How much are clergy worth?

Just before Christmas, Alan Bartlett’s moving comments about clergy stress were published in the Daily Telegraph.

As a vicar, I know better than anyone why so many clergy are close to the edge…In my last three months in the parish, for example, I conducted the funerals of three young women: one died of a drugs overdose; one of alcohol addiction; and one of addiction to painkillers. Two left children behind, all three devastated families.

As the local vicar, I was part of the primary care team working with these and other local families in distress. I was also one of the very few professionals whose home was in the parish. The medics and the social workers and teachers, for perfectly proper reasons, almost all commute in. Vicars live in their parishes. What that meant last Easter – and please don’t read this as a hard-luck story – is that we had our car bricked three times in a week. The windows were smashed. We had to have CCTV fitted to the vicarage.

Alan’s reflection does not aim to be a sob-story looking for sympathy, and he is very open about what a rewarding experience parish ministry has been, even in a deprived and demanding context:

Yet being a vicar is also, for many of us, hugely rewarding. In research done by the Cabinet Office in 2014, vicars came out as the happiest of all professions. My nine years in Gilesgate, Sherburn and Shadforth was one of the best jobs I will ever do. It was a privilege to be with people at those immensely important moments, when they open up and share their lives with me and with God.

This correlates with a consistent phenomenon at the back of the Church Times: I have often been struck by how consistently the obituaries of clergy list their ages on death as in the late 80s or 90s. This contrasts with what I noticed amongst those retiring from factory shift-work when I worked at Mars in Slough, many of whom died in their 70s or even 60s, only a few years after leaving work. Clergy seem to be disproportionately gifted with long life, and there is a very obvious reason for this: even though it sometimes does not feel like it, we have security, freedom and control over our own time like no other occupation. Johann Hari puts his finger on this in his personal study of depression and its causes:

It turns out if you have no control over your work, you are far more likely to become stressed – and, crucially, depressed. Humans have an innate need to feel that what we are doing, day-to-day, is meaningful. When you are controlled, you can’t create meaning out of your work.

Not everyone agrees with Hari’s overall analysis, but this observation appears to be very well founded. And it touches on the paradox of the work of ministry and its rewards: for every factor which suggests one truth about ministry, another suggests the exact opposite. And this, in turn, stymies effective discussion about the level of the clergy stipend, which is reviewed every year by the Archbishops’ Council. The very context of discussion demonstrates what an odd thing it is; I would be in a room, without a stipend myself, alongside many with a regular stipend, a few with a differential stipend because of greater responsibility (being a bishop or archbishop), and civil servants paid a good deal more than any of the clergy present. I confess to finding it very strange sitting in a meeting, discussing investment ethics and strategy, next to someone who had the previous week been given a £200,000 bonus.


Don’t forget to book your place at the the Festival of Theology on Jan 30th!


The Church of England last attempted a serious overhaul of stipends in 2001, when the report Generosity and Sacrifice came to Synod. This was my first year as a Synod representative (for Salisbury diocese) and I liked the fact that the report tried to combine some serious theological reflection (particularly on the meaning of ‘double honour’ in 1 Tim 5.17) with putting the clergy stipend into the context of current pay for other professions. What was less impressive is what appeared to be the skewing of the theology to defend the idea of differentials in stipends between ‘senior’ and ‘ordinary’ clergy. I cannot now remember the details of the debate, but the main recommendation on stipend levels was that stipend and housing together should be ‘80% of the starting salary of a head teacher of a large primary school’ and this was not implemented. At the time, that would have moved the stipend from around £16,000 to £20,000, an increase of 25%. Now, it would move it from around £25,000 to somewhere near £40,000, more like a 60% increase—which is a reflection on the way that salaries for professions have moved away from median salaries nationally. over the last 10 years, the incumbent stipend has slightly drifted from around the 47%-ile of national median salaries to around 44%-ile, which is why annual decisions need to be made on a long-term and not an annual basis. But, with various financial pressures coming up for dioceses, including the impact of the growth in new ordinands, no-one is going to welcome another reason to increase budget spending.

