Once again: should clergy be paid more?

I have just returned from the second session, in London, of the new Synod which first met last November. Some commented that the agenda looked rather dull, but (to coin a phrase) ‘the devil is in the detail’, and in amongst the boring-but-important discussions about faculties, boilers, and internet cabling, there were some startling insights into people being shouted at in meetings, irregular appointments processes, and persistent episcopal secrecy. And of course there were really significant, outward looking debates about race and modern slavery.

One of the returning items, postponed from the previous quinquennium (the five-year ‘fixed term’ period for which each Synod sits) was a report on clergy remuneration. (As Synod is a public body, you can find all the papers here if you so wish.) I have been pressing questions about clergy stipends and pensions in meetings of the Archbishops’ Council for several years, and was also involved in the last serious report on clergy remuneration, Generosity and Sacrifice, though I did not agree with all its conclusions, especially regarding differentials.

It is worth noting from the outset that the whole subject of clergy remuneration is a bit awkward and needs to be handled rather carefully. The most obvious challenge is that, in recent times, no-one seeks ordination because of the pay! When the Church was a respectable bastion of society, and when some livings (the money and assets attached to a ministry post) were substantial as a result of the generosity of a wealthy benefactor, then many clearly did ‘go into the church’ as an attractive career prospect. But those days are long gone.

The more awkward personal issue is that clergy are acutely aware that, in the end, their own remuneration depends on the giving of those in their congregation, and it is quite hard to detach the claim that clergy should be paid more from the suggestion that congregants ought to be giving more. This is a particularly challenging link to be confronted with for those ministering in less well off areas and amongst those who are older, who might already be giving sacrificially, and where clergy might enjoy better housing and job security than those they are ministering to.

There are also some serious paradoxes involved in the whole task of assessing the ‘clergy remuneration package’, which I explored in more detail four years ago. A classic example of this is the issue of housing: is being out of the housing market, and having a house provided, over which you have little choice or control, and which you might struggle to afford to run, a benefit or a burden?

I actually have little ‘interest’ in this question, since I do not draw a stipend, since beginning ordination training in 1989 have only had three years of stipendiary ministry in a parish, so have very little pension from this, and I have never lived in diocesan tied housing. I am, perhaps, therefore more free to ask some of the hard questions—and hard questions there are.

The first hard question to ask is about the level of actual stipend. In the summary of the report on remuneration, Richard Jackson, who is bishop of Hereford, makes several comments which appear to be in tension with one another. First, he notes that the value of clergy remuneration has actually been declining.

We are aware that the value of the package has declined in real terms over the last 20 years, as a result of stipends not being able to keep up with inflation and changes to the pension scheme. This emphasises the importance of ensuring that future aspirations are realistic and affordable (para 4).

Despite this decline, the overall judgement of the Remuneration and Conditions of Service Committee (RACSC) was that the package was still ‘adequate’:

Given that the existing package is still adequate and appropriate for the majority of clergy, although it has not kept pace with inflation, there needs to be a commitment on the part of the Church to maintain the overall value of the stipend against inflation in the future (para 15).

This raises the question: what was the package like 20 years ago? If it is ‘adequate’ now, was it really ‘more than adequate’ 20 years ago? I think we would be hard pressed to find clergy who believed that at the time. And in between these two claims, we find information from a survey of clergy that was carried out as part of the review.

62% of respondents reported to be living comfortably or doing all right, but 13% were finding it quite or very difficult to manage and 25% were just getting by.

Just pause for a moment there: fully 38% of current clergy, nearly 2/5 of the whole ordained ‘workforce’, are either finding it ‘quite or very difficult to manage’, or are ‘just getting by’. (Note too that a proportion of the 62% will be those on higher stipends in posts of ‘seniority’, so those struggling are a larger proportion of parochial clergy.) What impact might that be having on clergy morale, not least after the last two years of pandemic? What state will they be in to take on the challenges of new forms of ministry in response to calls from the centre? Will they be equipped to engage in damaging and divisive conversations about contentious issues, on top of all the other demands currently being made? It is hard to imagine so.

There are two unhealthy dynamics at work here. The first is poor decision making. Each year at Archbishops’ Council we are presented with a recommendation from RACSC for the rate of increase of the clergy stipend. And each year I have laid down two challenges: that we need to think more theologically, rather than merely pragmatically, about the level of provision; and that we need to be thinking medium and longer term, and not simply year to year. I am pleased that my second question is getting some response, and that in future assessment will be made in the light of several years’ data, not just from year to year. The problem is that, in a period of low inflation, the year-on-year judgement is not fine enough; you only have to be wrong by a couple of tenths of a percentage point, and over a ten-year period that accumulates into a slow but steady erosion of the value of the stipend—and that is precisely what has happened.

This analysis, from 2019, shows that, over the last ten years, stipend value has actually decreased by a full 10% in relation to RPI, and 6% in relation to the now preferred measure of CPI. As a result, stipends have steadily slipped down the earnings percentile chart over the same time period. (NSM stands for ‘national minimum stipend’ and NSB stands for ‘National Stipend Benchmark’.)

I confess that, revisiting these figures from 2019, I find this pretty shocking. Either the annual stipend review process has not been working well, or we have all taken our eye of the ball—or, worse still, there has been a deliberate plan to reduce stipends by stealth, and it has worked. Whatever the answer, there needs to be some serious change—and I am pleased that Richard Jackson is committed to that.

