Part-time Priest

People are, more and more, telling me about experiences with clergy who understand themselves as functioning as priests during a specified time period.

There are clergy who keep office hours. They are present in their church office from the period X to Y, and essentially unreachable outside those times.

There are some who go to church when they are “paid to” – but not when “on holiday”.

There are others who question what business the church has in expecting certain standards of behaviour “when they are in their own leisure time”.

Part of the issue is theological. Is priesthood ‘ontological’ or ‘functional’? Is a person a priest, or does a person do ‘priesty’ things? Scratch away at many worship questions about roles and who-does-what, and that question often emerges.

The concept of ‘stipend’ is part of this – and that, too, has shifted. Significantly. Previously, one offered one’s life to Christ’s service within the church, and the church assured priests and their families with a home (the vicarage) and enough finance to reasonably live on. The pension scheme was such that, by the time you had served to ‘retirement’, the church’s pension added to the State’s came to approximately a stipend – so that essentially one continued with financial security until death, and the spouse after the priest’s death. All this came from the days when one income per family was mostly the norm, and sufficient to live reasonably on.

What does a stipend mean when the priest’s spouse is also earning? Then a ‘housing allowance’ became an option taken up by many, instead of living in a vicarage. Clergy couples became an option: two stipends – messing up the theory that this was a living-allowance for a family. The questions began: should the stipended spouse receive a housing allowance if you were living in the vicarage? If you weren’t living in the vicarage, was that two housing allowances? More and more it began to look like a salary. Then part-stipends arose: a half-time position with half a stipend and half allowances. A 40% position. I know of situations where priests collected part-time positions, resulting with more than a full ‘stipend’. How do you measure the number of hours each position expects?

I raise the stipend issues to illustrate the primary issue: Is a person a priest, or does a person do ‘priesty’ things? Is a priest primarily a role to fulfil at certain times? Or is a priest a particular way of being a Christian? And the same applies to the other orders: lay, deacon, bishop.

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