The paradoxes of the stipend arise from at least these six areas, in no particular order.

a. Responsibility Do clergy do a responsible job? No, of course not, in terms of decision-making and financial management, in comparison with any senior professional lay person within the congregation. One of the ordinands that I taught had come from a job where he was sent to Brazil on his own with £10 million and told to recruit staff and build a factory. Thinking about the annual church budget must have seemed a bit of a come-down. When I was 22 I was running a £22m production line and responsible for the lives of those on my shift. It always puzzled me when people talked about ‘big jobs’ in church leadership by comparison. And yet, if I had made a silly mistake in a business presentation, then my error would have been forgotten the next day. If I get the deceased person’s name wrong at a funeral, I will be reminded of it for decades. Can there be anything more responsible than shepherding the people of God out of danger and into safe pasture by refreshing streams?

b. Housing Long gone are the days when clergy lived in a grand rectory which was the most splendid house in the town or village. There are still some impressive vicarages (which usually just makes them difficult to heat), but most people’s experience of clergy housing hovers between the grateful and the resentful, depending on relations with the diocesan staff member responsible for maintenance. As I found in my decade of living in a college tied house (built in rather miserable 1970s breeze blocks) there is something rather infantilising about having to ask permission to make minor alterations. A clergy friend recently confessed to not doing anything with his garden, since ‘well, it’s not mine, is it?’ even though he has lived twice as long there as we have in our current house, which we (or rather the bank) ‘owns’ (see Ps 24.1). The main issue for my generation is that living in a tied house meant having nowhere to live on retirement, in contrast with the majority of others of the same age. That has all changed for the generation that follows, where house ownership is a distant aspiration.

c. Work hours Putting appropriate boundaries around work time has always been a challenge for clergy; the age of hyper-connection and the ability to read emails late at night on one’s phone has perhaps extended that challenge to others. But parish clergy need to live with the loss of weekend freedom in a way that others do not. There is a sense in which ‘the job is never done’, but there is also a lack of direct supervision which means it is easy to be lazy or inefficient or both. A retired bishop once told me ‘Half my clergy were lazy; the other half were workaholics.’ It summed up the dichotomy rather well.

d. Education In times past, the clergyman, along with the lord, the lawyer and the doctor, would be one of the most educated in the local area. Until the expansion of Higher Education under New Labour, there was still a noticeable difference, in that around two-thirds of Anglican clergy were graduates, compared with perhaps a quarter of the wider population. (Such measures are less obvious now that there are so many graduates.) Given that many clergy come from well-paid roles in their previous occupation, should that affect the level of stipend?

e. Context With the rapidly growing levels of financial inequality in the country as a whole, there are increasing contrast for clergy in different settings. Those working in poor urban estates might be some of the few actually in employment, and will usually be the most secure and best paid in the parish. Those living in a wealthy London suburb will be the lowest paid by some considerable way. But abandoning a national structure for the stipend level would add to the difficulties of filling clergy posts in poorer parts of the country.

f. Theology The paradoxes of clergy remuneration go all the way back to the roots of ministry in the New Testament. On the one hand, some of the most important parts of Paul’s ministry took place when he was earning his own living in another way, as a tent-maker. But when a gift was made which allowed him to devote his whole time to ministry (Acts 18.5), this opened up a new phase and new possibilities—and the giving of a gift to set him free to minister remains the theological basis for clergy being paid a stipend rather than being given pay as remuneration for a job done or an office held. Paul never held on to this as a right, even though it was assumed to be his to claim for him and family members (1 Cor 9.5). Christian leaders should indeed be held in ‘double honour’ (1 Tim 5.17), and the Greek word for ‘honour’ time is commonly now used for the price or monetary value of something. And yet Paul also recognised the hardships and suffering involved in ministry of any kind (2 Cor 3–4).

However these paradoxes are resolved, the question of clergy remuneration and provision will continue to be part of discussions both about the affordability of ministry in diocesan budgets and issue of clergy welfare. Do post your own solution in the comments below!


Don’t forget to book your place at the the Festival of Theology on Jan 30th!

Follow me on Twitter @psephizoLike my page on Facebook.


Much of my work is done on a freelance basis. If you have valued this post, would you consider donating £1.20 a month to support the production of this blog?

27 thoughts on “How much are clergy worth?

  1. The age-old dilemma of appropriate remuneration when we don’t (or can’t) just leave it to the ‘market forces’ of supply and demand to settle.

    The problem with tying it to a public sector job like a primary head is when public sector pay becomes inflated – though that’s a somewhat arbitrary issue too (what should a head be paid?).

