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Tuesday, 14 November, 2000, 13:25 GMT
Who wants to be a vicar?

Vicars are seeking a 50% pay increase for the first time in the Church of England's 400-year history. But what does the job entail?

A trade union which represents 1,500 clergy in England and Wales says the average allowance of 16,400 is not a living wage.

In response to the Church of England's current pay review, the union wants the income of parish priests to match those of priests who work in cathedrals.

How do the clergy earn their money in an increasingly secular age? And what are the fringe benefits?

Duties

Being a vicar is more than just a Sunday job.

Each day typically starts and finishes with personal prayers.

Vicar of Dibley
Meetings, meetings and more meetings
Sundays are taken up with services at 8am, 10 or 11am, and 6.30pm - and some vicars tend to more than one parish.

Between services, the vicar may visit housebound parishioners.

As well as spreading the word of God and tending to parishioners' spiritual needs, vicars also carry out a number of secular tasks.

They are expected to keep parish accounts, chair meetings and run fundraising campaigns.

They may also sit on the board of governors of a church-run school, or head a community project for the homeless or the elderly.

As the Church of England is keen to turn around falling attendance figures, the vicar often leads a team of lay volunteers charged with taking the word to the streets - modern-day missionary work.

Pay

Pay scale
Curates: 14,680-15,820
Parish clergy: 16,420
Cathedral-based canons: 20,200
Junior bishops: 24,790
Diocesan bishops: 30,120
Archbishop of Canterbury: 55,660
The basic stipend for a parish priest is about 16,000 - less than the average salary in the UK, but more than double the minimum wage.

Although vicars collect fees for conducting weddings and funerals, these go to the diocese to fund stipends.

Fees range from about 66 for a service in a crematorium to 120 for a graveside burial, up to about 140 for a wedding, according to the Manufacturing, Science and Finance Union's clergy section.

Conditions

Involves weekend and evening work.

Vicars are entitled to up to six Sundays off a year, a week of rest following the Easter and Christmas rushes, and four weeks paid holiday a year.

Benefits

The overall package considerably sweetens the salary on offer.

Vicars are put up in rectories, which are often "very beautiful but too large" houses near the church, says Reverend Dr Graham Blyth, the union spokesman.

church
Sundays may be taken up with up to five services
However, this means many join the housing market for the first time when they retire.

The Church of England pensions committee runs a scheme to help retired priests part-purchase properties.

This usually involves a move to another part of the country - in part due to the availability of properties, in part because vicars are encouraged to retire outside the community in which they ministered.

The parish is also expected to reimburse in full the costs of office, such as transport, administration costs and telephone bills.

Vicars in low-income parishes may contribute to these costs from their own pocket.

Rewards

Money is one thing, but it is unlikely to be the motivation behind many vicars' decisions to become men or women of the cloth.

The main reward lies elsewhere.

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See also:

14 Nov 00 | UK
Clergy appeal for pay rise
19 Mar 00 | Health
Chaplains reject pay offer
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