Project Canterbury

The Starvelings: A Study in Clerical Poverty

By F. J. Hammond

London: The Society of SS. Peter and Paul, 1921.

Chapter V. Religion and Money

One thing among many has impressed itself very firmly on my mind, that the cause of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ as represented by the Church in this country loses much by the everlasting shouting for more money.

We are always at it. From the highest to the lowest in the ministerial ranks it is one continual cadge. There is, alas! a very large amount of truth beneath the [45/46] somewhat uncharitable statement that the parson rarely calls unless he wants something.

That we cannot in these days, at any rate, propagate the Gospel without money is clear enough. But the fact remains that while--as we are so constantly reminded--we are the wealthiest religious body in Christendom, yet we never have money enough--we are always hard up.

The bishops are hard up. We are told that with fifteen thousand a year and two residences the Archbishop of Canterbury has no more than he needs. The Bishop of London publishes a balance sheet to show that he is comparatively a poor man on ten thousand a year and also two residences. Other bishops are crying aloud of their financial difficulties, and as for the poor incumbents--well, we have seen what their difficulties are.

And a business man looking at the thing naturally asks, "Why in the world don't you set to work to readjust your business? You've got heaps of money really, only you are spending it badly."

Business men have told me times without number that any business run on the same lines as our Church business would be bankrupt in a twelvemonth. Very likely. The fact is the Church is eaten up with the sense of dignity, and dignity always requires a good deal of money for its support.

It is a heritage from the past when those in positions of dignity--from the crowned head or mitred head downwards--found it necessary to impress, as well as support, their position by a dignified environment.

It is undeniably true that we English people like pomp. For some reason or other, it may be a perfectly natural one, we do not realise a dignified position unless [46/47] amid some splendour. We should hardly feel that the Archbishop was an archbishop if he lived say in the New Cut. We know the King's face so well that he is recognised and loyally greeted even when wearing a bowler hat; but the people on the whole believe more in his kingship when he goes in state to Parliament in royal robes.

Yet slowly and surely all this is passing. When my lords express the difficulty of maintaining their episcopal palaces we ask, "Why have a palace? Why go on spending money in huge official expenses, which may add to a dignified position which is of no earthly value to you or anyone else? Readjust things. Look into your business and reorganise it, and you will find there is plenty of money--quite enough for all of you clergy to live upon comfortably. It only wants management, and then you will be free to preach the Gospel."

It is always possible to make out a good case when crying aloud for more money. None know that better than parsons! But the point is we already have enough, at least one would imagine so--it only wants readjustment. There must be, as already suggested, a very large amount of what may be called sunk capital, most of which could be realised and put to better uses.

This is no appeal for reduction in Church building; let the house of God be as beautiful and "exceeding magnifical" as we can make it, everywhere--but there is no reason why the houses of the ministers of God should be so.

Meanwhile we are clamouring for more money for the increase of endowments and stipends. What for? To enable the clergy to continue living in these palaces of glebe houses. Large sums are asked for and raised for what is nothing else but relief in grants and doles [47/48] for the poor clergy. They are all kindly and generously meant, no one disputes that, but it is merely perpetuating the evil instead of actually destroying it.

And looked at every way all this clamouring for more money is inimical to the primary work of the Church. The money is really wanted to bolster up the dignity of the Christian minister's material position. Yet the position itself, if we are to believe all we have ever read or been told about it, possesses its own inherent dignity and does not require material assistance.

In spite of his mistakes, was not John Wesley occupying a really dignified position as an itinerant preacher? Was he not more in harmony with the Master he served? Is the cure on the Continent less dignified as a priest because he lives a very simple life in a very simple manner? Or his brethren amongst us here, or our Nonconformist ministers in every place, do they not set us an example and show us a way out?

The material surroundings of the parish priest add nothing whatever to the worthiness of his office--which is what dignity in this sense means. For my own part I quite honestly believe they detract from it.

It appears only too true that our Church in England, through its association with the State on the one hand and the wealthy classes on the other, has become obsessed with the idea of dignity which, as has been said, implies money, and more money still.

Is there a way out? Only one as far as I can see, and that is to return to the simplicity of Christ in fact as well as in theory.

Have we sufficient faith for so bold a venture? Aye, there's the rub. It is one thing to talk about, but can we, dare we, do it? Are the clergy of the Church from the hierarchy downwards prepared practically to forsake [48/49] houses, lands, all and everything "for My sake and the Gospel's"?

It is a big proposition I admit. To rearrange the whole system of things from top to bottom would be a tremendous task. But it would be worth it for Christ's sake. It would work such a reformation in religion in England as the world has never experienced. For one and all to lay aside all this material wealth and position, readjust the finances, and live simply as the ministers of Christ would be to show we mean what we say. It would be a very practical realisation of that which baptism represents as our profession--"to follow the example of our Saviour Christ and be made like unto Him."

And, further, the materialism of the present day against which bishops and clergy have thundered in vain for years past would receive a blow which I venture to think would severely shake it. As an object lesson--not for a day but for all time--it would be great.

But it may be asked, indeed it has been asked, would you have the clergy--of any rank--living in discomfort in little houses like a suburban villa?

A small house does not necessarily imply discomfort. It is far more comfortable to live in a small house within your means than in a large one your income will not maintain.

Let us get back to simplicity. We shall then cease to shout for money except for the actual needs of our spiritual work--this would be a great gain.

Perhaps I am dreaming dreams and seeing visions--not by any means bad things in their way--at any rate they are practical, if we only have faith. More faith.

Project Canterbury