    As you note, what constitutes a level of responsibility is also open to interpretation.

    I think the (national minimum) stipend should be increased a bit since it does seem somewhat low, especially if there is any hope of affording a mortgage on it as well as decent pension contributions in order to prepare for a (long) retirement. 25% should do it, as per the 2001 recommendation.

    However, the Church can scarcely afford anything like that alongside all its pension commitments and ordinand training – and with inexorably declining attendance and a senior leadership bent on pursuing a counter-biblical progressive agenda whatever the cost to church unity and resilience it’s hard to see the financial position changing any time soon.

    • Ian,
      In my experience, a good priest is of great value. They become beloved by all who know them. The comments seem to reflect a view not about worth or value, but about status and comparison. I need to find Jesus’ teaching on professional status. I need to find where he taught about a decent middle class life style, and retirement. I am sorry that the job is hard, and under paid, or in some cases over paid and of no utility. Courage brothers and sisters, and thank you. John

  2. A first measure in economy would be to amalgamate city centre parishes with cathedrals where this applies. Many cathedrals have 3 or 4 canons as well as a dean who are not busied with parochial duties as over-worked clergy are. The city centre parishes which must 60 or so on a Sunday could easily merge with the cathedrals and cathedrals could return to the task of being parish churches.

    Cathedrals should also publish full details of the salaries they pay canons. Often this is more than parochial clergy.

    Underused churches could then be leased to other newer churches which often struggle to find suitable accommodation in cities and may have to use school premises on Sundays.

  3. Hi Ian
    Great article. As ever, there will no doubt be a long rehearsal of many hobby horses!

    One thing that strikes me in my second decade of public ministry is where you touch on the value of housing, and ‘ownership’ retirement and property care etc. In calculating stipend levels, isn’t there always something of a false-assumption about the inclusion of ‘housing’ as a part of any formulae, since that is never money which can (or does) pass through my hands, over which I might have any control. Or in other words, yes the house is tied (which is a benefit) but I cannot benefit from capital rises as a ‘normal’ houseowner would.

    I suppose (very unclearly) I’m wondering if housing becomes a ‘red herring’. I wonder what would happen if the Stipend was calculated at a Gross level, and then all stipendiary clergy were given the option of a full payment (and they’d find/buy/rent their own accomodation) or the Diocese makes a (capped) charge and they live in the parsonage house? In either case there would always be a ‘max’ or ‘min’ stipend…?

    I realise that there would be lots or arguments about provision, high price areas, link between living in a parish etc (and canon law!). But such is the lot of every other professional – including those with vocational professions?

  4. I’m waiting for the “specialists” – salaried youth and children’s workers – as identified by the Evangelistic Task Force Group report to have commensurate pay / terms as clergy . . . £25K? You’ll be lucky as an employed children’s, youth or family worker to get that . . . with NO – housing, water rates or council tax paid.

    • Thanks for making this point. I also look at the pay of those who work in social care – who I like to call social care professionals – a title I think we should all be using for those who care for those who need help with aspects of daily living. They work long hours are often on call and sleep in on the job. They often live in the patch in which they work as well. And there are many other roles where pay is less that a curates stipend …and don’t come with a house…

  5. You will, I hope, be interested to know that the word for “invoice” in modern Greek is “timologio” – the same root as “time”, “honour” – so the monetary connection you point out in closing is very clear!

  6. The reference to Psalm 24.1 in connection with the question of who “owns” your house got me thinking that perhaps one source of clergy satisfaction is that, beyond the human structures of church hierarchy and accountability, clergy ultimately know that they work “as for the Lord” (Ephesians 5:6-8; Colossians 3:22-25)

  7. I was never persuaded Ian by the redefining of stipend in Generosity and Sacrifice as payment for the exercise of office. And, like you, I find the G&S theology defending differential pay very weak. There seemed to be scriptural study of what it means for the worker in the vineyard to be paid the same regardless of how long they had worked. So I am firmly in the counter-cultural group who long to see stipend paid, at a reasonable level, that allows clergy not to worry about money so they can get on with the role they were ordained for. It is surprising how often I now come across bishops who are using this kind of language, and wonder whether we might again be due for looking at how we pay our clergy might be prophetical and missional to a world increasingly at sea about pay levels and differentials.

