Monthly Archives: September 2005

Clergy Employment Rights?

The trade union Amicus are continuing their campaign for clergy to be given full employment rights in the light of some terrible abuses that have shown the precarious employment situation we are technically in. All very praiseworthy, but it ain’t so simple.

Every time many clergy are asked questions for official or commercial purposes, we don’t fit in. Homeowner or tenant? Neither: we live in tied accommodation.

Employee or self-employed? Again, neither: we’re that rare breed known as office-holders. It puts us in a select group along with people such as registrars of births, marriages and deaths.

Salary? Er, it’s called a stipend, actually. Not the rate for the job that a salary supposedly is, but a living allowance to free us from want and give us the time to seek God’s priorities and vision for our calling.

Which is where the notion of employment rights could be dangerous. We need the protection from tin pot Hitlers at local and national levels, but imagine what they’d become if they thought they were our employers. I’ve been in a situation where people in power wanted to impose a job description on a minister. Unless this is handled carefully (and at least the Government so far is going for the voluntary approach with churches) this has the potential not only for the tail to wag the dog but for one kind of tyranny to be exchanged for another, and in it the very essence of our calling to be shattered – not by God, but by humans.

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My Brother’s Keeper?

According to The Independent churches and other ‘faith-based organisations’ are doing more in providing relief following Hurricane Katrina than the federal government. It seems to be a deliberate policy.

When I read this, my mind went back to an argument I had with an American Christian ten years ago. He was adamant that according to the Bible the only agent for social welfare in a society was the Christian Church. That state social security (let alone a National Health Service) didn’t exist in biblical times was irrelevant. Nor did he think the call to be our brother’s keeper applied to anyone other than believers.

Don’t get me wrong. I applaud the wonderful and remarkable work done by the churches in the wake of Hurricane Katrina. I’m hardly arguing for them to be sidelined! It’s a wonderful witness, and it’s fascinating to read the atheist Roy Hattersley’s admission that believers are generally better human beings than atheists. I just want to know what kind of moral sophistry leads a government to abrogate responsibility for its citizens.

My Brother’s Keeper?

According to The Independent churches and other ‘faith-based organisations’ are doing more in providing relief following Hurricane Katrina than the federal government. It seems to be a deliberate policy.

When I read this, my mind went back to an argument I had with an American Christian ten years ago. He was adamant that according to the Bible the only agent for social welfare in a society was the Christian Church. That state social security (let alone a National Health Service) didn’t exist in biblical times was irrelevant. Nor did he think the call to be our brother’s keeper applied to anyone other than believers.

Don’t get me wrong. I applaud the wonderful and remarkable work done by the churches in the wake of Hurricane Katrina. I’m hardly arguing for them to be sidelined! It’s a wonderful witness, and it’s fascinating to read the atheist Roy Hattersley’s admission that believers are generally better human beings than atheists. I just want to know what kind of moral sophistry leads a government to abrogate responsibility for its citizens.

The Scream, Homer Simpson-style

Thanks to Pete Phillips for this great picture:

Pete also makes some great points about the New Testament, missiology and postmodernism in the same article.

Banning the Make Poverty History TV Ad

OFCOM, the regulatory quango, has banned the Make Poverty History TV ad, with celebrities clicking their fingers every three seconds to mark the death of another child. You can read their decision here.

Various sponsoring bodies of MPH are furious. (And you’ll have noticed from the banner on this blog that I support the campaign.) Ekklesia has condemned the decision as effectively partisan: why is it OK to ban MPH from TV commercials on political grounds but not those companies whose products cause the very problems MPH is campaigning against? Anthea Cox of the Methodist Church points out that decisions on poverty are necessarily political and involvement in the campaign by Christians has been a direct consequence of their faith.

All of which means the MPH ads are banned on the old grounds of religion and politics. You’re not supposed to talk about them in public if you’re British. Or so the theory goes.

OFCOM argues that MPH’s goals are ‘wholly or mainly political’ and maybe they are, but as Anthea Cox replies above, how can you avoid that? Furthermore, they say the commercial was directed towards influencing government policy and that’s against the relevant codes. Right. So it’s OK for a multinational to shell out money to send people to talk directly to Downing Street but you mustn’t do it on air.

OFCOM may or may not be applying the rules accurately but doesn’t the whole sorry affair stink of hypocrisy? In particular it’s the hypocrisy that keeps the rich wealthy and the poor destitute – the very things MPH opposes. Who wrote those rules, then? I wonder.

We finally moved

Long time no blog. It’s three and a half weeks since we moved and finally we’ve nearly unpacked everything. A combination of moving with two small children plus having to move rather closer to the date I was beginning ministry here have had their effect. Just got to set up the hi-fi now, I think.

It’s a much smaller house. We knew that, of course. We’d been Mr and Mrs eBay for several months prior to the move. Some much-loved old possessions had to go. In my case I said goodbye to over a thousand vinyl LPs. Some I sold, others had to go to the dump.

But the house has been beautifully decorated and refurbished. A working party from one of my churches removed all the prickly plants from the garden to make it safe for our children. Some basic food and drink was here for us to see us through our first few days. They even bought some toys to amuse the kids while the removal men did their work.

We’ve also found them to be uncommonly principled and generous in what they pay for expenses, too. The circuit stewards (don’t worry if you’re not a Methodist, it’s simply the senior ‘lay’ office in a Methodist circuit) had told us repeatedly that they look after their ministers.

We’ve also found it to be a lovely area for bringing up the children. The area where our manse was situated in the last appointment was pretty grim. In the Old Testament ‘salvation’ can mean being brought into a spacious place: the house here may not be spacious, but the area has that feel. We feel peaceful about our children being here.

So if I think of the move as also being a spiritual journey what have I learned so far from it? A number of things:

I’ve learned to do without some cherished possessions. However I shouldn’t sound too virtuously ascetic there, because we were able to buy a new digital SLR camera, so I can revive an old hobby. I had had to sell my old film SLR gear.

Then there is the love we have received. It’s been amazing. The mantra we kept hearing, “We look after our ministers”, had been hard to believe before we came, mainly due to previous bad experiences, where much was trumpeted and little delivered. I have to learn not to let old scars damage the way I treat new people. I thought I was better at that than I obviously am.

Not that I am expecting a picnic here. I am clearly in a different spiritual tradition to at least two of the three churches I am serving, but we’ll see how it goes. We firmly believed God had led us to accept this appointment, and we wait to see some of the reasons why he brought us here. Watch this space.

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