‘Paul approached them [Aquila and Priscilla] and, because he was of the same trade, he made his home with them and they carried on business together; they were tent-makers.’

Acts 18:3

I’ve spent quite a lot of time over this summer thinking about tent-making – not because I’ve been particularly close to tents (a leaking tent at the Keswick convention 5 years ago put me right off!) but because I’m thinking about how we might work better to both train and support our Self-Supporting Ministers.  These are the people who, like Paul, make tents (or whatever it is that they are gifted and trained to do) in order to enable their ministry to flourish.

This requires a great a deal of self-discipline and time–management as the boundaries are put in place – for some their place of work is part of their ministry, some of our SSMs wear their dog-collar wherever they are so their public ministry is exercised well beyond the edges of the church or parish life; others need their time to be more boundaried.

I once heard a Bishop of my acquaintance say that he didn’t take time off because his was living out a vocation – God had called him to his ministry. I didn’t (and wouldn’t) want to dispute that, but at the time I was serving in a house-for-duty post (not quite SSM, but still I needed to live) and struggling with my offering of 3 (maybe even 4) days a week to parish work. I too was living out my vocation, but I couldn’t give all my time to parish work. Our SSMs are also living out their vocation which is not just to be church-focussed but to be joining in with God in other places.

This is true (and maybe also exacerbated) during their period of training before and after ordination when we are asking SSMs to attend lectures, seminars and do their ‘homework’ while they feel committed to parish ministry and as the same time are doing a job which may be demanding of both time and energy.  Our challenge is to enable that to be a fruitful division of time so that we all might flourish and that we might witness to God’s kingdom through living lives of balance, giving due attention to family and to recreation.  This is a task for us all as we consider how best our ministers (lay and ordained, full-time and part-time) might flourish.

Rt. Rev’d Babara Harris (the first woman to be consecrated bishop in the Anglican Communion) is a woman who, despite considerable opposition, has flourished in her ministry. In an interview given seven years ago talks about her part-time training for the church and subsequent ‘tent-making’. While she comments that she has been criticised for not attending full-time theological training, she talks about how she held on to her job and but yet sought out courses wherever she could find them to develop her learning.  Even after she was ordained she ran a business from home ‘I was doing what I was called to do so it was not difficult to give up the salary and the perks. I was doing what I felt I was put here to do.’  While still self-supporting, she had taken a step back in her paid work in order to fulfil her vocation: this seems to be reflected in the lives of so many of the self-supporting ministers I have had contact with.

I’ve also been listening to Professor Linda Woodhead, who is a sociologist of Religion at Lancaster University, talking about what has ‘gone wrong’ with the Church of England. She argues that the Church of England has become too clericalised – with clergy being extremely well-paid, and living in different circles to their parishioners. She suggests that we (the Church of England) should be empowering our laity and developing self-supporting ministers who grow in and with the parish.  We at CCL agree with her, and the Diocese of Carlisle has recognised that such ministry is important not just for strategic reasons but in order that we might minister well to God’s people, in order to recognise the ways in which God is calling his people forward.

‘What then is my reward? That in preaching the Gospel I may offer it free of charge, and so not use up my rights in preaching it.’

I Corinthians 9:18


Link to the interview with Barbara Harris: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6CG6C7MdF4g

Link to the interview with Linda Woodhead: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-jjdK9QCsLs


Rev’d Dr Allison Fenton

Vice-Principal, IME

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