Sev’n Whole Days

Sev’n whole days, not one in sev’n,
I will praise Thee.

I am sure gentle reader, that every Friday, if you are like me, you wait with great eagerness for the weekly delivery of that great organ called the Church Times. And if you are indeed like me, you find yourself flicking through the front of the newspaper quite quickly to get to the best bits, which are all at the back. Chief amongst them are the job advertisements.

Now, I read these religiously every week, though not because I am looking for a new job. I read them because they give just as much a sense of where the church (particularly the Church of England) is at than all the words in the news pages of Jezebel’s Trumpet.

It is always interesting to know who has moved on from something, or to think about who might be suitable for somewhere else. There are Diocesan Mission Statements and slogans to mock on a weekly basis and there are adverts for clerical positions of all kinds.

And thus, this week, my attention was drawn to one which claims to be for a part time post. The advert comes bearing the imprimature of the local diocese and the parish in question is looking for someone to work for “4 days plus Sunday” for 0.6 of the standard stipend.

The parish sounds lovely and they say they will offer the succesful candidate “love, support and a warm welcome”. But just think about that again – 4 days plus Sunday presumably equals 5 days work a week. Four and a half if you want to split hairs. 

Now, a stipend isn’t remuneration for work done (as I’ll come back to below) but is does strike me as very odd that an advert was put out in the name of a diocese, which is looking for someone to work for a least three quarters of an English clerical working week for 0.6 of a standard stipend.

And in fairness, I should point out that this is just one of a number of jobs that appear in which there seems to be an expectation that clergy really wouldn’t mind being paid less than the church thinks they need in order to live.

One of the interesting things that the Scottish General Synod did when it met recently was to pass a number of measures aimed at improving clergy well-being. There were a number of motions brought forward by the Administration Board, following on from considerable work done by the Personnel Committee over the last couple of years.

Some of the things that they were addressing were things that I have previously raised as concerns at the Synod so I was particularly pleased to see the work that they’ve done come to fruition.

One of these was about clergy time off and it passed with overwhelming support.

In its simplest form, it was a recommendation that full-time stipendiary clergy work a five day week rather than a six day week.

When I was training for ministry, I was never particularly told that I had to work for six days a week. It was more that I was told that I needed to designate one day a week as my day off. Implicit in that was the idea of a six day week.

Now, clergy are often the butt of completely HILARIOUS jokes about how they only work one day a week but that is so often very far from the truth.

I remember speaking with one of the bishops with whom I’ve worked who always used to say that the trouble with most clergy was that they were far more likely to overwork than to underwork and that his trouble was trying to persuade them to take time the time off that they were perfectly entitled to take. The same bishop also used to say that in his view, the clergy were often the largest financial givers in most congregations – but we’ll maybe leave that to think about for another day.

Now, for those who don’t know, most clergy working within Scottish Episcopal Church are not employees and don’t have a manager. We are office holders rather than employees and that is pertinent to the question of how many days  one works.

The guidelines that the Synod was being asked to agree were just that – guidelines. The fact remains that the clergy all have decisions to make every week about how they will spend their time and one of the interesting things about the church is that clergy spend their time in highly diverse ways. Some spend their time primarily on local community activities, some give a lot more time than others do to pastoral work, some are engaged on administration a lot, some devote many hours of their time to their role as teachers and so on. There are as many ways of inhabiting the clerical role as their are clerics.

And that is kind of the point of the system.

After all, a stipend is not something you are paid in remuneration for the work you do. The stipend is there to stop you having to find work. The stipend is supposed to set clergy free – free to give their time to what they need to do in order to proclaim the kingdom of God.

People are sometimes surprised that bishops are not the managers of the clergy. Indeed, bishops are sometimes surprised to find that they are not the managers of the clergy. And Archbishops sometimes need to be reminded, as we saw earlier this week, that they are not the managers of bishops. 

The church is an interesting example of an obviously hierarchical organisation that isn’t a hierarchy and which possesses all the outward signs of a democratic system that doesn’t amount to being a democracy.