The second unhealthy dynamic that emerges from the first is the response: ‘Well, we got it wrong in the past—but I am afraid that there is nothing that can be done in the future’. Despite the quite substantial reduction in stipend that we have seen, and though there is now a commitment not to let that happen again, there is not the slightest mention of righting this historical wrong.

The net result is actual hardship. After watching my contribution to the debate in Synod, a clergy friend emailed me to say:

I wanted to write to thank you so much for your impassioned comments around the issues of clergy remuneration. Living on stipend has been hell over the last 14 years leading to living with slowing crippling debt, which the Clergy Support Trust are now helping us with. I love the parish but financially it is very difficult to the point that I feel trapped by debt, the situation with housing and the complete inability to build up assets on a stipend.

Of course, clergy are far from alone in feeling these things—another of the challenges and paradoxes of this whole debate. But is this really the situation we want to create for a substantial proportion of our clergy?

The second hard question relates to the clergy pension. One of the key activities of Synod is allowing the asking of questions—key because it is a vital opportunity to press issues of accountability and transparency. One of the question related to the historic reduction of clergy pensions and the cost of restoring them.

The Revd Dr Patrick Richmond (Norwich) to ask the Church Commissioners:

Q111 Given the actuarial assessment on p 45-6 of the Church Commissioners’ last annual report of 2020, that £1.6bn of their £9.2bn assets would be sufficient to cover all current and future pension contributions for which they are liable, what would be the current cost of restoring the clergy pension to the level prior to the adjustment made at the time of the Government’s introduction of SERPS?

Mr Alan Smith to reply as First Church Estates Commissioner:

A Clergy pensions for pre-1998 service are met by the Commissioners. Post-1998 service obligations fall to the Responsible Bodies in the scheme (mostly Diocesan Boards of Finance, with the Commissioners responsible for pensionable service of bishops and cathedral clergy). The Government introduced SERPS in 1978 and replaced it with the State Second Pension (S2P) in 2002. S2P was replaced by the higher rate State Pension in 2016. Clergy pensions were contracted into S2P in 2011 as a cost-effective way to provide additional benefits. At the same time, the full clergy pension accrual was reduced from 2/3 to 1/2 of stipend. We assume the question relates to this latter change.

Actuarial advice would be required to assess the cost of reverting to the pre-2011 benefit levels for future service. A rough estimate would be a 1/3 increase in pension contribution rates, i.e. an annual cost to the Responsible Bodies of over £25m.

What Alan Smith is alluding to is a reduction of the value of the pension by what appears to many to have been a sleight of hand. When S2P was introduced, it was believed that this would offer additional pension to retired clergy, so that the Church’s own pension scheme could be reduced. We need to remember that this was in a period when there was serious concern about the affordability of pensions, and uncertainty in investments was leading to actuarially driven increases in contributions, which dioceses could ill afford.

So the clergy pension was unilaterally reduced from 2/3 of stipend to 1/2 of stipend, and at the same time the number of years needed to contribute to the full pension was increased from 38 years to 43 years. If you do the sums (1/2 ÷ 2/3 x 38 ÷ 43) then the value of the pension has been cut by a third—hence Alan Smith’s answer that restoration would need about a 1/3 increase. At the time, the claim was made that this change would not affect clergy, since the loss would be made up by S2P.

But when S2P was dropped five years later, and that gain was lost, was the clergy pension restored? No! And the argument was ‘We cannot afford it’. Once again, we meet the ‘We got it wrong in the past—but I am afraid that there is nothing that can be done in the future’ argument.

For both these hard questions, the issue is, do we have the resources to right these wrongs? Richard Jackson responded to me in correspondence:

What we kept crashing up against in the review is the near bankruptcy of many dioceses. For the Diocesan secretaries we spoke to it’s a stark choice more stipend = less clergy.

This corresponds to the finding from the research done as part of the review process:

60% of respondents disagreed that there was capacity for funding stipend increases through increases in parish share (para 10).

(It is worth noting, though, for comparison, that from the table above whilst stipends have increased by 19%, and CPI has increased by 24%, contributions from parish share have only increased by around 10%, that is, they have dropped in real terms by 14% over ten years.)

So neither stipend nor pension can be restored by increasing parish share contributions. But is there money elsewhere? Another of the questions in Synod enquired about assets in dioceses and parishes.

The Revd Dr Ian Paul (Southwell & Nottingham) to ask the Presidents of the Archbishops’ Council:

Q16 What is the current total of known diocesan reserves, and what is the likely or estimated value of total parochial reserves across the Church of England?

Canon Dr John Spence to reply on behalf of the Presidents of the Archbishops’ Council:

A According to Diocesan Boards of Finance’s financial statements, at the end of 2019 the total of unrestricted funds held by dioceses was £798m, £184m of which was held in cash. Since then, diocesan reserves have been adversely impacted by the pandemic, although deficits have been mitigated to some extent by sustainability fund grants totalling £24m across 2020 and 2021 combined.

According to data compiled for Parish Finance Statistics 2020 which will soon be made available on the Church of England website, at the end of 2020 the estimated aggregate of parishes’ restricted and unrestricted reserves were £1,545m, of which £824m was held in cash and £721m in investments.

And the other large holder of assets is the Church Commissioners, whose assets have doubled over the last 20 years to £9.2bn, and who in 2020, through astute investment and management of their portfolio, saw growth in 2020 of 9.4% or £868m.

The £25m that would be needed in increased contributions each year to restore the clergy pensions amounts to 2.9% of their annual growth in assets, which would have left their net growth in 2020 9.1% overall instead of 9.4% overall. If the Commissioners took on this additional contribution for the next 20 years, then the total cost would be no more than 5% of their total asset base.

