Forget the theology, bring a screwdriver

Mar 18th, 2011 | By | Category: Church of Ireland Comment

There are times when the Church of Ireland’s attitude to its clergy is, at best, odd, and, at worst, bordering on cruel.  Most people working for a single employer, as clergy do, work mornings and afternoons for five days of the week.  Such employment of clergy would be regarded as merely part-time by the Church of Ireland.  Back in 2000 it declared in its General Synod Book of reports:

These regulations were adopted by the Representative Church Body (RCB) on 14th March 2000 and shall remain in force until otherwise amended by resolution of the RCB or the General Synod of the Church of Ireland.
1.   Part-time deployment in stipendiary ministry shall be governed by a contract for services (the contract) made between the Bishop of the Diocese(s) and the Minister subject to the provisions of Canon 34 (4) as contained in Chapter IX of the Constitution of the Church of Ireland.
2.     The maximum number of sessions to be provided by a Minister deployed in part-time stipendiary ministry shall not exceed 14 sessions per week.
3.     The minimum number of sessions shall not be less than 5 sessions per week.
4.     Sessions shall be defined as the morning, afternoon and evening periods of which there will be 21 maximum per week.

Working morning and afternoon seven days a week would still fall within the church’s definition of ‘part-time’.  As if the absurd expectation that one might work up to 21 sessions per week was not sufficient pressure, the expectations of what clergy might do during those sessions have grown far beyond the reasonable.

The majority of boards of management of Church of Ireland National Schools (the term for primary school in the Republic of Ireland) are chaired by the Rectors of the respective parishes in which the schools are located.  In many places the Rector’s preference would be not to play such a role, but diocesan bishops, as patrons of the schools, will frequently apply pressure on the local clergy to accept the role of chair.  How many of those bishops are aware of the role into which they are pushing clergy?

Under the heading ‘Snowy Days’, the recent edition of the Church of Ireland ‘Education Newsbrief‘ advises:

In the event of a decision to close the school all staff members must be clear as to who makes that decision. In general terms the decision to close the school rests with the Board of Management. The Board should decide who in particular should take responsibility for the decision to close in a situation where time is short (such as with heavy snow). A protocol must be in place to communicate this with all staff members, parents and service providers.

If the closure is for bad weather, the Chair of the Board should take responsibility for the welfare of the school building (e.g. ensuring heating is set if cold weather, roof tiles and objects secured if stormy weather, etc.)

In the midst of winter weather, when there are frequently church members sick or dying, when getting around the parish is difficult, when there are a hundred and one pressures, clergy must be concerned with school central heating and school roofs.

Why bother with theological training? What the Church of Ireland really wants is handymen





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  1. And of course, the question has to be asked why clergymen of any denomination should have anything at all to do with managing primary schools.

  2. I would concur!

  3. Ian, you know it would go against all Health and Safety regs to be up on that roof in a gale holding them rooftiles down without any scaffold or edge protection…….Tell them you cant go up on the roof…….

  4. Mercifully, we have a lay chair in our parish school.

    I hadn’t thought about the Health and Safety angle.

  5. Ian – I agree. And I think that those regulations were drawn up [not by us] at the point at which your wife and I were unequally-yoked as it were. And that’s before you start on the nonsense that you cannot have two or more people working together where one has defined working conditions – however mad – and the other does not.

    And here’s another way of looking at the same issue. I/we deal fairly constantly with issues of pastoral breakdown. Some are over ‘issues’ and relationships. But many are over the failure of a minority of clergy to be – or be seen to be – actively engaged in their ministry – in a world where almost everybody else carries expections of accountability and delivery.

    I know that ministry is not just about meeting expectations …. but but how many sessions do you think it would take you to meet the [reasonable] expectations of your parishioners in respect of presence, visibility, pastoral care, Sunday? I doubt if you would need 14 or anything like it – which leaves plenty of time for ‘added value’ stuff. Don’t ask me how you deal with the institutional infrastructure questions which you raise – I have more than my share of that. But buried in the background of this debate is the widely-held view that clergy as a breed generally either over or under work – and very few of us get the balance right in the middle. Which is why we don’t have healthy and balanced lives – and maybe not the healthy and balanced ministries that we are called to.

  6. I think honesty on both parts would provide allow progress. The church should accept its obligations as an employer instead of maintaining the fiction that clergy are ‘self-employed’ and clergy should accept the obligations of being employees and not hide behind the anachronism of freehold.

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