Geoffrey Squire addresses some of the misconceptions about NSMs
In my 27 years as a non-stipendiary priest I have never been treated as a second-class priest, and yet I am aware that this is not always the case. I recently made an in-depth study of Non-Stipendiary Ordained Ministry in the Church of England and it reveals that there problems relate to Catholics as much as to others. Why is this? I have heard many comments about ‘part-timers’, ‘weekenders’ and ‘hobby priests’, but is this true?
Operating in harmony
After my ordination, my day began with going to the church daily for Matins, Mass and Evensong. My office at the rear of my nearby retail hardware store doubled as the place where some pastoral ministry took place and where people came to see me to make initial arrangements for baptisms, etc. (and maybe buy a mousetrap at the same time!).
My ministry and my secular work operated in harmony. Yes, there are those NSMs who seem to do little, but often it is because their stipendiary incumbents will not permit them to do more. But then there are also some stipendiary incumbents who also seem to do little!
Yes, there were times when I wished that I was not entangled with secular work but the fact that I did not have the responsibilities of a stipendiary incumbent (though I was offered such positions) gave me the freedom to lead a most rewarding ministry in Christian outreach to the young and an extensive extra-parochial ministry. Yes, there are problems with part-time training, but they are not as extensive as some imagine them to be. However, part-time training is not exclusive to those who are to be NSMs and some who are to be NSMs receive training at theological college.
Of course it is right that we must give high priority to fostering vocations among the young and to stipendiary ministry, but I believe we need to also consider older candidates and candidates for non-stipendiary ministry to a far greater extent that we do at present.
What is best? To have a church of our tradition merged with a group of many others of variable traditions under the leadership of a stipendiary and maybe female incumbent who may live many miles distant, as there are no resources for the parish to have a stipendiary incumbent of its own, or have a male Catholic non-stipendiary incumbent of its own?
Yes, non-stipendiary ministry is at present in need of a major review, but I believe that having some incumbents who are non-stipendiary will be the way forward. So let us play our full part in any review of non-stipendiary ministry and in any review of part-time training, and let us do our best to foster vocations to this form of ministry alongside the more traditional form. ND