In the light of this, I think it is very hard to sustain the argument ‘We cannot afford it’. Given the situation of 38% of clergy, given the impact on clergy morale, given the historical unilateral reduction of the pension by one third, and given the importance of stipendiary ministry for the future of the Church, the question is rather: can we afford not to right these historical wrongs?

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67 thoughts on “Once again: should clergy be paid more?”

  1. Thank you for being vocal about these issues. It is another example of why the distribution of wealth in the C of E needs over overhauling. I am beginning to think that the Church Commissioners’ money will only be distributed if all the bodies of the C of E speak with one voice about the danger we are in. General Synod, ABs’ Council, Diocesan Synods, DBFs, House/College of Bishops, Deanery Synods, PCCs, any and every group in the Church of England need to petition the Church Commissioners to release money for the C of E’s basic provision of mission and ministry. Otherwise we risk being the richest organisation to close for business. Personally I would rather see a greater proportion of parish share paid by the Commissioners before receiving a stipend increase or pension top up.

  2. Thank you for this and for pursuing this issue. As someone married to a stipendary clergyman I am aware that it is a complex and awkward topic (since my husband was ordained we have always lived in communities where many, if not most, people earn less than him) but this shouldn’t prevent us from being honest about the challenges many clergy families face. The most significant issue for us has been maintaining and heating huge vicarages. Last year he moved post and we are now in a modern, sensibly sized, well insulated house with a manageable garden – the difference in our stress levels and finances has been marked. We were fortunate when living in a huge, chilly vicarage to have a pastoral bishop who helped us get hardship grants but it does raise the question of why clergy are not on a stipend fit to maintain the properties they are given no choice but to live in. I suspect the reality is that the system is propped up by working clergy spouses whose financial contribution is taken for granted in my experience, despite the impact the clergy life often has on our ability to maintain our own working lives.

      • I thought the church long ago sold off all of its fine old vicarages for cash in favour of 1960s houses which might have 4 bedrooms but are characterless and often not near to the church itself?

        • It varies hugely but many clergy are still housed in fine old vicarages. Our previous vicarage was a huge, 5 bedroom house with a massive garden. It was beautiful and had plenty of character but I’m afraid we much prefer our current less characterful 4 bed place! If we’d had plenty of money we could have made the most of the previous place but the reality was that we were barely able to keep on top of it all – particular issue when clergy work 6 days a week, my husband didn’t want to spend his one day-off fighting the wilderness of a garden! I don’t know if it would be too complicated but I think stipends should be adjusted to factor in the upkeep of older, bigger vicarages.

  3. Something I’ve been musing on since the debate, and my apologies if it’s not entirely coherent yet, is the relatively deep silence on the reality that there is a huge imbalance experienced regarding household income, the expectations placed on those in SSM or HfD posts, and on women.
    The often quoted Orwell phrase of ‘all animals are equal, but some are more equal than others’ has been stuck in my head ever since this debate. Because that is the reality I am seeing. And the church really shouldn’t be ok about that.
    We’re told we all get the same stipend, but in practice this means some are living on a teeny fraction of what others are. It seems incredibly bizarre to me that this is not being addressed. I understand that it’d be complex to address, and geesh if it’s true that some respondents have a household income of around 100k and still said they were “struggling” then frankly, some basic classes on budgeting are also needed. ‘They need their heads wobbling’ is the polite way my northern estate based parishioners might put it.
    But that aside, if 38% are struggling, and many clergy are finding the cost of their ministry is simply too high, this should demand a response. And as that response is considered, I pray that those in part-time posts are not overlooked nor gender imbalance ignored.
    (I didn’t want to bore you with reams of anecdotal evidence, but it is there and I hope we will get to share it).

    • Thanks. In the end, the Great Divide amongst clergy is those with a spouse who is earning, and those without.

      I suspect women end up with a lower package in their own right—but are much more likely to have an earning spouse than men are. So it is complex…

      • ‘In the end, the Great Divide amongst clergy is those with a spouse who is earning, and those without.”
        Given all you’ve said previously, that is a rather simplified version albeit a version that holds a fair amount of truth.
        My personal anecdotal evidence actually suggests that the great divide is amongst clergy who already have their own homes, and those who don’t. But obviously it is far more complex than that.

    • Chantal thank you for raising this as it has been on my mind too.
      Without wanting to share my own personal circumstances or “sob story” it is evidently true that some people become ordained well into a secular career having already made themselves (and family) financially secure. Other clergy have spouses in full time jobs. Others still benefit from inheritance or a wealthy wider family.
      At the other end of the scale there are clergy with young (or not so young) families (and/or other dependants) in houses where there maybe no spouse, or a spouse whose full time job is looking after the household. Some clergy may have come into ordination at a relatively young age having amassed large student debt and certainly no opportunity to grow savings, or a property, outside a clergy parsonage.
      The point in all this is that all clergy circumstances are different and there are clearly done very wealthy clergy and some on the breadline with the whole range in between. Is the stipend enough? For some, it isn’t even necessary. For others it us desperately woeful. I don’t know what the answer is but maybe some sort of lower national minimum but with a series of top up levels which are means tested, perhaps? But that too is fraught with challenges.

  4. Thank you for raising these issues Ian. Would someone kindly enlighten me as to why the Church Commissioner’s are holding £9.2 billion of assets?

