Don’t get ordained…..

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.

Revd Will Cookson on ordination

Will Cookson being ordained at Liverpool Cathedral with family

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.


7 comments on “Don’t get ordained…..

  1. Stuart
    November 25, 2011 at 2:19 pm #

    Hi Will, firstly great to discover your blog this morn and to hook up on Twitter; I have you in my feedreader now.

    Obviously I’m a little embarrassed by my comments on this matter, but I have publicly acknowledged I shouldn’t have been so crass.

    I can’t believe that this has come up to haunt me again two years later, but there you go.

    As you rightly say though, the outcome of this is hugely important and may have serious ramifications.

  2. Will Cookson
    November 25, 2011 at 2:30 pm #

    Hi Stuart,
    Welcome and thanks. I thought that you may have expressed yourself forcefully but this is a really important issue and there is something very fishy when he has claimed compensation in two previous jobs, so certainly no brickbats from me on this one!

    The real danger is that the law ends up treating the church like a company and then we are AN Other corporation and forget we are the body of Christ.

    • Stuart
      November 25, 2011 at 2:35 pm #

      Absolutely right Will and I’ll also add that your comment at the end about ordination being a calling and not a job, is also spot on.

  3. Chairman Bill
    November 25, 2011 at 2:50 pm #

    Are public sector workers also ‘called’, I wonder…..

  4. Archdruid Eileen
    November 25, 2011 at 7:08 pm #

    Can you not be “called” to Web development or the Retail industry?

  5. therevsteve
    November 26, 2011 at 8:58 am #

    Will, I have to say I disagree with you on most of this!
    Clergy are appointed like employees (advert, application, interview);
    paid like employees (tax & NI deducted at source);
    and under Common Tenure (which you may have been able to avoid but I had zero choice over) have capability & disciplinary procedures like employees.
    Day to day it makes absolutely no difference to me whether I am an employee, because I might as well be.
    I certainly don’t regard only having one day a week off as an essential feature of my calling, especially when that day corresponds (as it almost invariably must for clergy) with my spouse’s working day – for me that’s one of the rubbish things!

    As for the consequences you predict:
    I already work in a large team (13 parishes, mixed team of Stipendiary, SSM, HfD & LLM – 8 in total)
    It’s already clear that churches will have to close because many have already passed the limit of viability.
    And what exactly is wrong with better working conditions and more pay? Not that I believe employee status would lead to such things – you only have to look at what’s happening in secular employment at the moment to see that!
    I also have to say that I see more of my ‘managers’ (archdeacons & bishops) now than I did in my last secular post, so I don’t find that a problem either.

    Yes, I believe ordained ministry is a calling – one which I felt and which the church confirmed – but what I do as a Vicar is, frankly, a job. So, if you didn’t know any clergy who want to be employees before, you now know at least one who wouldn’t mind!

  6. Will Cookson
    November 26, 2011 at 3:22 pm #

    Firstly, I want to say that I do believe that people can be called to their employment (in the public or private sector) – it is just that it isn’t a pre-condition! Many people do jobs that they don’t feel called to but need to do to earn a wage. Also in those jobs you are paid a wage which should be linked to the “value” of the job. I do believe that to be ordained that it starts off with the call of God.
    Steve, I do think (and I think some bishops and archdeacons now think the same) that Common Tenure was a terrible mistake precisely because it does lead into the idea of us being employees. It’s not only the whole capability/disciplinary procedure but its also trying formalise what was more a grey area. So, for example regularising our holiday so that if you take more than your day off you are supposed to ask the archdeacon!

    I take on board that you say that day to day you might as well be an employee. Is this because you are a Team Vicar in a team? Many of us see an archdeacon or bishop once or twice a year and for all intents and purposes can get on with what we do with little reference to them. That may not be your situation but is fairly common I believe in places like my diocese.

    I think that the thing that you describe about the 13 parishes is exactly what I fear for the whole CofE. If we have these large teams across many parishes then we can end up with a monochrome church. Especially in the cities where there is a huge diversity (e.g. in London diocese you have HTB & St James Picadilly and All Souls Langham Place all very different) it would be incredibly difficult to bring different churches together of very differing church styles without causing much damage and I think it would lessen the diversity of the CofE which I would regret.

    Also, you may be seeing your Archdeacons and Bishops more but in many dioceses a Bishop has hundreds of clergy. If we were employees then there would have to be more clergy overseeing and directing us. You could not have one bishop looking after 5-600 clergy (as in Southwark) as it could easily be argued that there wasn’t enough oversight and checking what people were doing.

    Well at least I now know someone who wants to be a clergy employee!!

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