The Council of the North is seeking innovative ways to fund clergy salaries in northern dioceses where about 47 per cent of the clergy (168 out of 358) are non-stipendiary.
The topic arose during the council’s fall meeting held here Sept. 12-14 and, according to National Indigenous Bishop Mark MacDonald, some dioceses are now in crisis with little or no budget to pay clergy. The council is a grouping of financially-assisted dioceses and areas from Canada’s North.
“We need to explore ways of bringing this conversation to a larger audience, to raise the issue of finding ways to pay our clergy, both urban and rural,” said Bishop MacDonald. “Everyone can play a small part in this – it’s the mission of the whole church.”
Some clergy are hired on a half- or quarter-time basis, but the challenge remains that alternative employment is not readily available in many remote communities for the priests to supplement their salaries.
The council’s compensation committee adjusted the minimum clergy stipend for Council of the North dioceses to $29,667 per annum – a jump of 2.2 per cent – to absorb increasing inflation as set out by Statistics Canada.
A length of service incremental base was set as $230 to a maximum of $5,750 per year, also an increase of 2.2 per cent. Both increases are effective Jan. 1, 2009, but the amounts still do not make up for the high costs of living and travelling in the North.
Dean John Wright, executive director of the Anglican Foundation, believes that payment of the clergy is a justice issue that merits attention.
“This reaches beyond just the Council of the North or aboriginal communities; this is across the whole church,” he said.
“Years ago, seminarians could leave school with the understanding that they might not be paid right away, but had the promise that they’d be taken care of for the rest of their days. Today, new clergy don’t have those options.”
A primary concern is that a financial appeal to the national church would be perceived as perpetuating a welfare mentality in places of non-stipend clergy or poor parishes, but the council plans to ensure that there is ownership involved. Stewardship is the key, said Bishop MacDonald.
“There needs to be a strong emphasis on stewardship and discipleship, and accountability in the system is imperative,” said Bishop MacDonald.
Kelly Fowler is editor of The Messenger, the newspaper of the dioceses of Athabasca and Edmonton.