Socialism Reconsidered

I have always been struck by a major difference between the Church of England and the Episcopal Church in the United Sates: the way clergy are paid. In England, all clergy receive basically the same salary or “stipend;” there are minor increases over the base for bishops and for clergy in London.

This wage is not high–equalling around $40,000 a year. A clergy family of four would qualify for public assistance, though they do receive housing in most cases.

Despite the low stipends, I have heard many English clergy claim their system is morally superior to the American scheme, whereby clergy in affluent parishes can make much higher salaries than those in poor areas. But a recent book by Dean Martyn Percy of Christ Church Cathedral, Oxford claims that the Church of England would be rejuvenated by the American system, which would reward initiative and encourage church growth.

This is not to deny the moral value of the egalitarian formula. But, practically speaking, giving all clergy a substandard wage buys equality without fairness–and it does little to recruit new young clergy, which the Church of England desperately needs. At a time of increasingly left-of-center politics in the Episcopal Church hierarchy, the “capitalist” proposal by the very prominent liberal, Dean Percy is intriguing. —J. Douglas Ousley

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