Collections win back jobs for life for priests: Bishop reinstates patronage terms

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The Independent Online
THE PRIESTS of Ely are to be given back their jobs for life because church-goers in the diocese have doubled their financial contributions in the last four years.

The diocese, in Cambridgeshire, was one of the first to feel the pinch in the Church of England's financial crisis, brought on by catastrophic property speculations by the church commissioners.

Fifteen priests appointed in the diocese during the last 18 months as priests-in-charge, who serve in a parish only at their bishop's pleasure, will be converted into incumbents, who can only be removed for gross misconduct.

The Bishop of Ely, the Rt Rev Stephen Sykes, had been attacked in a wide range of conservative papers for suspending patronage - the right to appoint priests to jobs for life - throughout his diocese. Traditionalists believe that the parson's freehold is one of the cornerstones of the Church of England, guaranteeing a range of opinions among the clergy.

Patronage also ensures that it is not bishops alone who choose the clergy. Many country livings are controlled by colleges in Oxford and Cambridge, or by landowners.

Dr Sykes claimed all along that the suspension was temporary, but necessary if the funds needed were to be raised. Parishioners would only pay for the Church's ministry, he said yesterday, if they felt they were being consulted about what needed to be done. By decentralising some decisions about where clergy should be deployed and how money should be raised, he had been able to release reserves of loyalty and imagination among ordinary churchgoers.

'One cannot under-estimate how little information ordinary Anglicans have about the financing of the Church of England,' Dr Sykes said yesterday. 'There needs to be a tremendous effort of explanation if money is to be raised; and you have to have a glass- pocket policy, where everyone knows what comes in and what goes out.'

It was this reasoning that led to the suspension of patronage. Until he was certain that the diocese was agreed on where priests were needed, he refused to appoint men who could not be moved. This policy was applied even to such notable churches as Great St Mary's, the University Church in Cambridge. Eight men are to be interviewed for a vacant post there on Monday.

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