It isn’t difficult to understand the frustration that bishops sometimes have of being in a position of authority but not being able to direct and control. What you say isn’t necessarily what you will get. The relationships and working patterns between clergy are governed by far more than the code of canons or any set of guidelines about working practices. There are clerical courtesies and expectations that you begin to learn during your training and go on learning throughout your ministry which play just as significant a role in determining how one spends one’s time as anything written on any bit of paper anywhere.

Notwithstanding all that, I do warmly welcome the new guidelines that we agreed at Synod. They offer something helpful that will stop clergy feeling guilty if they work five rather than six days a week.

But it is rather striking this week that there’s a diocese in England which thinks that clergy should be paid 0.6 of a stipend for a time committment which looks rather similar to what one might be expected to work for 100% of a stipend in Scotland.

Sometime last year, I agreed with my full time colleague that we would move to working five rather than five and a half days a week. It had been my practice for a long time to take a day and a half off each week and we decided that two days was clear, easier to maintain and easier to understand. I was aware that we were likley to get the recommendation we did and wanted to try it out.

My experience is that I’ve got more done in my working life by working five days a week than in five and a half and I got more done in five and a half when I moved to that than I did when I tried to work six full days a week.

On five days a week, work-life balance feels a bit better though this is a strange time and leisure is not always a comfortable cushion to sit upon right now.

In this way of living, everything has to be offered up anyway – work and leisure, holiday and hard graft.

For however many hours and however many days, it is, of course, all for Jesus.  (And his mum). 

Sev’n whole days, not one in sev’n,
I will praise Thee;
in my heart, though not in heav’n,
I can raise Thee.
Small it is, in this poor sort
to enroll Thee:
e’en eternity’s too short
to extol Thee.






  1. ukviewer says

    What is so interesting to me is how many days/hours a week I devote to Church work for exactly Zero reimbursement. As a Lay Reader I am a volunteer, albeit I am also under discipline of the Bishop who licenced me initially and now over retirement age, continues give me permission to officiate. And there are thousands like me across the CofE and I presume for the SEC.

    Nobody points out time off, no one tells us Not to work 7 days a week. We make our own decisions and if the parish enters a period of vacancy, we end up holding the fort in many directions normally the sphere of the Clergy.

    Vacancies are the opportunity for expanding your horizons, knowing that you can ease off once the new incumbent has arrived and settled in.

    We are fortunate to have a Retired Priest (in his eighties) who has held the fort in three vacancies in recent years and remains in demand across the deanery to fill in, as well as the services he leads in the parish itself. He to is a volunteer, who receives nothing except expenses if he takes a funeral or wedding. He makes his time not working count and is the most widely travelled (until the Pandemic) as he has family members across three continents.

    I think that Clergy well being is important and we need to give it our attention and support them when they need time off, and for instance, honour their day off a week, to give them respite, and family time. Particularly if they have a larger, young family.

    And it is reciprocal. My Vicar reminds me about doing a bit less, but in the Pandemic he lost me for four months as my spouse had a stroke and I needed to be with her while she was in recovery and rehab.

    I was able to continue with producing our Monthly parish magazine, record sermons and maintain our parish facebook page, while he broadcast services, first from the Vicarage, and than from Church and now are able to meet in church, while continuing to broadcast.

    I am not complaining, just observing on the variety of different experiences and ways we have of being Church in an Urban environment and in a pandemic, which struggles to keep the Mission and Ministry going with a lack of resources, virtually Zero income during the Pandemic, and now being urged to recover and plan it?

    What we perhaps need is to hear less from the doers who want us to grow and to pay, and more from those we hope to bring the Good news to in our community. Surely, that is at the heart what God is asking of us. Not to identify 60% stipend as a suitable reward for working full time.

  2. Stephen Plant says

    One of the things that I think contributes to, misplaced, feelings of ‘guilt’ on the part of clergy, and unfortunately and wrongly (in my opinion) transmitted onto clergy by lay members, is that many of the laity have full time (5 days a week) jobs and then give many more weekly hours, voluntarily, to church activities and mission. This can create a dichotomy between activities that are ‘work’, ‘vocational’ and voluntary.

