Stipend 2023: Open letter to the Faith Nurture Forum and Assembly Trustees
Dear Faith Nurture Forum and Assembly Trustees,
Since pay deals are the flavour of the day, maybe you are starting to think about setting stipend levels for 2023, and on the off chance you are looking for some views, here are mine!
A few reminders first. None of us came into ministry for the money. In fact, many probably gave up good career paths to follow the sense of call. And we are fine with that. Most of us are also probably fine with a graded system that sees all in ministry from five years onwards paid the same as it is about a “living” rather than payment for experience or workload. That said, no satisfactory answer has ever been given as to why we pay larger salaries to some who work centrally, and elsewhere, when we are all supposed to be equally serving God and his Church. It seems out in the field there is no need to recognise workload or experience or position and reflect this in pay, yet it seems to be recognised for some in Church employment because they must be in “really important” jobs or have a workload way above the norm! Maybe one day I will see clearly but at the moment it is still a dim image! (And a disgrace!)
Now before I go much further, I am not the shop steward of ministers – and whether one or a hundred agree with me or not is up to them. Some will say we are already well paid in comparison to other clergy – some will say we are rich compared to others in the world – some will say we don’t want any increase because the Church is struggling already – some will say we get paid way more than many sitting in our pews (note that we also get paid well below some who sit in our pews). Grand, they are all entitled to their opinions – feel free to leave their stipends as they are. Me – well, I live in modern Scotland and, like everyone else, must live with the costs of living in Scotland and care for my family – I also witnessed great strides made over decades by former Board of Ministry colleagues to make sure ministers were paid a decent living wage – so if we don’t keep up with the times then we diminish an already beleaguered clergy.
There are overarching questions to be contemplated:
1. In the post-Presbytery Planning era, are we to maintain the five-tiered stipend system?
2. Are we going to revert to an old system where workload and experience are seen to deserve higher stipend?
3. How are we going to assist ministers, helpfully and encouragingly, to account for their work?
4. Where ministers in full tenure presently have a “cushy wee number”, how do we gently bring that to their attention?
5. Will we ever see a revamped version of the expectations of ministers? (Remember the old basic tasks? Long gone!)
6. Are ministers essential to the Church or not? The answer is important not only in terms of stipend but in what training standards we continue to demand.
Now please don’t tell me that the Manse is part of my working reward. Much as my folk have looked after us very well here (and I thank them for that), I don’t want my manse, nor do I need it. In fact, if I stayed in my own house with a very modest housing allowance to use it as a place of work, then the rental from the manse would give a considerable increase in income to my congregation to do something like…mission! A whacky idea, I know. See my reform website elsewhere for more information on manse provision – the question seems to be kicked into the long grass time and time again as it was at GA 2022. Now there’s an interesting point – as the GA says it is very important for ministers to have a choice whether to solemnise same-sex marriages, the same cannot be said for manses – you gotta live in the manse, no choice! Bizarre!
We now live in harsh economic times when heating a large manse is already proving exceptionally expensive, to say nothing of the accompanying contribution it makes to the climate disaster we are all facing! By the time we introduce 2023 stipend figures we will already have been coping with double (or more) fuel payments for most of 2022! The GA mumbles something about ministers in need being able to seek support. That is a typical ill-thought-out reaction – not the offer of help – but the complete lack of an action plan that will help all ministers in the long-term, hence the overarching questions above which we must turn our minds to sooner rather than later. Instead, what do we get? An email from the Presbytery Clerk’s office seeking written assurances that we are not accepting any extra payments from our congregations to help with fuel costs! Heaven forbid!
And so with all this background information, now to the nitty gritty of setting stipend for 2023. A sergeant in the police starts at £43,666 or should we go for the lesser 11-year constable scale that grows from £26,737 to £42,934? Or should we follow teachers who go from £32,994 to £41,412 in years one to five? Surely not bad comparisons? And should there be an additional one-off payment for ministers to allay the costs already incurred with fuel to heat large manses?
Over to you, Faith Nurture Forum and Assembly Trustees, let us hear your plans for ministry and stipend going forward into 2023 and beyond!