On Saturday 9 September a special service and seminar event to celebrate 60 years of Self- Supporting Ministry will be held at Southwark Cathedral.

Revd Mark W Smith, Assistant Priest, St Michael the Archangel, East Wickham and Bishop’s Adviser on Self-Supporting Ministry, Southwark Diocese writes:

Did you know that about three in ten licensed clergy in the Church of England are Self-Supporting Ministers (SSMs) undertaking all aspects of clergy duties, (including leadership roles), but we do not receive a stipend or pension for this vocation?

Some of us give most of our time to parochial ministry after careers in other sectors. Around half of us sustain ourselves in work outside the church, following in the “tentmaking” tradition of Paul and Barnabas. Many (including Ministers in Secular Employment) consider the workplace to be their main focus of ministry.

I am of the “tentmaker” tradition. At my ordination I had the option to become a stipendiary curate, but chose to support my ministerial role by continuing in my other vocation in life as a lawyer – using my time and talents as a public sector lawyer earning a living in support of my ministry as a priest at work, as well as in the parish.

That was almost 19 years ago, and to be frank I wasn’t sure how sustainable it would be in the long run. But I am still labouring on in both of my vocations and what fulfilling work that is! It is not an easy path to tread. There are limits if both  vocations are to flourish and a healthy personal life is to be maintained. You need good diary skills and it helps to have the flexibility to make space occasionally in “paid” work time – what I call “juggling” diaries and duties – for things like an occasional parochial funeral etc. For the most part for me this is “quid pro quo” as my paid work often strays well outside its “contractual” bounds.

What I have found is that ministry can just “happen” in the office, by it just being known that I am a Priest. Yes, I do wear my dog-collar at work when I have parochial or other duties that day, or when it otherwise seems appropriate. I make no secret of the fact that I am ordained (“Revd” appears on my signature block and business cards and I am perhaps lucky for this to be able to happen), but for most of my work colleagues I am the only  Priest they know.  The questions I am asked, the conversations I get involved in, the “occasional ministry” (as I call it) I can help provide, only happen because I am there, a Priest who works in the secular employment that sustains a ministry in a parish as well. And yes, those skills of listening and being there at difficult times in people’s lives, learned through being involved in parochial ministry as so useful at work too. I am, as I mentioned at the beginning, in good company!

Did you know that 2023 represents a significant year for SSMs in the Church of England and particularly for our Diocese? In 1963 (60 years ago) ordinations took place in our Cathedral of those who were the first to complete the ground-breaking Southwark Ordination Course established by Bishop Mervyn Stockwood. The Course was designed to allow Ordinands to study for ordination without having to do so at a full-time residential college. Instead, they were to able to study without having to leave their secular lives of work, place and context behind.

At 3pm on Saturday 9 September a service, hosted by the National Network of SSM Officers and Advisers, with the support of the National Ministry Team, is being held, to celebrate the contribution of SSMs in the life and work of the Anglican Church in many parts of the world. In my view this Diocese ought to be justly proud of the role is has played historically in this legacy and I live in the hope of the role it is yet to play, with all the challenges the future holds.

About Mark:

Revd Mark W Smith is the Assistant Priest at St Michael the Archangel, East Wickham. He is a Deputy Director in the Government Legal Department leading the legal team advising on Corporate and Insolvency law in the Department for Business and Trade. He also advises on the law of Easter! He is currently the Bishop’s adviser on SSM ministry in the Diocese and is always happy to talk to anyone interested in Self-Supporting Ministry.

More details about this event can be found here.