The settled policy of this and other dioceses is that a newly retired priest should not be given ‘permission to officiate’ for six months.
The idea is, I’m sure, that facing the reality of a loss of role, status and utility should be fully experienced rather than softened or denied by a rapid accumulation of things like liturgical leadership and feeling useful.
Those of us who may have had even as much as forty years in which our only experience of Christian community has been one of influence and visibility (to put it no more strongly) could well be a liability suddenly disturbing the quiet power dynamics and/or collaborative structures of a new place.
‘I am not sure who I am,’ I’ve written to a few friends, ‘so it must be working’.
I find I remain hungry for priesthood (which is a good discovery, I think) and deeply suspicious that I’ll simply revert to type when the six month sabbatical comes to an end rather than become freshly servantful (which is a troubling discovery, I realise).
Offers have already come for me to have Canon Emeritus status, to join the Trustees of a local educational charity, potentially to assist in some diocesan training, and to begin to develop a provisional agreement about a minimum level of ministry in the Parish Church I now attend – and I am still only four and a half months in.
With some time on my hands I have found that exploring and writing up things that interest me has come to the fore. Just some of this (parts of my relating to the neighbouring art gallery and museum, exploring local countryside, and making use of my Ancestry subscription) have made it into this Blog.
And now I’m spending time with stories of other displaced clergy – those given small pensions as they were ejected from dissolved monasteries in the Sixteenth Century. It is research about one in particular which started me off, but it is others who are the focus of my attention now.
A 1554 Exchequer survey of all those being paid these pensions is the rich seam.
Canons of Thornton Abbey / College (which interested me so much when I lived nearby) pop up as the incumbents of neighbouring parishes at Barrow, South Ferriby and Wooton, and only a little further away at Louth, Welton and Withcall.
The displaced Dean of Thornton himself had a pension of £50 p.a., and was bringing in another £37 p.a. as the Rector of both Haxey and Laceby, where he was paying former Thornton colleagues just £6 (a sort of minimum liveable wage) and £1 6s 8d (one and a third pounds, or one pound and half a mark) to act as working curates on the ground.
But it is the smaller stories which are most touching.
Two north Lincolnshire pensioners were married to each other. Anne Castleforth was the former Prioress of tiny Gokewell Priory near Broughton (the Priory site is on the edge of the Scunthorpe Steelworks), and has £4 p.a. Robert Stayton had been the priest of a chantry at Althorpe eight miles away, and has £2 9s 6d. He was now serving as the Curate of Broughton itself for £6.
William East had been priest of a guild in Louth now with a pension of just £1 p.a. He was ‘celebrating from time to time’ (covering services in local churches) for fees of about £4 p.a., and working as a weaver.
John Brampton had been a monk at Bardney Abbey now with a pension of £1 6s 8d. He was married and ‘said not to be in holy orders and working as a tanner’.
Meanwhile, having mentioned the Amarna Letters in an earlier post, the picture is of one of them in the British Museum which I searched out when in London overnight a few weeks ago.