Is stipendiary ministry an aberration? In certain circumstances, are we what weighs down the church? The idea comes to my mind increasingly often. St Paul may have said that workers in the church deserved their hire but this didn’t stop him thinking that he’d rather not be a financial burden himself.
I was at the local Methodist Circuit meeting last night. They tidied up final arrangements about their excellent ministry and mission strategy towards which they have been working for a little while. From September, each of the four Ministers will have care of a more logical section of the Circuit, ten of their nineteen churches (two or three in each section) have been designated as their ‘centres of mission’, and their parallel youth work in which they are also investing both a post and support for volunteers is flourishing.
But at the same time there was concern that many are not sure that their present budget is sustainable, and they agreed to have an extra Circuit meeting in June when they’ll know exactly how much income each church can contribute and can look at what the options are. They need to do this then because after that it would be too late to decide that they cannot afford to deploy four Ministers from September 2010 onwards, and stipendiary ministry is the only obvious area in which substantial savings could be made.
I noticed all this because I’ll be at the Mission Area Planning Group for our Anglican Deanery tonight and I know we’ll be saying strikingly parallel things: despite severe cuts in stipendiary ministry, before the Pastoral Plan we’ve made is fully implemented it may already have become unaffordable. The Circuit expects not much more than 200 members to generate the money needed to pay for a Minister (on top of the money they need to contribute to keep their particular church open), and this may be unrealistic. The Deanery budget needs to allow a full £38 000 to cover the stipend, National Insurance, pension and housing costs of each filled clergy post, and this may not be attainable.
Perhaps Non-Stipendiary Ministry is the real norm; however much people may like having people like me around, perhaps for churches like ours at this particular time the burden of keeping us in post is disproportionate.