Rummaging around the archives
Over recent months I have been making use of the new Lambeth Palace Library archives. I've been looking at material concerned with what was called 'auxiliary ministry' but has had numerous other descriptions over the years: volunteer ministry, supporting ministry, non-stipendairy ministry and currently the drab 'SSM', self-supporting ministry. More spirited terms (to my mind) have included worker-priest, priest-worker and priests in secular emplpyment, though where these have cropped up in the material I have seen the tone has been slightly dismissive. For the uninitiated, these are all terms for unpaid clergy.
I have been able to read internal reports and correspondence involving bishops, archbishops and the officials dealing with ministry matters within the Church of England. It has been fascinating. This is not the moment for a more detailed account of what these adventures have unearthed. But it may be the place for some brief observations....
Press cuttings 1950s/60s
I have been able to scan and upload numerous press cuttings from the 1950s/60s about the English worker priest development. They come from a collection made by my friend John Rowe. See them here. More about John here.
Geoffrey Studdert Kennedy
"If our finding God in churches leads to our losing him in factories, it were better to tear down the churches, for God must hate the sight of them."
This 1959 'Statement of a group of Churchman (sic), priests and lay, who have chosen to be wage-workers in industry as an expression of their faith' makes for challenging reading.
"There should...be an increasing number of theologians whose vocational position should be in the midst of contemporary society as workers or salaried employees, parliamentarians or journalists, etc, so that they will experience in concrete form what it means to bear responsibility for secular life ...
They should uncover the theological relevance of the most concrete social facts and processes of the sort that can be grasped only by having lived through them with others, deliberated together about them and come to common decisions. ... They would discover for the churches what things in the secular world are 'true, honourable, just, pure, lovely, gracious, excellent, praiseworthy' and help them to 'think about these things'. (Phil 4:8ff). They would help us 'prove what is the will of God, what is good, acceptable and perfect' ". (Rom 12:2).
(Horst Symanowski, Pastor in the German Confessing Church (The Christian Witness in an Industrial Society 1966) Symanowski worked in a cement factory and in construction for a number of years.
Maggie Ross in Pillars of Flame: Power, Priesthood and Spiritual Maturity says "education for non-stipendiary ministry must not be lumped with that of career, administration-oriented ministry. The two must be kept increasingly separate in identity and complementary in service, if institutional Christianity is to survive".
The Revd Tony Williamson
From The Guardian, by Hugh Williamson: "My father, Canon Tony Williamson, who has died aged 85, was one of Britain’s leading “worker priests”, seeing his job as a forklift driver in a car factory as his Christian calling. A lifelong activist, he was a Labour politician, lord mayor of Oxford, and trade unionist for more than 60 years.
In 1960 Tony became the first Anglican priest to be ordained while in factory work. He was a founder of the Worker Church Group, a network of clergy and their spouses inspired by French Catholic priests who had taken factory jobs. Tony was a pioneer in this group, in taking on prominent political and trade union roles.
During Britain’s postwar boom, he was incensed that the church was ignoring the alienation of ordinary workers. In a 1961 sermon he said: “Instead of being an individual of the utmost value to God … I am one of 12,000 [Oxford car factory] employees, each easily replaceable. My clock number is 261092.”
Tony was born in Fenny Drayton, Leicestershire, the youngest of three children of Joe Williamson, an Anglican minister, and Audrey (nee Barnes), a nanny. His father campaigned in the 1950s in east London to clear slums and open refuges for prostitutes, and Tony inherited this instinct for fighting injustice.
After attending Trinity College, Oxford, and theological college at Cuddesdon, Oxfordshire, Tony started work in 1958 at the Pressed Steel car body factory (later part of British Leyland and Rover) in Cowley, an Oxford suburb. His workmates treated him as a colleague and he saw his worker priest role as solving practical problems. He was a union leader at a time of industrial conflict and UK car industry decline, chairing the largest branch of the Transport and General Workers’ Union for 16 years.
