It has been an ominous few weeks. Outwardly, I continue to be safe and prosperous. But nevertheless, like any observant seismologist or vulcanologist who picks up the threat in the hints round about, I can’t help being increasingly anxious about the safety of the region in which I live.
First, early in March, the formal consultation letter came from the Church Commissioners. It wasn’t a surprise: the pressing need to restructure pension arrangements has been as widely canvassed in the church as elsewhere, and across the country people in other jobs are facing radical reductions in future provision. But nevertheless, it is the confirmation that I’ll have to work longer and expect less when I retire.
Then, attending a briefing on the new Ministerial Review scheme in which I’m about to engage, mention was made of the theoretical possibilities of redundancy contained in the new clergy tenure provision. This doesn’t differ from the position in which most other people have always been, and it is nothing like the stark fact of actual job loss for so many as the credit crunch has bitten. But nevertheless, if this had been signalled in the introductions to Common Tenure at the Candlemas Convocation and elsewhere, I had missed it until now.
Next, a letter came from the Bishop regretting that our stipends will not increase this year. This shouldn’t really be a surprise either since the unsustainability of the diocesan budget is something highlighted by many observers for some time. But nevertheless, I hadn’t seen this one coming, and it represents a cut in income in real terms however small.
Finally, attending the area Pastoral Committee brought home the impact on a senior colleague of a Bishop’s proposal to take the most creative and rewarding parts of his work and simply allocate them to the Job Description of a new post elsewhere. The nature of the consultation process involved doesn’t spring any surprises: is it consistent with that around a couple of initiatives he has (perhaps quite rightly) felt it important to set out and follow through more locally. But nevertheless, it contributes to the disturbing feeling about what could happen to any other of us at any point without any contribution we might want to make to the discussion making any real difference.
And at the same time there hasn’t been anything further heard about the Candlemas Convocation. That it turned out not to be the opportunity for the Bishops to take counsel with us about these sorts of things is already fully accepted. But nevertheless, there is a curious sadness that no report or response has yet emerged about the things about which we were asked to talk.
So, despite personal prosperity, Easter, and this picture taken yesterday of the blossom coming in St Michael’s churchyard, it feels as if all things which we are being asked to do to help others see and embrace major change are having to be done against frequently reinforced low grade background anxiety.