Bishops urged to take pay cut
Bishops, deans and archdeacons will be urged next month to give up their pay increases and differentials and be content to earn as little as a stipendiary parish priest reports the Times.
The General Synod is to debate a private members motion in which bishops will be asked to give up nearly half of their £33,000 stipends to earn the same as a parochial clergyman or woman.
The motion, if successful, will cut the stipends of all dignitaries in real terms over time to the £17,940 earned by the ordinary parish priest in the Church of England, a stipend still about six times the allowance of priests in the Roman Catholic Church.
The motion is thought to be unlikely to succeed but is certain to arouse debate.
The Rev Chris Lilley, Rector of the Scawby group of parishes in the Lincoln diocese and a member of the finance committee of the Archbishops Council, plans to challenge bishops, archdeacons and other dignitaries to forsake their high wages for the sake of a life of service to the Church.
If his motion is successful, his differential, along with those of archbishops and bishops, would be frozen until they all matched up.
The Archbishop of Canterbury, Dr Rowan Williams would see his stipend fall by more than two thirds from £60,820.
In a background note to next month's debate, published today, Mr Lilley says: "The Church recognises certain particular gifts in some and calls them to one of the posts that we describe as dignitaries. To those who have, more shall be given. But what is the 'more'? Is it more money or is it more responsibility? Given that the gift is from God in the first place why should we pay some a higher stipend than others?"
He questions whether it is possible to "quantify the contribution to the Church's mission by those holding different posts". Few at the Synod will dispute, even the bishops and deans whose lifestyles he is trying to reduce, his point that: "In some ways the responsibilities of the senior clergy are greater but often, (too often?) their time is taken up with administration rather than leadership and mission."
Mr Lilley goes on to strike at the very heart of the debate over what the Church is really for - a pillar of the Establishment propping up the machinery of the State or a sacrificial body living by the mandate of the early Church and working with the most disadvantage.
He says: "Is the parish priest living and working in a difficult inner-city parish amidst all the problems of poverty, violence, drugs and crime doing a less valuable job for the kingdom than the dean? Is the country parson caring for up to a dozen rural parishes with little prospect of trained lay support doing a less valuable job for the kingdom than the archdeacon? Is the rural chaplain helping farmers facing the threat of bankruptcy or the temptation of suicide doing a less valuable job for the kingdom than the bishop? Do we truly believe that all we offer to the Church are God's gifts for us to use? If so, there is no basis whatsoever for paying differentials. This would apply just as much to the team rector or the rural dean as to the dignitaries."
Differentials have been a feature of clergy stipends since the Reformation and used to be far greater. In 1835, the stipend of a diocesan bishop was 16 times that of the average incumbent.
By 1939 a diocesan bishop earned six times the average incumbents stipend and now the ratio is 1.84. The General Synod debated the issue in 2001, 1996 and 1977 but Mr Lilley's motion represents the most serious challenge to the principle of differentials. If Mr Lilley's motion was adopted, the Church would legally be forced to consult those affected before implementing a freeze on stipends and even then it could be open to legal challenge, on the basis that he or she had a legitimate expectation that the differential would continue to be maintained at its current level. Opponents are expected to argue that the erosion in differentials has gone far enough.