    • Perhaps I could give some background to this kind of question. I am a trustee of a small charity which makes grants. Although it was originally set up with property, this was sold (before my time) and the resulting funds used to purchase standard investments such as stocks and bonds. We operate what is known as a ‘total return’ policy which means that we can sell assets, and not rely only on the ‘natural’ income from the investments – e.g. dividends from companies and interest on bonds. This gives the investment managers greater flexibility in picking investments, for instance to buy assests which do not give income, but give capital growth.

      The charity aims to operate ‘in perpetuity’. Therefore, (under advice) set our investment managers the target of a total return yield on the investments of CPI + 4%. This means we can use 4% of the investments to distribute to our clients and to meet management expenses (for us that is 10% of the total), but not lose the real value of the investments.

      Interestingly, this is exactly the same target that I think the Church Commissioners have. The difference between our operation and theirs is that currently we have about £11 million invested, and they have £9 billion. However, I think I saw that their 4% distribution is roughly what they need to meet their commitments.

      We have seen a similar behaviour to captial values over the last year or so to the Commissioners. Over 2020, the value went from about £10 million, down to £9 million in March, but recovering to £11 million now. However, our investment managers are nervous, very nervous. This bull market has been going on for a while, partly because of low inflation. That is ending.

      Unprecedented demand for our grants in the last couple of years or so has meant that we have been using the high values to sell assets and exceed our budget. However, we are likely not to be able to do this in a year or so, and so will need to rein back.

      I suspect that the Commissioners are facing a similar dilemma. They could sell capital to meet needs. However, their situation is different in that many of their commitments are such that they cannot rein back in future years. Pension commitments are the obvious example. If commitments increase, but capital values fall – as well they might – then they are exceeding their budget by even more.

      So, I have some sympathy with the Commissioners facing demands for cashing in capital growth.

      Over the last couple of years or so, the demand for our grants has risen enormously. So, to meet demand, we are taking out of our funds more than the target.

      • That is all very helpful. But there is one difference: the Commissioners’ assets have doubled in the last 20 years. Would they be in a terrible fix if they had only grown by, say 95%? No. So why are they holding so hard onto that 5% difference?

  5. Thank you Ian

    I think the church commissioners are clearly excellent at increasing the wealth of the center but the lack of preparedness to to treat the clergy well in terms of pay both now and delayed (pensions) is every bit as bad as any greedy corporation. I wonder how many of those who make the decisions live on the same amount.

  6. Excellent article, Ian. I think there are three additional issues here…

    1. You touch fleetingly on church housing. Yes, for many clergy, housing is provided, but that does not come with any provision for housing post-retirement, and unless clergy families have other means, the stipend is manifestly inadequate for making advance provision for the future.

    2. I believe there may be an assumption along the lines of “Well, of course, most clergy spouses provide a second income these days, so it’s not nearly as much of a problem as is being suggested.” While that may be true for some, in the first place, many clergy are not partnered. And where they do, the spouses do not do paid work; and thirdly, even those who do often do part-time, low-paid work which barely scratches the surface of the problem.

    3. With the explosion of energy costs – often heating large and inadequately insulated vicarages, the gap in income v outgoings is widening dramatically.

    • Correction…
      “And where they do, the spouses do not do paid work; and thirdly, even those who do often do part-time, low-paid work which barely scratches the surface of the problem.”
      Should have read…
      “And where they are partnered, the spouses do not always do paid work, and those who do often do part-time, low-paid work which barely scratches the surface of the problem”

    • I suggest you Google Church Commissioners Dr M. There are 33 and a staff of 66. It includes inter alia,both archbishop’s , four bishops, three estate commissioners, the Prime Minister, the Speaker of the H of Commons, various nominees etc.

  7. Either the annual stipend review process has not been working well, or we have all taken our eye of the ball—or, worse still, there has been a deliberate plan to reduce stipends by stealth, and it has worked.

    As someone who has been on a committee that is asked for an opinion on clergy stipends each year for the last 20, I would say that it is a mixture of the first two explanations. I think it is correct that by presenting only a single year picture we have lost sight of the full picture.

    On adequacy of stipend to afford living in expensive property I am very sympathetic, but this is uneven and for that reason I suggest that capital should be used to reduce that cost for example by improved insulation and better heating systems, rather than by increasing stipends across the board. Though I am not saying there should not be an across the board uplift in stipends for other reasons.

    In dealing with some oversized parsonages we may come up against some of the ‘saving the parish’ contingent who object to the sale of vastly oversized parsonages. They claim they are an essential base for parish ministry. However, I am not sure it is good for the wellbeing of clergy and their families to have parish events in parsonages.

    On DBF reserves I think some further analysis is required as the headline may be unhelpful. I would say three things.

    One is to be careful that we have defined what we mean by reserves. We need to be careful that we have excluded operational property (e.g. parsonages) that appear on DBF balance sheets, some reserves are also restricted in charity law and may only be available for example for educational purposes (in some diocese the DBE is not incorporated and the educational funds appear in the DBF accounts).
    Secondly some reserves are permanent endowments and so charity law normally prevents the expenditure of capital.
    Finally the investment of those reserves provides revenue income which does fund clergy stipends so takes some pressure off parish share.

  8. Thank you Ian, especially for raising this without having the conflict of interest that receiving a stipend would cause. Bless you for caring.

    Once, long ago, I worked in a pharma-company as a bench chemist on an hourly rate. Anything over 37.5 hours earned me time-and-a-half. When I was successfully promoted to supervisor, my salary rose, but my hourly rate dropped because I was no longer on overtime. When responding to this vocational call I left behind a career, a salary significantly higher than the stipend, I left behind a bonus and final salary pension scheme, I left behind weekends, bank holidays and 25 days paid holiday. I knew what I was doing and I did it with open eyes; but it has been challenging. I wouldn’t go back… this ministry is a blessing and I love the people I am in Christian service to.