    • Mike…I agree with your general thrust and conclusions.

      But I’ve never been convinced that the workers in the vinyard parable is relevant. Isn’t it (if taken as about money) about the employers rights?

  8. I thought the stipend was meant to be a living allowance to provide for our needs, not a salary commensurate with industry or business or the public sector. Also, if the stipend is meant to be spending money then why don’t all clergy receive the same amount? Other large Christian organisations give exactly the same amount to everyone from International Director down. I know that SIM do this and I believe that the Salvation Army also pay their staff the same way.

  9. Having seen replies here and on the accompanying thread on Facebook, “my two cents”.
    First, there may well be a danger that the concept of stipend is being lost. My monthly payment from the Church Commissioners is not “pay” (despite the nomenclature on the “payment” slip) or salary or wage, it is an income which enables clergy to “be” from which their “doing” comes as directed by the Ordinal, Common Tenure, Statement of Particulars and/or conscience.

    The business of how additional household income is viewed, whether it be a household of one, or a household where there is stipend income (from the clergy person) and a spouse who may be very well paid indeed, is a source of curiosity. Concerning other sources of income, in a clergy household of one or more, whereas rental income from a property purchased, presumably as a future home for retirement, rather than as a capital and income generating asset may not be deemed to be assigned, other sources of income generated “in church time” may well be. For example, am I engaged by x or y because I am a clergy person, or because I just happen to be a clergy person and have a particular set of skills that are independent of my clergy status and training? Ought “unearned” income from a generous investment portfolio be assigned so far as it takes income beyond that which enables the clergy person “to be”.

    The greater stipend for more senior clergy such as archdeacons, area/suffragan bishops, and diocesan bishops in an interesting one, as, prima facie, it smacks of reward for the additional duties and joys of those callings (in addition to other pension benefits). There may well be additional expenses incurred by those dizzy offices, but these are recoverable (or even coverable) by, inter-alia, the Church Commissioners. Why does the stipend qua stipend need to be any larger than an incumbent’s, or for that matter an assistant curate, where the National Minimum Stipend applies? Why not just the one stipend?

    One might argue that someone on a .5 with housing in effect has a very generous subsidy for other income generating enterprises for the other .5 of their “being”, as long as the clergy house is not used for vulgar trade (which restrictive covenants and house licence agreements prohibit anyway). I guess in that case is win-win for cleric and church alike.

    It is vital that the notion of stipend is not lost. On the other hand, if we were to abandon this in theory and in practice, I would have no difficulty in playing the game of performance-related pay; cutting deals with funeral directors; taking a tithe/commission for all the income I generate for capital and revenue income profits, and doing many more gigs and paying a locum.

    There you have it.

    • There is no justification for the large stipend/pension differentials and certainly none for paying more to those coming from a higher salary background. Would we pay less to someone who earned less before ordination? We have imbibed the worlds valuation of people as mere cash value and downgraded vocation.

      (“cutting deals with funeral directors”

      Unless the rules have changed (I’m in the ‘retired’ now) then those who do not assign their fees get not only to keep them but to keep them in excess of any diocesan stipend level. Assigning the fees is done in exchange fir the guaranteed national minimum stipend. One diocese refused to let me assign fees for a few years as it wasn’t good for THEIR cash flow. I got near to exceeding the minimum stipend but saved on NI. I’m not arguing for it! It made month to month living complicated with yo-yo-ing income.

      • Dear Ian,
        At the moment of writing, I cant name the instrument, legal or otherwise, that made the “incumbent’s” fee the “property” of the Diocesan Board of Finance. I’ve always assigned my fees anyway under a Deed of Assignment. The point about “cutting a deal with funeral directors” is more to do with clergy being outmanoeuvred by the business models of especially large firms of undertakers who can sometimes mask their diaries as “the family has requested”, that or not being able to get an instantaneous response from a parish priest in the case of an un-churched or de-churched family opt for some other officiant who is not necessarily cheaper than a CofE “vicar” such as me, but they get the slot filled anyway. Of course it’s different if the family wants the service in church – assuming they qualify by virtue or residence or some other connection.

        If occasional offices such as funerals are “opportunities for mission” and/or the salvation of souls then, if allowed, I don’t see there is any problem intrinsically by increasing a currently diminishing volume and income – for reasons such as above – by dropping the price. Law of supply and demand!