Always well briefed, Tony was a housing expert on Oxford city council between 1961 and 1988. In 1977 he was appointed OBE. He became Oxford council leader and joint leader of Oxfordshire county council. As lord mayor in 1982-83, he mixed civic duties with clocking in at 7.15am daily at Pressed Steel.
In 1959 he had married Barbara Freeman, a careers adviser, and they had four children. She shared his life fully and gave Tony vital advice and support.
Driven by Christian socialism rather than deeper theology, he took church services in Cowley and in Watlington, the Oxfordshire town where he later settled. In 1989 he became Oxford diocesan director of education, managing 270 church schools. Even while living with cancer, in his final weeks he was active as a union representative for the faith workers’ branch of Unite.
Barbara died in 2015. The following year Tony married Jill Sweeny; she died in 2018. Tony is survived by his children, Ruth, Paul, Ian and me, and eight grandchildren."
Courtesy of Tony's son, Hugh, here is the text of an address given by Tony Williamson to the Southward Diocesan Conference of 1961 on the theme of worker-priests.
Hugh Williamson's blog about his father and the wider cause of worker-priests.
Congratulations to the organisers of this National SSM Conference. Sarah Mullally, Bishop of London, gave the opening address. The day was attended by SSM Officers and clergy from many of the dioceses. See the programme here
Charles Sutton writes: Back in 2011 an important item of research was carried out by the The Revd Teresa Morgan. It explored the life, work, calling and utilization of Self-Supporting Ministers in the church.
Since that time two things have happened: we have moved on in our thinking and a new research instrument is available. Be assured, we have moved on. But not by that much! Nine years on and we still have issues of being 'undervalued', yet also ministry as 'privilege and joy'; of being underutilised, yet contributing very significant amounts of time and effort; and with many diocesan processes being shaped and defined by stipendiary ministry.
This instrument is available to any diocese that may choose to use it. The first was Gloucester and the most recent Exeter. Thus far, nearly a quarter of dioceses have made use of the process or are intending to do so. It is open-access, and each can be adapted to use specific diocesan logos, names and terminology. Additional items (questions) can also be inserted if they are of particular interest.
More than this! Each participating diocese can agree to share data with other participating dioceses. This is data share only. The data is anonymised and cannot be attributed to any individual. This means the building of a significant data set that can be shared across dioceses to inform thinking and aid planning. The tool -
John died at the very end of 2017. He has been a friend and an inspiration. He is properly described as a worker-priest and he realised that unusual calling to a far greater extent than most of today's self-supporting priests. His experience of selling his labour (he worked for most of his life in Truman's Brewery on East London's Brick Lane) eventually made the church, as conventionally understood, a difficult environment in which to operate. This is an extract from a 2010 document John wrote, and recalls something of the tension he felt and the challenges he squared up to, as well as the clarity of his thought.
"So my quarrel with the Church is not at the level of this evidently fascinating, but unproductive issue of "whether there is a God" or not. It is, rather, about the claim of the Christian religion to represent Jesus and the "values" and norms of the "Kingdom of God" which he embodied and served. This is not a new complaint. But, perhaps for any Christian such as myself, who has always wanted to know how to devote himself more genuinely, there's a natural "term" to the business of being committed to an association which, in effect, trivializes its own awesome objectives and speaks so relentlessly in a language nobody else can understand.
In case anyone is interested (after all, someone reading this may well ask "What's the big deal? why all these words, only to arrive where so many of our contemporaries have long since ended up?) the question I feel obliged to face is: in the short time that remains to me, how am I to fulfil the obligation to Jesus and his "Kingdom of God" which I am unable to shake off despite my repudiation of the Church's theology? Certainly I cannot pretend that the Church has no value or never comes near to the Kingdom of God. The churches are often to be found doing, with a good will, the things which, as Jesus said, ought not to be left undone.
