Stephen Trott reflects on the conclusions to be drawn from the MSF survey of parochial clergy

The results of a detailed survey undertaken by the Clergy Section of MSF (the trade union for skilled and professional people) are revealing that the clergy have considerable anxieties about the future.

Concern for job security

Initial findings from 548 questionnaires returned from a random sample show that 91% are worried about the Church’s general economic situation; that only a third of the clergy find the stipend adequate to meet reasonable needs; and that 48% were concerned about future job security.

Preliminary analysis of the survey has been released by MSF, with full results to follow shortly, along with its response to the consultative paper issued by the Hoare Committee, on Clergy Pay and Conditions, which is to be debated by the General Synod in November.

The MSF paper on Clergy Conditions of Service was strongly borne out by the results of its survey. Few of those questioned were prepared to exchange the present system for one in which their deployment would be at the disposal of the bishop, or on an agency basis, working for dioceses as independent contractors. Almost half, 49%, preferred to see the freehold method retained. There was also strong support for the introduction of some form of secular employment protection, especially for the growing proportion of unbeneficed clergy without any employment rights.

Parsonages a liability not an asset

The value of the free parsonage house in which clergy are required to live is hotly disputed in the Church at large, seen by some as a valuable perk. To the clergy faced with loss of security should the freehold be abolished, it is largely viewed as a personal sacrifice, excluded as they are from the mortgage market and paid a stipend which therefore excludes the cost of a mortgage.

If changes to the freehold remove their security of tenure in their homes, the general consensus was that something in the order of £35,000 a year would be required as a salary in order to purchase homes of their own. Most preferred to keep the present system, with some provision for better personal appraisal and removal of the incompetent. The Synod will have to decide whether the benefits claimed for more flexible clergy deployment will outweigh the cost of change.

Stephen Trott is Vicar of Pitsford with Boughton in the diocese of Peterborough, and a member of the Clergy Section of MSF, the trade union for skilled and professional people.