        Whether both sides are prepared to admit it or not, for the reasons above, the customs and courtesies that were in place when I was ordained – a mere 18 years ago – are no longer there.

        This is not especially germane to the topic of the differentials in stipend, but it is congruent with two cultures in tension, to wit that of a more managerial style, especially in the church of England, which may or may not align it more closely with “the world” and the notion of vocation and a means of sustaining the called which is not necessarily directionally related with what they do!

  10. A helpful discussion, Ian, thanks. A few points:

    A URC minster friend tells me that everyone in ministry from the Moderator downwards is paid exactly the same. I see no reason for the CofE being any different. The pressures of ‘higher’ office are no greater than parish ministry for many, they are simply not the same.

    On the question of 0.5 stipend plus housing, there is a wrinkle here in that the (admittedly modest) tax advantages of the Heating, Lighting and Cleaning allowance are only available to full-time stipendiary clergy, so the perceived advantage is somewhat less.

    I minister in a Cambridge fringe village. House prices here are astronomical, and the stipend would need to be huge to enable me to afford even one of the tiny one-up one-down town houses on the modern estate. I would need to live several miles out in the Fens to be able to afford a mortgage – or rent – on a modest family home on the current stipend. A corollary of high local house prices is that my income is considerably less than the majority of my employed parishioners. However, our standard of living is comparable, as most of their income goes on mortgage or rent.

    Given the financial pressures faced by most dioceses, I see little point in a review of clergy stipends now, it may raise expectations that can’t be met.

    However, perhaps some Bishops might choose to pay back their stipend differential…

  11. Without wanting to add more variables to this already complex issue I have profound difficulty living in a huge vicarage which has enormous grounds when it only my wife and I and there is acute shortage of social and affordable housing in my area.
    I have come to ministry late. Like myself, the majority of my colleagues in training already had their own houses which they could rent out when they took up their post. There were a few acute problems with curates houses which I heard about – another issue – but most were well set up.

    My main point is that we are supposed to be exemplars of Christian living and yet many live in houses/plots that are disproportionately proportioned for the areas we work. If the average age of clergy continues to increase then the Green book specification seems inappropriate. Surely we could free up some of the Churches estate to provide social housing and we move into more appropriate accommodation for the parishes we we serve.

  12. If it helps to repeat the current definition of a stipend in the C of E, which comes from the Generosity & Sacrifice report, p28 (someone will correct me if this wasn’t approved by synod) is: “The stipend is part of the remuneration package which is paid for the exercise of office. It reflects the level of responsibility held,. This package acknowledges the dual demands in Scripture of generosity and sacrifice on both those who receive the stipend and those who raise the necessary funds.”

    So we seem to have moved away from any notion of providing for clergy needs. The definition introduces the concept of pay, and a package of remuneration (which is stipend, housing and pension), defines the need for differentials.

    Many of us it seems might long for the more traditional understanding, but for the last 15 years the C of E hasn’t been operating that! I wonder if there are a good number of us that think we should be like other denominations and have a flat stipend structure, then why that doesn’t surface more in national debate. I have always argued that some people need significant expense accounts to allow them to conduct their ministry in their contexts (one can think of Archbishops, Bishops, Deans and Archdeacons, and some parish clergy), but I see no reason why they shouldn’t have the same basic level of income as the rest of us. I cannot for one moment see why a Residential Canon is paid more than a busy incumbent with significant responsibility, but don’w want to offend any Canons reading this. This line of argument never went down well when I sat on a Bishop’s staff team!

  13. There is also the differential between stipendiary and non-stipendiary clergy. While some feel called to non-stipendiary ministry, others are pressurized into that route (e.g. being told it is the only option because of age, gender and/or marital status (‘having a husband with a job’)). It seems like self-supporting ministry is being viewed as the solution to financial constraints (e.g. this is how it was reported in a recent article in The Telegraph). But a system that expects stipendiary and non-stipendiary clergy to be interchangeable just doesn’t work. How is it possible to expect a self-supporting ministry in full-time secular employment to complete an incumbent status curacy in the same amount of time as a full-time stipendiary curate? Or a self-supporting minister to take over as incumbent of a benefice without a significant re-think of the role and its supporting structures? This is currently what is being asked of people at great personal cost…

