Drawing the curtains on ethics

Jun 29th, 2007 | By | Category: Ministry

We have a new Rectory.

It is a nice Rectory. It sits at the corner of Killiney Avenue and Church Road, with a fine view of the Dublin Mountains and Sugarloaf Mountain in Co Wicklow. It is finished to a very high standard, marble tiles, wooden floors, granite worktops in the kitchen, lots of gadgetry.

It raises a dilemma.

The parish could never have afforded such a house. We got it because our 1970s bungalow sat on 0.4 of an acre, enough land for a builder to build two large houses. He got one in payment for ours and we got one for nothing, plus all the other costs he had to bear, like housing us for a year. He is an excellent builder who finishes things to the highest of standards.

It is his high standards that create the dilemma.

It is the custom in the Church of Ireland that while clergy have their own furniture, parishes provide fixtures and fittings in clergy houses, things like curtains and carpets, otherwise clergy could never afford to move. The parish here has had no expense at all with the new Rectory, everything has come in free, including cooker, fridge freezer, washing machine and tumble drier, we have done very well.

The curtains raise the dilemma. Curtains to cover the large amount of glass we have and to approach the standard to which the builder has finished the house don’t come cheap. The estimate, which I am told is very reasonable, is €12,000. We don’t live at the same economic level as most of our nearby neighbours; €12,000 is one-third of my annual stipend. It is more than some people in the community would have to live on for the year.

At the meeting of our church council last night, I spoke against spending the estimated amount; I couldn’t in all conscience support the parish spending so much. Were I to say we will send €12,000 to Africa, I would get no support.

I didn’t have any alternative to offer, just that I was uneasy with the whole thing.

What would Jesus do? I’m not sure. I think Jesus wouldn’t have been in the situation in the first place. Maybe we need to look at the whole way we do ministry, maybe the days of professional clergy need to be numbered.

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