    One of the biggest challenges I’m experiencing is that to take a Sunday off I have to call round a dwindling list of retired clergy to cover for me. One day’s Sabbath rest is often merely recovering for the next six days ministry. For fifteen years I was field-based and self-directed in my job, I had to manage commercial expectations and business needs – but I always felt valued and rewarded. I had time to be the best I could… perhaps it is just that I’m new to this ‘Vicaring’ life that I have yet to find a balance that doesn’t feel like failure. I have a legal and pastoral task list that is simply unachievable. I draw a line, and then everything below that is me apologising.

    Stipend and pension are important, but so is clergy well-being. Many commercial organisations hold on to their talented employees through loyalty and a culture of flourishing. I wonder why the institution of the Church of England doesn’t feel like that. I have wonderful colleagues, both SSM and Stipendiary, but they are all working flat out. Many are holding down extra responsibilities and despite an excellent Deanery – this calling feels lonely.

    I’m trying to be thoughtful in my response, and I know that I’m not really furthering the thinking around your brilliant article – but like a lightening rod, your article has earthed the reflections I have been dealing with as I learn through my first incumbency.

    God bless you, and protect you from the unintentional institutional fallout of pursuing this topic.

    • Having a family member in the ministry, I think the last thing they often experience is feeling valued and rewarded. Look after yourself in whatever way you can, as it’s unlikely the church authorities will. Im surprised there arent more breakdowns with clergy.

    • “One day’s Sabbath rest is often merely recovering for the next six days ministry.”

      Crumbs. This has absolutely been my experience for the past 15 years. It just hadn’t occurred to me before – but it really shouldn’t be like this, should it?

    • To take a Sunday off, you do NOT have to find cover yourself. That is the responsibility of the Churchwardens and Area Dean. And if there is no clergy cover available, well, no one ever died from having a service of the word instead of a Eucharist.
      Please look after yourself as a beloved child of God.

  9. Whilst that may, statistically be true, it shouldn’t be the assumptive framework on which we stand! Plenty of women do not have spouses who are earning, many are the main breadwinner on their stipend, many have spouses who cannot work due to ill health, many have children who they cannot afford to have in childcare so if they’re lucky enough to have a partner who can – they provide childcare and ministry support. It cannot, nor should it be assumed, that women are being supported financially elsewhere, so it’s fine. Too often this actually means that the ministry of women is, again, devalued and degraded.

    • I am not sure anyone is *assuming* this. I was just pointing out the overall statistics reality: more men have working spouses than women.

      I happen to fall into the minority of men with a working, professional spouse. For which I am grateful.

  10. Don’t know the particulars, but the principle that those doing good work should get reasonable remuneration sounds like a good one.

    Nevertheless, I’d strongly encourage anyone with a burden for the Word, who thinks that the C. of E. is a good, strategic place for proclaiming the Word, or who thinks they could be doing very useful pastoral work within the C. of E., should simply go for it – do the training, get ordained and get to work, irrespective of the salary.

    If you have a burden for the Word – and good reason to believe that you would be useful in the C. of E., then simply go for it. The finances will take care of themselves (they always do in one way or another).

  11. In the church I was in with a congregation of about 200 we paid our full-time worker/pastor the equivalent of a school teachers salary. This seemed reasonable to me.

  12. We built up a decent church library. If a pastor has to build up his own library it will be a considerable cost to him. As a preacher he will not be much better than the books he reads.

  13. “The £25m that would be needed in increased contributions each year to restore the clergy pensions amounts to 2.9% of their annual growth…”

    On this basis alone there seems no decent reason why the stipend /pension issue isn’t being tackled. The manifest unfairness of the severe pension provision reduction is an issue of pastoral care for current clergy that needs putting right.

    I say this as one who retired in 2015 mostly on the “better” provision of % of NMS after 38 years of ordination…. though the change of rules meant I didn’t quite get a full pension and sacrificed some of it for a lump sum towards housing.

    I’m probably a minority now but I was the only “earner” (apart from my wife’s short term small part time salary working a church office). Many spouses in this era worked alongside their husbands in the parish. That’s significant when the widow’s pension is 2/3 of the starting pension. Best if I don’t die first….

    Don’t get me wrong. I didn’t do it (who would?!) for money and God is generous but there is an unfairness at work and even worse for newer entrants. This latter need must be addressed… ” If we say we love God….” etc

  14. It would be interesting to see how C of E clergy remuneration compares to other churches. My suspicion is that the value of housing means that it is significantly higher. For example a 4 bedroomed house in parts of London and the South East has a value of £3,000 a month, which grossed up for tax means the clergy package is over £80,000 plus a non-contributory pension.

    And on the question quoted above, if only £1.6bn of the £9.2bn Commissioners assets are earmarked for clergy pensions, what is the rest being used for?

    • Why would living and ministering in an area with expensive housing lead to us counting the remuneration as worth more?

      It inevitably means that living expenses are higher, meaning the stipend is worth less in real terms.

  15. In my first few years of ordination, in the 1990s, with no children and a wife teaching full time, we were financially comfortable. The arrival of children coincided with Gordon Browns ‘child tax credits’ at their most generous, worth around £6,000 a year to someone on a clergy income. We now stay in the black thanks to rental income from a property, without which we would be struggling badly. There is probably an element of our lifestyle adapting to our income, but we’re not extravagant, and for years our kids were the last in the class to get a smartphone. Since the arrival of children 19 years ago, I don’t think there’s any year when we would have made ends meet on a clergy stipend alone. We are fortunate to have other sources of income, others are not.