  14. Interesting quotation from the Generosity & Sacrifice report. I rather liked the older idea of stipends as financial support given to ordained ministers to enable them to go about their ministry without having to worry about how to feed themselves and their family but it is arguably a concept that belongs to another world, a world in which most families had one breadwinner, and whose logic would imply, e.g., that a family in which both husband and wife are ordained also receives only one stipend (and that one stipend would be enough to support them). The stipend has become remuneration for services rendered; whether the couple in the example receives one or two stipends will depend on whether they work part-time or full-time or maybe more accurately whether they do all the jobs traditionally associated with one post or two posts. I wonder whether most hardship among clergy families arises from a mismatch between an ideal derived from the old world of stipends and the realities of the new economy. In the new economy the majority of families cannot afford to live on the income of a single breadwinner, not without tax credits anyway. Thus while stipendiary clergy are in the same boat as many other professionals who will need at least one and a half incomes to lead a middle class life, they sometimes still operate as if the wife (and it would usually be the wife) should be able to throw herself into unpaid family and parish life rather than being expected to provide a second income (or half income at least). The diversity of our lives and choices makes it difficult, maybe impossible, to find an equitable solution. If we could be confident that no clergy would hold on to any more money than they need, we could just pay all clergy a very substantial stipend, expecting clergy who have other means to support themselves (self-supporting ministers) to gift-aid most of it back to the church and clergy who are married to another breadwinner to return more to the church than those who are not. But we no longer live in the stipend world and even if we did we would not trust ourselves enough to go down that route. And yet I doubt that many want to go down the road of performance-related pay for clergy, not least because the worth of an individual minister’s work is not readily measured by human eyes.

  15. I work on an urban estate and I am the regular butt of jokes in the pub for how much I earn and the size of my house. They know I don’t own my house but nor do they. If we want to retain any respect in urban estates an increase cannot happen. A bishop visited my theological college and duly explained how tough life was living as a family on a vicars stipend. If only my family growing up had anything like the money and security a stipend would have brought. Seek first the kingdom of God not a middle class lifestyle.

  16. A layperson’s view.

    Having a more traditionally protestant outlook – we are all priests – I don’t accept that there is any essential difference between the standards we should expect from the laity and the standards we should expect from the “priesthood.” There is a difference in degree – we hope our leaders will be somewhat holier than ourselves – but not a difference in nature.

    So it’s worth taking a step back and asking what financial standards we expect from the laity. Honesty and paying our taxes – of course. Generosity – of course. Accountability? – here in the West, in general no (even in the traditional baptist churches the system is that if you tithe your income to the church there will be no enquiry as to what you do with the other 90%.)

    As Christian laypeople we accept a system that allows us to negotiate whatever salary we can from our employers. That being the case I can see no valid reason to embrace the somewhat esoteric “stipend” concept being referred to above. St Paul agrees, talking in 1Tim 5:17 about “the elders …worthy of double honour” as a norm – with the immediately following crossreference to Luke 10:7 implying that double honour has direct financial implications too – and merely citing his personal willingness to work without pay as an exception. In very similar vein he refers to the right to be married as a norm and his own singleness as an exception.

    So let’s say that our leaders are entitled to earthly rewards just as much as the rest of us. Of course while we contribute so meanly to the weekly collection plate it ain’t gonna happen – but that’s another story.

  17. Hi Jamie…

    “implying that double honour has direct financial implications too”.

    There’s something in that …though what is the base £ that ‘more honour’ is the multiplier for? I’m not taking double as ‘x2’ just as a way of saying ‘more’. So is the base £ a national rate, the local pay level or what? Who do clergy get more than?

    ?

  18. My understanding, gained through a very slow trundle through the church’s discernment process, is that stipendary clergy are on the way out. The church is moving towards a largely volunteer clergy, and that you need to show you have a vocation specifically to stipendary priesthood. I’ve also been told that financial reasons, saying you cannot afford to be non-stipendary, is not a good enough reason to be considered for stipendary ministry.

    My fear is that, first of all, only those in the sort of professional jobs which come with reasonably high pay will be able to afford to become priests in the Church of England (and I would argue that the church is already far too middle-class), and secondly that stipendary clergy will become an inner elite whose stipends grant them the gift of time.

Leave a Comment