Retired Clergy – Resource or Minefield?
We are in a time when large numbers of stipendiary clergy are retiring from Parochial ministry. This would not be so significant if it were not also a time when numbers of stipendiary Parish clergy are reducing sharply, both for financial reasons and because of a shortage of candidates.
Others will be better placed to consider the overall strategy, but I would like to think about retired clergy. These are people who answered a call, and served in posts increasingly stressed and undervalued by the community. If some experienced limited success, many are faithful and not unwilling to serve. Retired clergy are a resource the Church needs and must learn to handle well.
That is not to say there are no associated risks! The retired may be wedded to the old ways (organisationally, pastorally and liturgically), and can have all the faults of their younger colleagues. Unlike their younger colleagues, however, it is hard to see how they would be subject to effective discipline – they are not looking for references or appointments, their income is secure, and the Disciplinary Procedure seems unlikely to be invoked for their being “tiresome”. This would be eased if they could be given (and risk losing) a more clearly defined role.
Any consideration of the role of retired clergy has to take full account of the enormous variety of their situations and desired roles. Retirement brings freedom from obligations to work for the institutional Church, though the discussion needs to consider the range of answers to how vocation develops with retirement, age, and infirmity. Many will have constraints of health, family, and perhaps the “scars of past battles”. They may not be the best judges of their strengths and weaknesses, but most will have valuable gifts to offer. Alongside this, most will continue to express faith, and want some relationship to a Christian congregation, in which their gifts are likely to be recognised.
Let me suggest how such roles might be defined. For example: a fourfold division would allow the “retired” to be free of duty and calls on their time. The “assisting retired” would not want regular commitment, but would be available for occasional service. We might invent a title like “Local Retired NSM” – LRNSM – for those who wanted to be involved in a local Parish or Ministry Area, with a written agreement about frequency and type of ministry, but to be seldom called further. The fourth category (perhaps RSM – Retired Stipendiary Minister) might be given to those able and willing to consider a variety of roles as the occasion needed – including consistent duty in vacant parishes or near “house for duty” jobs, specialist roles, and training. That begs more questions – these categories would need the agreement of the retired cleric, but also the discernment of the wider Church – via the local Vicar, or Ministry Area Leader, or . . ? There would also need to be a regular review, with the expectation of changing category from time to time.
There is still a question, “How can retired clergy best be encouraged to serve in ways that help the church forward in a time of change, and minimise any negative or regressive influences they might have?” I don’t pretend to comprehensive answers, but would argue that the question is better faced and given some practical, if provisional, answer. I suggest also that promotion of discussion and action among the retired themselves would be productive.
At present, there is no procedure or policy apparent in how this works. Some are eager to be used, and may be disappointed by the uptake. Many wisely want a break before settling to a new way of life, but sometimes find little help after the break has taken them from general visibility. Some want freedom, and a quiet life – and are entitled to enjoy that without harassment. Increasingly there may be specialist skills that could be offered, but there is no mechanism for recording their availability and matching them with needs. My suggestion is that it would help if clergy who had retired for at least three months were offered an informal interview with a retired cleric of their choice.
It must be voluntary (a strength of the former Peer Review scheme), and at a time chosen by the retiree as a point where the turmoil of leaving and moving is largely past, and thoughts turn to the future. It could be as informal as a chat over coffee – but an outline for discussion would help clarify, and might enable effective follow-up. The interview should not imply acceptance in particular roles – that would also depend on others – but should clarify the “offer”. A draft:
Draft Outline for a Post Retirement Interview,
the Retired Cleric with an interviewer of his/her choice.
Now that you have retired, are there particular things you wish you had or had not done, or been able to do, during your stipendiary ministry? Do you think they could or will feature in your retirement?
How do you react to the situation of not working?
Eg Relief / Rest / Frustration / Needing direction?
Did you have any ambitions for your retirement when you were still employed – and have they altered since?
If you are married, how has retirement and your hopes for it affected your spouse?
A number of activities are commonly mentioned in connection with retirement. Would you like to comment on, perhaps even rank in order of importance:
- Family time, care for family members, visiting family
- Rest, freedom from obligations,
- Health concerns
- Hobbies, projects, special interests.
- Anything else important to you and needing time and attention?
Have you, or do you intend to, become a part of a Parish or Ministry Area? If so, what role do you now have? What would you like or foresee in the future?
Do you want to continue ministry? If so, which aspects interest you, and which do you think will be needed and called upon:
- Celebrating the eucharist?
- Leading non-eucharistic worship
- Pastoral counselling and visiting
- Training lay people (in ______________ )
- Leading Quiet Hours, Retreats
- Talking to Groups (subjects _______________ )
- Mentoring young clergy
- Spiritual Direction / Soul Friend
- Work with children
- Work with young people
- Helping with computers and technology
- Developing new forms of worship
- Sharing in daily offices
- Filling in for holiday absences
- Filling in for clergy who are ill or on sabbatical
- or _________________________________
Do you feel you have particular qualifications and skills to offer? Are these things you would want to do, or would you be willing to help others learn?
[In each case, please be as specific as possible. We need to know about transferable skills, not just experience.]
- Study skills
- Acting / public speaking / debating /
- Open air activities / walking / . . .
- Gardening / grounds management /
- Technology – computers, data projectors, sound systems
- Administration – would you be willing to use your experience
- Buildings – have you professional qualifications
- Counselling – do you have training / qualifications to counsel / teach
- Pastoral – visiting, training others
- Preaching – and training a new generation of preachers
- Liturgical – planning and leading worship
In general, do you see yourself as:
- Retired – having left behind the role of cleric
- Assisting – ready for occasional duty, but only occasional.
- Sort of NSM – wanting to continue local ministry in an agreed framework
- Deployable – ready to meet wider ministry needs as they arise.
This interview has been confidential, but if you choose some conclusions could be sent on to serving clergy. This would only be with your consent, and with an agreed message which could be noted here.
Would you like to tell the Bishop of your choices about ministry, PTO, . .
your Ministry Area leader of your choices about ministry, special gifts, . .
your Vicar of your choices about ministry.
For the interviewer. Outcomes: no further action
information sent to Bishop on (date)
/ MAL on (date)
/ Vicar on (date)