  3. There is always the question about the relativity of the voluntary services of a commited Lay person who does not get paid, with that of the employment of a clergy person who does. I suppose the real difference is the accountability involved – for the spiritual formation of the laos and the administration of a parish.

    I think, rightly, the monetary compensatrion for the clergy who have no other means of earning money should be considered to be support for aclergy person and their family if they have one. The old days, when a priest wasthe last son of a wealthy family, ‘given to the Church’ by his parents, hjas largely faded away. Nowadays, the clergy person and their family have to foot it with others in the community – some poor, some rich.

    However, there has long been a supposition that clergy ought to be grateful that they get any re-imbursement for the time and energy they put into their parish -especially (it is often thought) when the Faithful Laity get nothing for their very important contribution in the parish. I guess it’s all a matter of personal perception really.

    Most clergy do not go into ministry with the expectation of either (1) becoming rich, or (2) gaining perferment. And, after all, if the bishops are doing a proper job, their time ought to be spent in helping their clergy to operate better as spiritual guides and propagators of The Gospel they have in theirseparate degree commited to promote. Sadly, somer people outside of the Church look upon the propagation of The Gospel as a task of Sales Representation. And some of the more Evangelical clergy may also perceive their task in the same way!

    However the question here is, do the clergy get adequate compensation for their concentration on the work expected of them in the parish – accepting that most of it may not bestricly ‘evangelical’ in terms of preaching, but rather, more pastoral, in helping people to cope with the exigencies of life as they crop up? Measured in terms of the medical or psychollogical professions, of course; they do not. However, they do get housed, and in some dioceses, the local bishops recognises their need for adequate ‘time off’.

    The most consientious clergy will often spend a lot of ‘off duty’ hours’ in their support of the people who come to them for help – often in need of financial and/or emotional support, and often ot in any advertised schedule of official availability. (After hours doctors get special financial compensation for similar ‘call-out services’ – but then, they are considered ‘professionals’, a term not often used for the clergy, whose calling – some might consider – to be incumbent of their social status.

    In retirement in New Zealand I was called upon by the local bishop to administer (and help to rejuvenate) a parish in another diocese. I remember being given a half-stipend, and a brand new vicarage – for which I was expected, in Winter, to pay the very heavy fuel bills, and to deal with the many young holiday-makers (it was a resort area) down on their luck – as well as instigating new initiatives for evangelisation in the parish and conducting the Sunday worship in 3 country churches, as well as dealing with the 3 local Committees who had not been used to any coordinated supervision by the clergy.

    I did take one day off – Saturdays – which, however, was often disrupted by the conduct of wedding preparation or actual wedding ceremonies. I loved the parish and the parishioners, but was glad that it was only for a six-months period – when I was separated from my wife who was an 8 hour bus-ride away – a situation that, for a younger person may not have been too convenient.

  4. Sally Prendergast says

    Please remember that it’s not as straightforward as ‘clergy are paid, lay ministers are not’. There’s an increasing number of Self Supporting Ministers (SSM) or Non Stipendiary Ministers (NSM) who do most – and sometimes all – of the work of paid clergy. They wear the collar and look the same. They may not even be given ‘House For Duty’ (HFD).
    The reality is often hidden (and shocking to parishioners when they’re made aware), and the burdens often the same.

  5. I agree with you about clergy working a 5 day week. However there is another aspect to the lack of management with respect to the idea that bishops are not managers. In a secular organisation when you get someone who is poor at managing people or bullies others, HR can get involved, measures can be put in place and there are ways for that person to improve their practice or decide they are more suited to a different role. In the church there is little check on this (even archdeacons can do very little in practice) with the result that such a person can be in place unchecked for years. This damages relationships, the church and how the church is seen by the local community and the world outside. (This can be seen at all levels (e.g. Winchester diocese) down to parish level.)

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