  16. Thanks Ian for your advocacy for us in Stip ministry. A few observations.
    In the early years of ministry, with a non-earning child caring spouse, we only survived with the generous tax credit system. Stipend alone would have been an incredible challenge.
    We are fine now, because my wife earns as much as me. Our housing costs are huge mind. Moving to a UPA our insurance costs (car & contents) went up significantly. We now live in a Georgian mansion and gas alone was £400 last month (soon to go up by 50% and it’s still not warm!). If I only had stipend it would be insufficient.
    As regards pension, I spoke against the changes at the consultations. 2/3 NMS (which is less than many dioceses pay anyway) was OK, but when you take into account that you lose your ‘free’ housing it was not nearly as generous as portrayed. Providing your own housing on 1/2 NMS will really bite for all those without family money or well paid partners.
    We need to improve the situation, and the Commissioners seem the obvious place to start. What is all that hoard of money for?

  17. I write as a committee member of an infant self-help fellowship of residents in CHARM (Pensions Board retirement) houses called Charmers.
    1 – Pensions are calculated on stipends only, yet in retirement we have to meet rent, Council tax and water rates out of our retirement income. All these were provided for us when we were on stipends even if fuel costs were astronomical. Many now retired clergy were forced to sell their own properties to help to pay for their residential training. In return they were promised retirement housing ‘at a peppercorn rent’ – hollow laugh!
    2 – CHARM rents are calculated as ‘Target Rents’, a complicated system for social housing providers based on 1999 property values, number of bedrooms, geographical location and annual inflation increases. Quite apart from fuel costs many Charmers are spending up to 50% of their net income on housing costs. Some receive regular support from the Clergy Support Trust to make ends meet. Is this morally right?
    3 – If stipends are slipping then so are future pensions. Meanwhile, CEPB, Hillsong London and Alpha International are all paying at least one salary in excess of £150k per annum

  18. Some random thoughts.

    One source of potential income has also been denied to some clergy: renting out a room or rooms to lodgers. As I understand it some Dioceses put a clause in the Common Tenure paperwork that means permission must be sought and 50% of the income is to be remitted to the DBF. (e.g Bath & Wells: “the net lodging payment being split 50:50 between the Board and the priest or an equivalent reduction in the stipend”)

    Given that some clergy houses are under-occupied and there’s a shortage of affordable accommodation and clergy could use the money this seems like (another) retrograde strep and a further example of disempowering the clergy while grabbing more local income for the central coffers. If I were single and had no other income I’d be tempted to take in a lodger. As a freeholder I could; as a de facto employee (which is what clergy on Common Tenure basically are) I’d be less inclined and certainly less incentivised.

    Median pay in the UK is about £31k, mean is about £26k. Split the difference and you get £28.5k. I live in a low-income community. Can I ask them to pay me more than they are being paid? And then there’s all the things Jesus says about money (and wealth and possessions and riches and so on). With all that in mind should a church leader be paid more than the UK national average? If so, why?

    On that basis I think the c-of-e stipend is about right, once you count housing and pension and so on. The only issue that is that we can’t get overtime or bonuses or promotion or change job — things others can do to increase their income. But then we do have very good job security.

    The big question is why *if it is a stipend* (and therefore not related to hours or productivity or responsibility) are the purple payslips bigger?

    Speaking of which . . . this, spotted by Robin Ward: “I notice that making sure the bishops don’t end up with the usual clergy pension is a particular anxiety of the new Report on the episcopate: ‘ Early retirement — We recognise that it is possible for bishops to reach the end of their strategic ministry in a place well before retirement age. If this is one or two years, the facility already exists within the rules of the Pensions Board for early retirement to be offered by the archbishop as an option. If it is true at a younger stage, greater clarity needs to be provided that bishops moving into parochial ministries or chaplaincies will continue to be eligible for a bishop’s pension.’ ”

    So it is not only a “final salary” scheme (i.e. that serving in purple for, say, the final week of ministry = full episcopal pension for the rest of your days) but also a “highest salary” (i.e. pegged to the largest stipend the beneficiary was ever in receipt of.)

    The phrase “Taking the P” comes to mind — where p = purple . . . and/or something else.

    • (Minor quibble: I think you have your mean and median the wrong way round. Given the asymmetry of the distribution, you need to have a lot of low paid people to balance out the few very highly paid. Hence the pay of the average person is less than the average pay per person. This does not alter your argument.)

      • I think you are right. Upshot is that if clergy are paid ~£30k then we are not underpaid. The trouble is that the house is both worth x* and yet nothing**.

        *Where x might be tens of thousands of pounds a year in rent if located in, say, North London or Oxford. £3k pcm = £36k pa, i.e. as much or more than the stipend. On the other hand, in Stoke or Blackpool it might be A LOT less (£600 pcm = £7,200). Now that is hypothetical because clergy don’t benefit directly from the difference in market value. However they do benefit indirectly: living in an expensive area likely means the clergy spouse / family can get higher-paying work, schools are probably better, crime lower etc. But it is the first of those (high wages) that will be a very real benefit.

        ** But also nothing — because as I said any differential is hypothetical because clergy don’t benefit directly from the difference in market value. In fact, tied housing means they have nothing to show at the end, as those with mortgage do: no appreciating asset, nothing to leave to the children, no place to own and live in, for free, in retirement. Clergy are, in effect, perforce lifelong renters .

        So counting the value (if you could even calculate it) of the provided housing as “cash equivalent” is false for those two reasons but especially the second.

