Right of Reply: The Rev Mike Starkey

A Church of England vicar replies to complaints that parish priests live in poverty
IT'S TRUE that life as a minister is not like life in a Jane Austen novel, but that is entirely to the good. The Church of England in the 18th century was an absolute nightmare, the worst conditions for a vicar imaginable. Far worse than poverty is to be showered in prestige and wealth, because that massively increases the likelihood of wrong motivations and complacency.

The more impoverished conditions are not as bad as people say but, in so far as they exist, they are probably the necessary part of having a ministry of people who are in it for the right reasons. It's got to be something you do out of passion and conviction, and you accept the absence of avocado at the dinner table as part of that process.

My background is in radio news journalism, and one of the reasons I left was the frustration of always feeling like an outsider, very parasitic of other people's pains and joys. Now, I'm right in the thick of it, offering advice, offering consolations, with the freedom to speak every week on subjects which I feel are thoroughly important.

A number of people have been converted to the Christian faith largely through the fact that I'm here in this particular parish, and that's just not something you can put a price on. To see substantial change and movement in the lives of people I'm working with, and sharing life's most profound moments with them, is, to me, far more rewarding than zeros on a pay slip.

On paper my stipend is pounds 14,000, which sounds a bit paltry, but when you add a four-bedroom house in central London, which is maintained virtually free of charge, that's really quite a perk. Also, my wife works - as do the majority of clergy's wives these days - which I think is entirely positive.