Though it’s hard to get an exact count, we suspect that a few hundred men and women serve as unpaid or non-stipended ministers in the Anglican Church of Canada. The majority of them are in rural and bush Canada in Indigenous communities, and most of them are Indigenous members of the communities they serve.
These ministers serve in challenging conditions: far too many minister in situations where they are accessible 24-7 to their whole community (not just the active or inactive members of their congregations), and very few are able to have time off from these tasks and demands. Though we know that this work can only be done in a livable way together with a circle of people-with two or three elders, other clergy or recognized lay ministers-far too many of them serve alone under devastating stress. They live in communities with death by violence and accident rates that are some of the highest in the world; with young people threatened by despair and suicide; and with the soul-numbing poverty that means that life is always in a state of chaos and upheaval.
What is amazing is how few of these people fall to the stress of their work. They rarely complain about inequities and don’t notice that they are often considered second-class to the more highly trained and paid ministers who serve in other places. We often hear that priests are ordained for “the whole church,” but it is clear that many of us who are paid for our work would find it difficult or impossible to function given the cultural and social demands of this sacrificial ministry, whether we were paid or not. I have met many of our non-stipended clergy and, in my opinion, all but a few could serve well in the positions with stipends. The majority are capable, dedicated, devout and sacrificially committed in a way that compels respect and co-operation.
The ministry of sacrifice that is undertaken every day by these unpaid ministers demands our daily prayers and mention in our parish prayers every Sunday-at the very least.
Isn’t it time for us to find a way to share the resources of our church with them? Should we not see in them a vital lesson for us: they learned this spirit of sacrifice from Jesus, the gospel and the inspiration of the Holy Spirit; they witnessed their style of ministry in many of the clergy who first served among them-many of them non-Indigenous-who broke trail and suffered and served for the gospel and Christ’s love of the world. Is it not time that we re-learn, re-inspire and re-dedicate our church in the vision of our ancestors in the faith and the sacrifice of those who serve today in the most challenging parts of our land?