        But it suits the church very well: if you asked the Diocese the actual cost of providing the housing it would amount to Council Tax + water rates + repairs + buildings insurance = not that much, at least when compared to the purported “value” of the use of the house (i.e. “if you had to rent it” etc.) But the capital outlay has long since been amortised (historic stock) and in many cases wasn’t originally borne by the DBF anyway. The bottom line is that it’s WAY cheaper for the Diocese to house us than for them to pay us even half of the equivalent.

        So what do I do when I see “housing @ £10k” on my parish share statement? Answer: I swear long and loudly. Charging my parish more than it costs them to let me live in house paid for long ago by the parish is really taking the piss. It’s already the cheap option; don’t pretend it’s costing you anything like full market rate. It isn’t and we all know it. You’ve taken my glebe and my fees at least don’t make me pay rent for living in YOUR house which my parish bought and paid for.

  19. I have long been aware that I cannot afford to retire. My wife was long term sick and I worked for the church as a lay person without adequate pension. By 70 with 29 years clergy service total of 44 years serving the church my pension will be very low. I have never advised anyone in a relationship to be a member of the clergy early as the cut in pension means that you will need to create a side income if your spouse becomes ill. The inequity for those forced to sell houses by their diocese (as happened to one of my colleagues at theological college) is even more marked.

  20. Anecdotally I have a friend who is a very gifted curate, who is and will remain SSM. I asked why he wouldn’t go full time stipendiary (because I’m sure that he would walk into a post) and he said that it would bankrupt his family.
    I am also aware of a colleague in a neighbouring diocese who recently finished his full time ordination training but then opted for SSM rather than stipendiary. I don’t know the reason for this but, particularly noting that this might not be an easy option for everyone, I would suggest that such cases should be researched.

  21. Sadly, at Synod I had asked to speak (indicating that I wished to draw the attention of Clergy to the matter I have set out below) but was not called despite having my hand raised on Zoom throughout the debate. This affects any member of the Clergy Pension Scheme with eligible service between 1978 and 1997 and also their widows. It is all set out below as I had intended to say it had I succeeded in being called:

    I am aware of this because I am a retired member of the Audit Commission and our pensioner colleagues are having to deal with the same issue but are slightly more alert to these things than most folks:

    Because from 1978 to 1997 as you observe, the Clergy Pension Scheme was a ‘contracted out scheme’ a proportion – >>please note only a proportion<< – of these pensions are not subject to any annual inflation increase at all, and another part are subject only to a limited increase. In another vagary, this potentially has very a slightly more disadvantageous effect on women who were in the scheme between 1978 and 1997 than men joining in the same period.

    This is an referred to ironically as the Guaranteed Minimum Pension or GMP and recent developments have caused much work in many organisations with schemes like the Clergy Pension Scheme and GMP provisions are being modified to the advantage of pensioners and to equalise the position for women. I hope that the Clergy scheme will be equally generous.

    Very few people know about this and even fewer fully understand it but it does have an impact on post-retirement income and the pensions which widows will receive.

    To give members a sense of the impact of this issue. I am in a scheme affected by this and I accrued service throughout the 20 year period in question, and it affects the annual rises on about 10% of my occupational pension.

    I’ve looked in the Clergy Scheme Handbook and the Synod report, I can find no reference to this issue. That is in no way unusual for pension handbooks so I intend no criticism whatsoever of the Clergy Pension Scheme. To find it you have to dive deeply into the Church of England Pensions Measure 2018. I hope that the issue of GMP will be explored in future documentation and explained to members of the Clergy Pension Scheme who probably think that their entire pension will benefit from annual revisions based on RPI, whereas the GMP issue has an impact on the overall clergy remuneration package for many longer-serving clergy.

    There is a very good explanation of the issues at

  22. I’ve been ordained for 11 years. We have brought our children up on a single stipend. God has totally looked after us. Like people in every other profession we have to set our budget based on what we have. We drive a Kia, shop at Aldi and go camping in the UK for our main holiday each year. We are not in need.
    No, you can’t ‘build up assets’ on a stipend, but Jesus had no place to rest his head and specifically told us not to store up treasures on earth, but to store up treasures in heaven.
    In general, the CofE will not look after you, it really doesn’t know how. As the Warden of Cranmer Hall used to say, it’s an institution and institutions can’t love. It probably is taking advantage of us at some level. However, Jesus has totally got our backs and really doesn’t owe you or me anything at all.
    I serve Him, not the Church of England.

    • On an individual and personal level I’d share that testimony…. and we have enough in retirement.

      But as (in real terms) the church of england is an employer it appears to be pastorally negligent.. The church’s management position appears to be “let sin carry on as grace may appear “. It’s one thing for an employee to settle for that quite another for an employer.

  23. Surely it wouldn’t be impossible for the Commissioners to help a couple or single retired clergy person whose gross income fell below a certain level to avoid hardship?
    Clergy circumstances in retirement vary enormously. Given the age most clergy are ordained now more will have property and pension from a previous “life”.
    Queen Anne’s Bounty was set up to endow poor livings. Have the CC forgot their original purpose? If you Google it says the purpose of the CC’s is investment!

    • Indeed. I sometimes wonder whether the Commissioners exist as an end in themselves, or as a means to an end.

      What we have at the moment is a Church Commissioners that takes care of a small cadre of hierarchs in line with its 1836 requirements, and then acts like Lady Bountiful, bestowing funds on a small class of favoured projects (for which bids are made). A sustainability fund was established last year, but it is of relatively modest dimensions, and long after the stable door swung open.

