A frozen churchDec 19th, 2010 | By Ian Poulton | Category: Church of Ireland Comment
The place is freezing. It was built in the days when the resident cleric would have been a member of the gentry and would have had servants to see to everything, now it’s a shadow of itself. It’s not possible to keep the place warm on a clergy stipend and the parish has not money to pay for such expense when most people are struggling to make ends meet – and if there was money, would it be the right way to spend it? When the cost of filling the oil tank is equivalent to paying a teacher for a year in a link diocese in Africa, what should the priority be?
‘Time and again, people come out with responses to such questions along the lines that it’s not either/or but both/and; that it’s not a question of one thing or the other, that it’s a question of having money for both doing things here and supporting work in Africa – the responses are patent nonsense. One of the basic concepts taught in secondary school economics was that of ‘opportunity cost’, that if you chose to spend money on one thing that decision was not cost free, it meant that you had to forego the opportunity of spending it on something else. Both/and is not an option; you cannot spend the same sum of money twice, spend it on filling a tank with heating oil and you have foregone the opportunity to pay the year’s salary of an African teacher.
The bankruptcy of the national economy and the government’s immoral attack on working people to pay the gambling losses of financiers attract barely a whisper from the alleged guardians of the faith, but if they are too timid to address the big picture, they might at least look at what the crisis has to say to their own situation.
The time of the church spending huge sums to maintain substantial clergy residences and the bulk of church income being expended on paying professional clergy needs to pass. In a situation where the church needs to be rooted in local communities and where good stewardship of resources is necessary, the present way of doing things doesn’t work.
There needs to be imaginative responses to the situation. Some twenty years ago, one bishop faced with a small and very isolated rural church community, placed a lay reader in charge of the parish; someone who had the training to preach Sunday by Sunday and who had personal pastoral skills in caring for those in her charge. There need to be lots of such experiments.
The word ‘parish’ has been taken away from the people and applied to the cleric; a ‘parish’ has become whatever number of churches it takes to pay a professional cleric’s stipend. The parish has lost much of its potential for mission in its need to maintain the cleric and the expensive parish house. We have got everything backwards; we have created a church run to serve the clergy.
The present situation satisfies no-one;; not the parishioners being asked for large sums of money, nor the clergy struggling to live in places they cannot afford ministering to congregations who know things could be different.
The prospect of anyone actually doing anything to bring change is slight; the frozenness of the church is much deeper than anything meteorological.