Great article by Teresa Morgan in yesterday’s Church Times. The danger is that it will turn the chip that is on my shoulder into a chasm. In an effort to treat all ministries as equal dioceses are choosing to stop calling us by something we are not i.e. Non stipendiary Ministers and to start calling us ‘Associate Priests’.
Unlike Teresa’s diocese we were consulted about this. As readers had already been turned into local lay ministers, the proposal was to call us associate ministers. I remember writing at the time that I didn’t like the term minister. It wasn’t because I am slightly more catholic than I am evangelical; it was because I am a priest and wanted to be called a priest. When I first came to this benefice there was a small group of people that didn’t recognise that women could be priests. Life was very uncomfortable for awhile. When they wrote to the bishop to express their distaste that a women had been forced upon them and that they could no longer take communion in their own church I would be referred to as a ‘server’ never a priest. To be honest I didn’t want to give them a legitimate excuse not to recognise me as a priest. An associate minister sounded too much like a local lay minister. It was important so I was less concerned at being called an associate. But as Teresa so rightly points out, associate is such a subordinate term. Here is what she said,
Many professions have associates. In banking, education, medicine and the law, it is a standard term for junior, untenured, and temporary employees. Then again, those parallels are not wholly reassuring – and if non-stipendiary’s had been consulted about our change of name, we could have explained why. ‘Auxiliary’ and ‘associate’ are terms of subordination. To who or what? Not to God, the Church, or the bishop or they would apply to stipendiary clergy too. No: ‘auxiliary’ or ‘associate’ qualify “clergy”- and there is the rub. Clergy who are not paid are, in the eyes of those who are not simply clergy. They are qualifiedly clergy.
Before I go any further I need to stress that my wonderful colleague has never treated me as a subordinate. He has worked alongside me (I’ve educated him!). He can see what I do and who I am. He is the most encouraging person I have ever worked with.
Fortunately for me I am married to a wonderfully generous man who happens to be a doctor. Because of his salary I am able to be a non stipendiary full time parish priest (more fool me). I chose to be non stipendiary because I could not honestly say that I could be nationally deployable. I traipsed all over the country when my husband was a junior doctor and twice when he became a consultant. I am simply not going to sacrifice my teenagers well being by moving them again.
Occasions abound for having the ‘not a proper priest’ slur rubbed in despite having trained alongside stipendiary colleagues, having put in the same amount of hours and having gained the same amount of experience. What is it about earning a salary that validates your existence? Apparently I do this as a hobby (because I don’t have to earn money). If it is a hobby then the inference is that I am not really doing it properly, that I am an amateur.
People who are amateurs and do hobbies, do it for the sheer joy of it.
I love this hobby and if being an amateur means that you get to do the best job in the world, then I will put up with the slur.
The cost of non stipendiary ministry is high to those of us that do it. All I’m asking is that someone in the diocese just bothered to say thank you (once would do!) but there again my lovely stipendiary colleagues don’t get any thanks either apart from the £20K and a house).