Performance Related Clergy?

JUDGING BY NEWS REPORTS recently, teachers are not very happy at the moment. A government minister has just offered each of them up to £2000 a year (of our money) as part of a performance based pay package and the teachers, or more specifically the NUT, are up in arms. Performance related pay, to a layman, seems to be an unqualified good thing. Why should the lazy, the indolent and the inefficient receive the same reward as the industrious, the hardworking and those who achieve the results demanded of them?

The problem seems to lie in the measurement of performance. Are the excellent results in Class 1 the result of the groundwork laid by Mr A last year or the enthusiasm of Ms B this year? Was the miserable outcome in Class 2 attributable to Miss C’s lacklustre performance, or had she worked her fingers to the bone merely to discover that you can’t make a silk purse out of a sow’s ear? In short was she landed with a load of disenchanted oiks – and no amount of effort was going to alter the inevitable outcome?

Then there is the inevitable suspicion that somehow assessments of performance are going to be in some measure subjective. Don’t we all have our favourites? And is not the opportunity to distribute largesse to the tune of £2000 of someone else’s money going to prove a temptation to bend the rules a bit in favour of our mates? I’ve seen some very arbitrary rewards being thrown about in the industry where I worked for many years.

But when all the problems have been enumerated, there is surely something fundamentally attractive about rewarding high achievement. There is something deeply embedded in human nature that says if there are prizes for everybody, what is the point of making an effort? And anybody who has ever run a sales force will tell you that nothing motivates like money.

So what about performance related pay for clergy? Yes you may recoil in horror and talk about ministry being a calling rather than a profession, but Jesus wasn’t afraid to commend the ways of the world. In the parable of the shrewd servant, he castigated his hearers for not applying the skills which they exercised in their daily lives to their spiritual lives as well.

At the moment we imagine we have a flat rate for clergy pay. Diocesan minima have been raised so that nowadays very few clergy have endowments which take their stipends above the diocesan rate. There is of course the geographical lottery. In some dioceses the laity are a bit stingier than others so their clergy get paid less than in other dioceses. Some dioceses get hand-outs from the Church Commissioners, who do have about £20 million left over when they have paid for all the Bishops and their chauffeurs and their gardeners and so on. Overall though the variations are fairly small and an average stipend plus or minus say £1000 would embrace the remuneration of virtually all incumbents.

So much for their pay, what do they actually do? Please don’t think that I’m indulging in clergy bashing, but when I look at a clergyman, I’m looking at thousands of pounds worth of some parish’s quota money

Not long ago I got involved in a discussion about youth work with a group of clergy. We each described the extent of youth work in our own parishes, mindful of course that the church is shrinking and that if no new blood comes into the church, we are only a couple of generations away from dying out.

When we got to the last member of the group, he said quite matter-of-factly that his parish did no youth work at all. No he didn’t even have a Sunday School.. This caused some consternation in the group but a plausible explanation was forthcoming. Apparently his parish was a sought after village where house prices had spiralled. When people got married they moved away to cheaper areas where they brought their children up. In later life, with their children off their hands, some of them were able to move up the property ladder back to the village they had come from. This all meant that there simply weren’t any children in the village at all.

I did happen to know that there is a Church of England Primary School in this village so I couldn’t help enquiring where the children came from. “Oh they all come from outside the village,” came the confident reply, “they are all brought in by car.”

I was dumbfounded. I really couldn’t believe what I was hearing, and I don’t think the others could either. Somehow no one could bring themselves to challenge such supine complacency. The French have a word for “what you ought to have said in the meeting, but you don’t think of until you’re going downstairs on the way out.” It came to me on the way home. I suppose I should have ventured to suggest that if over one hundred children could be brought to school by car five days a week, perhaps some of them could have been brought by car to a family service or a Sunday School on Sunday. Somebody could even have had a go at organising a bible club one evening after school.

It really beggars belief that we are shelling out thousands of pounds every year on someone who appears to spend most of each week on retreat at the Rectory.

And what could we do with the dignitaries? How about a curate’s stipend as basic, with bonuses if they actually do any worthwhile work? It would probably mean a lot of Residentiary Canons having to apply for Family Income Supplement or Job Seekers Allowance and a load of Archdeacons and Suffragan Bishops claiming that attending meetings constitutes work. Just think, if we could end all the Diocesan job simulation schemes, we could cut quotas all round and advance the Gospel more.

There is tremendous resistance within the Church to value added audits from the vested interests who benefit from the current gravy train. We see it at the centre but the Archbishops’ Council is already preparing to take the knife and cut out some of the lower priority work which, while not without value, is squeezing out the higher priority work which we think we can’t afford.

We also need to take a long hard look at our dioceses and deaneries. Are we satisfied that all our clergy are pulling their weight? If we are not, what are we going to do about it? Performance related pay seems, to me, to be an option worth exploring – but if you don’t like it, have you got a better idea?

Gerry O’Brien is a lay member of the General Synod. He represents the Diocese of Rochester.