Some people reading this article may have come to it because they have been abused by a member of the clergy. And if you have been affected by such abuse, then I am sorry—there is no excuse for the abuse of anyone. I also recognise that covering up such abuse can make the situation worse than the abuse itself. However this article is not about the abuse by clergy. On the contrary, it is about how the clergy themselves are abused, and in a variety of ways.
Now I was ordained in 1983, and since then I have been physically threatened, verbally abused, confronted with women in various states of undress, stalked, etc. etc. But having said that, these are not the only kinds of abuse with which clergy are required to deal. Indeed, there are other forms of abuse which are far more common.
For instance, clergy housing has long been an issue. And some of the places I have been required to live in have been very sub-standard. Most have not been practical or even designed for what for what they needed to be used. And most have suffered from being poorly maintained and having insufficient heating. Indeed, even whilst some congregations have openly boasted about the wonderful state of their churches, the housing for their clergy may not have always been something about which they would have been willing to boast. And I have faced windows that won’t close, light switches hanging off the wall, etc. etc. Furthermore, anything “new” e.g. new curtains, has often meant someone else’s worn-out cast offs—but still considered “new” to the rectory.
Indeed, in my experience, it has not been unusual for members of a congregation to openly state that they would never live in such a place themselves. But that they felt that the clergy should feel privileged to be provided with such accommodation.
And in regards to payments … I am aware that many clergy have not always been paid their full entitlement, or on time. And that has been for a variety of reasons, including because there wasn’t any money, or the treasurer had other things to do. As a consequence, I am probably not alone in not receiving my stipend on the pay day before Christmas—leaving me wondering what I was possibly going to do.
Clergy abuse, then, is very real. And in one sense, the decision to retire was made so much easier because of it. Unfortunately, the abuse of clergy does not just relate to full-time active clergy, it relates to retired clergy too. Because even those retired ministers who like to help out, and make themselves available, are mistreated too. Indeed, even in churches where a minimum payment scale has been set, it is not unusual for preparation or travelling time to be ignored. I have faced many instances where people have not wanted to pay my full travelling costs, even though they were well of the distances that I needed to travel, when I was appointed for the particular task.
Now I have never sought to make a fortune in being a clergyman. On the contrary all I have wanted to do is to share the gospel of Jesus Christ. Having said that, I do believe that the people need to be responsible for the clergy that they employ. Unfortunately my hopes that people would do the right thing, in the various churches and denominations in which I have ministered, have usually been dashed. And if that is my experience, then I wonder how many times my story could be repeated across the churches and across the different denominations.
How people treat their clergy is a good measure of the health of the church. And I’m sad to say I think it is a telling indictment on the state of the church in Australia today.
Now if you’re reading this, you may be thinking that being a minister is not an easy job. And you would be quite right. Because there are many obstacles placed in a minister’s way from doing their job. Any minister worth their salt has gone into ministry because they want to share Jesus Christ, and the message of salvation to the world. But with the abuse and the subsequent fall out, that so often gets lost in the process.
Indeed some kind of abuse is often seen as fair game. Some people want to pay as little as possible, and they certainly don’t want to spend money on a house they wouldn’t live in themselves. The end result, of course, is that many clergy give up—anything for a quiet life. And so the message of the gospel gets lost, and the church continues on its downward spiral.
Abuse is a terrible thing. And yet the abuse of the clergy is probably far more widespread than many would imagine.
So what is the solution? Well, as a church we need to have a change of heart. We need to learn to care for our ministers. So if members of the congregation would not live in a house provided for the minister, then isn’t the solution that more appropriate accommodation should be found? And if members of the congregation object to being short-changed and cheated themselves, then surely they should make sure that their minister is not short-change or cheated either.
Now not every decision that a minister makes will be welcomed by all; some may not suit everyone personally. And that is particularly so in a multi-centred parish, where the interests of one church conflict with the needs of the other churches within the parish. As a consequence it is not unusual for powerful individuals to hold sway, and on occasion formal complaints about a minister lodged. However, there is no excuse for that kind of un-Christian behaviour. And there is no excuse for treating any member of the clergy as dirt.
Indeed, the clergy need to be cared for and treated with respect—not least of all so they can do their job. They need to be treated in accordance with the demands of the Gospel.
There is no excuse, then, for the abuse of clergy within the church. And yet it so frequently occurs. In one sense it is an indication of how fallen we have become. But, in the context of the church’s response to other kinds of abuse, it is also an indication of how far the church has yet to go.
Posted: 9th February 2017
© 2017, Brian A Curtis