Why Are There Upset, Stressed And Angry Clergy In Portsmouth Diocese?

A job for life is something of a bygone era. Many in our society today know the pain and anguish that can come from redundancy. Sadly more paid clergy are discovering that same pain within the Church of England today. Back in October 2020 Portsmouth Diocese started a process that will lead to changes in way that many of the churches in the diocese are led. There are good reasons behind this process that we understand and accept.

  • There is a need to reassess how churches are best structured and led to address a steady and prolonged decline in numbers with many of our churches.
  • We are also well aware of the impact of Covid on our own church finances and the knock on impact on the finances of our diocese as a whole.

Sadly the way this has happened has resulted in many clergy spending the last nine months not knowing whether they would lose their jobs through this process or not? And if their present role is to go will they be offered a new role in the revised structure or not, and what would that role be?

It is really important to bear in mind that when a stipendiary clergy person loses their job it has far more impact than others in our society being made redundant. Yes our job and role will be lost, our whole lives, the entire focus of our time and energy are invested in the parish we serve. We will lose our homes as we are legally required to live in the vicarage. Some of us are fortunate to have our own home to move to, but by no means all clergy have this option. We are also expected to cut all ties and relationships within the parish that we will be asked to leave. For some this will mean leaving and moving away from their entire friendship network.

But the change doesn’t just impact on clergy, it also has a massive impact on their families. Not only will clergy lose their homes and friends but wives and children are massively impacted as well. Some, or maybe many, clergy spouses today work. What will happen to their jobs? How far will they have to move and can they still retain their existing jobs? Children may have to move schools as well as moving homes, so their friendship network will be radically changed.

But there are more reasons why clergy are upset, stressed and angry.

One of the most significant areas of upset is that churches, clergy and laity together, were hoodwinked into thinking that the changes would be locally rooted and plans would be developed from the bottom up. We spent many, many hours in meetings and conversations, some of which were not easy. Through this we started to make progress towards planning for the future shape of churches within our deaneries. We bought in to these plans because we were deeply involved in producing them. However in March this year it emerged that the senior leadership of our diocese had different ideas. They had done their work and research in the background without our involvement, they had also paid an unspecified amount to a consultancy firm to help with their research and planning. The result was a strong recommendation, if not a directive, that, with only one or two exceptions across the whole diocese, all churches are to be reorganised into groups within what the Church of England calls Team Ministries. Now none of us have a problem with teams, indeed many of us are already leading teams. But legal Team Ministries are a different thing altogether and an option that many clergy are strongly opposed to either because they have been part of legal Team Ministries elsewhere that have been dysfunctional, haven’t worked or have led to decline rather than growth. Or they know friends or colleagues who have these experiences.

Whilst there is indeed a general and overall decline in church membership this isn’t true in every church. But the present approach from Portsmouth Diocese is talking about this narrative of decline, even in settings where there is growth, and tarring every church with the same brush of decline. The official statistics that the Church of England produces would show that the church that I lead is in decline because they are based on our main morning service. But these statistics don’t show the growth in our ministry to families which, pre-pandemic, was leading us into overall growth. Churches with visionary leaders, who are bucking the trend will, at present, be expected to undergo significant structural change that may well negatively impact on their future capacity to grow.

Some weeks ago I was a signatory to an open letter addressed to our Commissary Bishop and others in the leadership team in Portsmouth Diocese. This was signed by fourteen people, both clergy and laity. There are many more who would have signed the letter had they not feared for the impact that step might have on their future prospects. It is a really sad situation where Bishops hold such sway over clergy that they cannot speak openly and honestly for fear of the repercussions.

Sadly today Portsmouth Diocese is not a positive place to live and minister as a stipendiary clergy person. My local church community is great, however the wider context is incredibly stressful. Remember that all of this is in the context of one of the most stressful times to be a church leader in living memory.

On a personal basis I have accepted that my role will disappear through this reorganisation process. It hasn’t been easy to accept that likely outcome but I am almost certain it will happen. One of the real stresses for me now is not knowing when. Will I still be the Vicar of St Paul’s Sarisbury Green in six months, twelve months or eighteen months time? I don’t know and the not knowing is really stressful and difficult.

5 thoughts on “Why Are There Upset, Stressed And Angry Clergy In Portsmouth Diocese?

  1. I feel very sad and angered when reading the piece above. My family and I have attended St Paul’s for many years, on and off. My two children went to Sarisbury Junior School which is linked to the Church.
    We love this church community and one of the main reasons is because of our vicar, Sandy.
    My question would have to be how can an outside consultancy company come in and give recommendations on how the dioceses is to move forward. Have they visited all of the areas and churches in question, have they been to services and spoken to the local people attending said churches.
    I think the powers that be are being very short sighted.
    If we are wanting the church to grow then this is not the way to do it.
    Sad sad days.

  2. Having journeyed with you in some of this Sandy, i can somewhat sympathise, though my situation is quite different and less directly impacted. Ive watched you make choices for growth and brave decisions that are in St Pauls best interest at the expense of your own situation / at great potential personal cost. Youve been an amazing example to me. I can see how painful this is for you and so glad youre also brave enough to speak up for what you believe in. Remember Jesus words in Mark 10:29-31 and be encouraged. Look forward to your hundred fold repayment. You have made yourself last, someday you will be first my friend.

  3. My wife and I have much enjoyed our years in the congregation of St Paul’s and witnessed the growth of the Sunday Families Tea Service and, consequently, I totally support our Vicar Sandy in his excellent summation of recent events above. Unfortunately nearly all recent problems in the Anglican church can be traced back to lack of finance which is why these difficult decisions have had to be addressed. Sad to note then that last Friday (9 Jul 21) the Religious Affairs Correspondent of the Times – Kaya Burgess – reported that the Anglican church has admitted that the average cost of EACH of the 108 Bishops – on top of their annual stipend – is £120,000 for housing and expenses at a time when they are overseeing the decimation of their dioceses. I was once told as a young naval officer by an Admiral that in all reorganisations or search for financial savings those people at the bottom pay the price. Wouldn’t it be a step in the right direction if the Anglican church reorganisation started with the reduction of 10% of the Bishops!! Keep going Sandy you have our wholehearted support.

  4. Dear Sandy
    I can well understand your concern and the conclusions you have reached. The current proposals by the C of E do not address the real problem and if effected will simply compound the difficulties. The problem is finance and the cause is the decline in church attendance. Solve the one and you have the answer to the other. You have a very loyal and supportive congregation and therefore we will support you. Addressing the decline needs acceptance that services in their current form are not attractive to the current generation. There must be less ritual and more reality. The Holy Spirit is not in hiding but He can be hidden. I have no doubt that we are on the cusp of the most exciting opportunity to take part in a dramatic change. The real problem is – are we prepared to stand up and be counted.
    Yours sincerely

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