Perhaps the same sort of claim could be made for the many movements of protest that are available. Should I not be content with the opportunities of the present times for political involvement? My natural commitment is to the anti-war, anti-nuclear (power as well as bomb), anti-imperialist movements. I share the widespread revulsion against what amounts to a Zionist hegemony in Palestine. There is no end to 'progressive' causes and to aspects of the campaign to deal adequately with global warming. These sorts of commitment were associated, in the past, with the socialist hope. Why should I not be wholehearted about one or more of them now?
It may be because I have come to see that protest inevitably implies a sort of self-righteousness. Who can honestly face the dubiousness of his own self-interest – the possibility that there are grounds for surrendering the privileges and securities by which he makes himself irreproachable as an independent citizen? In fact, it is precisely as an "independent" citizen that I might, for example, come forward to protest that others should not lack the same sort of amenities as I enjoy. But, when it came to the crunch, how much would I allow my security to be threatened by the consequences of this kind of advocacy?
So, knowing myself, I am not likely to abandon altogether either the Church or my favourite causes. However, I am on the lookout for some better way of (and some deeper reserve of courage for) affirming the Good News than "by word and sacrament", or by public demonstration - some authentic and unromantic way of joining those who, being society's rejects, are, unknown to themselves, the passport-holders of the Kingdom of God."
Continuing professional development programmes are common these days across most employed groups, and reflect the need to maintain and develop professional competence beyond initial training. The church has followed this pattern, and every Church of England diocese has some form of provision. However, from a cursory review via the internet, such provision very often seems rather narrowly focused. Common topics include leadership, conflict management, first incumbencies and pre-retirement....
Diocesan budgets, one suspects, are under pressure, and training and development may be thought expendable, or something that can be run in-house. The needs of MSE/WPs are not obviously provided for. Nor do programmes appear to be aimed at helping conscientious parish-based stipendiary clergy remain alert to wider social realities which impact those to whom they minister. Do you have accounts of excellent CMD provision, or suggestions for new content and provision?
Does CMD (inadvertently) perpetuate clericalism? An interesting article from Neil Burgess.
David Clark's The Kingdom at Work Project has just published its 14th bulletin. In his introduction David writes: Since the collapse of Christendom, the mission of the church within the world of work has been very confused and extremely tentative. One reason for this failure is sociological. Engagement with communities of place, on which the parish system was founded, has continued to dominate the use of the church’s human and economic resources. However, after the industrial and, more recently, technological revolution, the world of work has spread well beyond parish boundaries with the church finding it extremely difficult to work out new forms of engagement. An even more important reason for the church’s inability to engage effectively with today’s world of work is theological. The church seems unable to decide whether mission in this context is about individual salvation - making disciples; concerned with pastoral support - a ministry of care and counselling; or about institutional transformation - seeking the redemption of the workplace and those economic and social forces which impinge upon it. Thus Christian engagement with the world of work oscillates blindly between setting up work-related groups for prayer and nurture - with the focus on making disciples; putting more and more resources into chaplaincy - with an increasingly pastoral emphasis; or, by far the most neglected of these missiological approaches, equipping lay people to be kingdom community builders in the workplace - mission as communal transformation." Download the bulletin here.
The Rt Revd Tom Slipshod rather regretted the idea of a year-long absence from his See in order to experience the world of work. It had seemed a good idea at the time. Still, only eleven months and two weeks to go.
Martyn Grubb, Worker Priest
"My father, Martyn Grubb, who has died aged 87, was one of England's first worker priests after the second world war – although ordained, worker priests did not take a church position but worked in an industrial role."
See the Guardian obituary here.
Captain Mainwaring might complain that all SSM clergy do is whine. It may sound like that, but really there is a more important message for the church about the care of its many ordained sons and daughters who are not on the payroll. Follow 'read more' for an interesting article from good old Church Times, 15 May 2015.
Why are bishops' officers for non-stipendiary ministry usually appointed from among the stipendiary priests? Would it not be far better if they were appointed from among those priests whom they are supposed to represent?
This question appeared in the Church Times recently. A couple few replies have been printed -
Belief is reassuring. People who live in the world of belief feel safe. On the contrary, faith is forever placing us on the razor's edge. Jacques Ellul