      I understand why the Commissioners may feel apprehensive. Although they are likely to post record returns for 2021-22, they are ‘vulnerable’ to the following:

      (i) declining real rates of return, if the frothiness of stock market returns does not exceed the prevailing rate of inflation;

      (ii) a stock market crash (market sentiment is increasingly skittish as the yield curve rises); and

      (iii) making political concessions to parishes and clergy alike which then turn out to be unsustainable if markets do indeed head south.

      In the 1970s the Commissioners were persuaded by Synod to stabilise the real rates of return for clergy, whose incomes had been eviscerated by inflation, especially in the period 1973-77. By the mid-1980s this had become unaffordable without the aid of property speculation. It was this speculation, and its regrettable results, which led to the Commissioners passing their obligations for stipends and pensions onto the parish share system in 1995 and 1998 respectively. Thus one disaster led to another.

      Many of those in civil employment have suffered falling or stagnating real incomes for the last generation. This is the most dismal period for wage growth on record. The clergy are therefore in the same boat as many other professions. The big problem is access to housing, especially on retirement: many clergy will struggle to accumulate a deposit early enough in life, and the lump sum will not come near enough to redeeming any residual mortgage obligations. Since the pandemic began housing equity has increased by another £900bn (it is approaching £9 trillion in total), which is a staggering claim on the welfare of tenants and successors in title, and one engineered by the government boosting the housing market, and by the 57-year old fiscal preference to owner occupation. In effect, this will add to the woes of the coming generation of stipendiaries far more than any increases in the cost of heating or transport. In this context the one remaining boon is the DB scheme. Yes, its returns are far less generous than a decade ago (although this is also the case with the civil service, local government and NHS schemes), but the guarantee and indexation are of great value when set against the returns and security ‘enjoyed’ by DC scheme members, who now comprise the overwhelming majority of the working population.

      I listened to Dr Paul’s heartfelt and moving plea to Synod. I think that there should be an increment, possibly after the publication of the next annual report. However, I think that it is incumbent on the Commissioners and clergy alike to be realistic about the likely impact of any market rout. Moreover, the profession largely ceased to be affordable on any large scale after the collapse in tithe income after the 1870s. One of the reasons why the Church is in a mess is that such a large portion of its asset base was immolated by the ‘furniture burning’ of freehold incumbents, who sold parochial assets to make ends meet after the returns on glebe and tithe rentcharge collapsed. This has meant an ever greater reliance on giving, which is a problem when so many congregations are dying off. For these reasons I think that we ought to continue thinking of a relatively small stipendiary cadre, but with much greater numbers ordained on an SSM basis.

      The downside of this, of course, is that SSMs and stipendiaries alike will continue to be overwhelmingly middle class, catering to largely middle class congregations. As many have noted, the stipend and pension are tolerable only because of second or third incomes within the family unit. That rules out the large section of the population for whom this benign happenstance works in reverse: specifically those who may have sick and/or impecunious dependents. It also may create a gulf of comprehension, and perhaps even of sympathy, between those clergy and laity who have comfortable domestic circumstances (including ample housing equity and inheritances) and those who do not.

  24. On an individual and personal level I’d share that testimony…. and we have enough in retirement.

    But as (in real terms) the church of england is an employer it appears to be pastorally negligent.. The church’s management position appears to be “let sin carry on as grace may appear “. It’s one thing for an employee to settle for that quite another for an employer.

  25. I am relatively new to the way the Church of England does things, and especially with regard to stipendiary ministry. About a year after I started in post a survey was sent out nationally supposedly to review the stipend amount and determine if it was adequate. I wasn’t surprised to learn that the results of this review suggested that clergy were largely content and adequately provided for; but I laughed cynically. The way the questions were asked and expected to be answered could only lead to one conclusion really. There seemed to be no acknowledgement of the fact that having a partner employed in a well paying job enables many clergy to do what they do for the stipend they receive. Without this, I know we wouldn’t survive. They wouldn’t have gotten away with a review designed like that where I come from.

    • The situations of clergy spouses is the great unmentioned. I am married to a doctor, and even though she only works part time, it means I have avoided the very real pressures than many of my colleagues have felt.

  26. I remember the pension debate at our diocesan synod. As a young cleric a good three decades younger than most in the room, the question of raising the pension age and amount was raised. I remember the argument from the front being “with the years you have served it will work out as an additional couple of weeks”. I had to point out that with 35 years ahead of my, 38 years were a very real three years extra.

    As for the real world cut to stipend, I was a teacher on point 4 when I was ordained. I got a pay rise. Not a lot. About a grand a year. Now, my stipend is pretty much the same 15 years later and an NQT starts their first day in a classroom on over £30k.

    I did some maths six months ago when this was being debated by clergy online. Fuel for my car went up by more than 200%. Beans went up by more than 200%. And each year I was asked to vote at diocesan synod for no raise in stipend for the sake of the greater good. This year it is going up by half of inflation for the first time in years. And it came with a caveat that I should be eternally grateful because it is at the expense of the greater good.

    All of this comes with the backdrop of the “job” bits of our “calling” or “vocation” becoming 200% larger. Or 300% larger. Or 400% larger.

  27. The survey was not fit for purpose. By not asking if a spouses income was part of the household income and how much , it could not be used to draw any conclusions ref stipends. My answers would have been totally different if it had been properly devised. If the pension or stipend for that matter is really an adequate one why do deans through to archbishops require more – a level playing field would help concentrate minds. Use some of the central assets to create loans to enable more clergy to get on the housing ladder.


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