to reflect our worth. We are exempt from the working time directive etc etc.
Now if we became employees there are a number of very significant changes that would likely come into place.
Firstly, there is a huge difference between being called and getting a job. If there is a move to a job from being called then the attitude of priests will start to be different. Why work 6 days a week for a low wage when you don’t need to? I certainly wouldn’t have moved from my job in business if I was moving to another “job”. Being called by God to being a priest/ vicar/ minister gives you the inner strength to cope with the rubbish parts of the job.
Then there would be the pressure to be “managed”. This would mean that we would need lots more staff managing the clergy, the putting of parishes together and large clergy staff teams, more archdeacons or assistant bishops. This is because the church would have to show that it was managing us to avoid being taken to court. In effect this would mean fewer clergy and potentially the closing of many churches.
If the role is a job as opposed to a calling then there would be the pull of the demand for better pay, better working conditions and parishioners being treated as customers. It could mean a greater demand for more time off – two days off a week and not one, better terms and conditions. It would change the relationship between people in the church, and I don’t think for the better.
All in all I believe that it would have a disastrous effect on the church. It might well be in my personal interests but I didn’t become ordained for myself alone but to serve the God who calls us. The other thing is that I don’t know any of my colleagues who would want this change to employee status. Yet a court is judging this case with huge implications for clergy and the wider church. I do hope that they will see sense.
I wouldn’t put it quite so bluntly about the case as the echurch blog but its a point of view (and some very interesting comments by parishioners in the comments beneath the story.
So, my advice to those thinking of being ordained and wanting to see it as a job – don’t. It’s not a job its a calling.