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Why the clergy refused more pay.

Byline: Campbell Docherty

The clergy in a Staffordshire diocese have rejected Church of England proposals which could have seen them receive pay rises of as much as 16 per cent.

An overwhelming majority of members of Lichfield's diocesan synod - including the Houses of Laity, Clergy and Bishops - said no to the planned increase of a vicar's annual stipend from pounds 17,600 to pounds 20,000. The new pay scales were included in the Church of England consultation document Clergy Stipends and Pensions, currently being debated in dioceses across the country. The opposition to the increased pay centred on the concept of the priest being free from financial concerns to 'exercise ministry in the name of Christ'.

However, there was clearer support at the meeting for a five per cent increase in the stipend.

Some members of the clergy in Lichfield are also calling for a radical shake-up of the way the Church of England distributes money to its vicars and curates, moving to a less rigid fixed stipend, regardless of the area a vicar has to move to.

'I think the Church of England is concerned with being fair across the board but really there should be more choice and diversity of approaches to pay,' said Rev Mark Phelps, of St Matthews in Tipton, Sandwell, whose parish falls within the Lichfield diocese.

'In more well-heeled areas, the incumbent should perhaps have a house provided. In poorer areas, we should be paid a standard wage.

'I don't think we can go on like this forever. A one-size-fits-all approach, which does not take account of the area a member of the clergy has to live in, is not the best way to do things.

'There are other denominations which pay their ministers like employees. That would mean we could live our lives like other people in the community.

'We would be subject to the same pressures and perhaps that would help us understand our parishioners better.'

Mr Phelps said he had never been able to live off the stipend alone and relied on his wife's salary as a teacher.

'I have a son going to university and a daughter with Downs Syndrome, both require financial commitments which the stipend cannot cover,' he added.

During the debate, the Rev Nigel Irons, vicar of All Saint's Church, Burton-on-Trent, said: 'A priest should be seen as someone who is released by the stipend to exercise ministry in the name of Christ, free from financial concerns so far as the provision of life's necessities are concerned and not seen as someone who is remunerated according to some defined scale or measure of perceived responsibility.'

Prebendary Terry Thake, rural dean of Rugeley and chairman of the Lichfield House of Clergy, said: 'We see this as a calling. We see this as a vocation.

'We do not want to see it as a career with a career structure which the new definition seems to suggest.'

CAPTION(S):

The Rev Mark Phelps, of St Matthew's in Tipton, is studying the salary scales for clergyPicture, EDWARD MOSS
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Publication:The Birmingham Post (England)
Date:Jun 27, 2002
Words:508
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