A frozen church

Dec 19th, 2010 | By | 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.

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  1. The church should be very aware of the impact of the financial crisis on its overall situation. Its income from investments is significantly down; its members have less money and many are suffering badly. Some leadership would be required to address its own situation and the one you describe. One response I heard from an influential cleric when I wondered about the “silence of the lambs” on the bankers and the budget was that “there is a committee to look at those issues”.

  2. Ian – I’m 100% with you on this – If anything the financial situation is highlighting how unsustainable so much of our praxis as Church is. We can no longer afford the luxuries of the institution and they have now become a burden on us and those we minister to.

  3. Back to the Franciscans and the mendicant friars.

    The current superstucture, particularly in the RC church, is an abomination.

    For the people by the people?

    Rath ar an obair.

    Stay with it.

  4. I get depressed sometimes that the church seems as incapable as the state of reforming itself in a way that is principled and in accordance with its avowed beliefs. Perhaps, as is the case in our body politic, there are too many interests vested in retaining things as they are.

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