Archdeacon Adam Halkett and his wife Theresa visited Church House Sept.13 for a meeting on non-stipendiary ministry.

Church focuses on unpaid ministers

Archdeacon Adam Halkett has a broad smile and a firm handshake. The 54-year-old Cree man from Montreal Lake, Sask. works just like other Anglican ministers: he preaches the Word, presides at weddings and funerals, and takes emergency calls in the middle of the night.

Archdeacon Adam Halkett and his wife Theresa visited Church House Sept.13 for a meeting on non-stipendiary ministry.
Archdeacon Adam Halkett and his wife Theresa visited Church House Sept.13 for a meeting on non-stipendiary ministry.

Yet Archdeacon Halkett does not get paid.

“I love my ministry,” he said in a recent conversation. “I know I could leave, but, I don’t know what would happen.” He shrugged and laughed.

His wife Theresa, an addictions counselor, shared more of the challenges. Archdeacon Halkett works in an area with a high rate of suicide and incarceration. He is responsible for regular visits to 13 communities. Only some of these communities can help cover travel costs.

His situation is not unique. Archdeacon Halkett is one of dozens ofCanadian Anglican ministers—mainly Aboriginal—who do not earn a living wage for their work. He was in Toronto Sept. 13 for a meeting on the issue that the church calls “non-stipendiary ministry.”

The problem belongs to the whole church
The problem of non-stipendiary ministry was brought to light at the first national Native Convocation in 1988. Since then, the Anglican Council of Indigenous Peoples and the Council of the North (Canada’s 10 northern dioceses) have kept the issue in the foreground.

Clergy stipends are usually determined on a diocesan scale but some poorer dioceses lack the funds to pay a full living wage to all ministers. These “non-stipendiary” ministers might work in another job part time, or rely on a spouse’s income.

In 2002, a House of Bishops task force on non-stipendiary ministry reported some sobering facts: the majority of non-stipendiary ministers are Aboriginal; most non-Aboriginal clergy are seminary trained while most Aboriginal clergy are not. In fact, there are no common educational standards for non-stipendiary ministers.

In May 2010, national Indigenous Ministries staff convened a diverse group of stakeholders to work on the complex issue. The Sept. 13 Church House meeting was the second such meeting.

In attendance were the Halketts; Archbishop David Ashdown of Keewatin/Rupert’s Land; Archbishop Colin Johnson of Toronto/Ontario; Bishop Lydia Mamakwa, Area Bishop for northern Ontario; National Indigenous Anglican Bishop Mark MacDonald; Donna Bomberry, Indigenous Ministries coordinator; Teresa Mandricks, Indigneous Ministries program associate;  Judy Robinson, executive director of Pensions; Bob Falby, General Synod prolocutor; the Ven. Harry Huskins, General Synod deputy prolocutor; Suzanne Lawson, consultant, Philanthropy; the Ven. John Robertson, senior management officer, Philanthropy; and Paul Clur, research consultant, Philanthropy.

The group did a Gospel-Based Discipleship Bible study before delving into tough questions, like, “How can the principle of self-determination help us solve this problem?” and “How can we get accurate statistics on non-stipendiary ministers?”

“This is a problem that the whole church shares,” said National Indigenous Anglican Bishop Mark MacDonald, who chaired the meeting. He said the church shares not only the moral responsibility of addressing this injustice but also in reconsidering the mission practices that have fostered it. He noted, as an example, that Anglican churches have historically been expensive to build and maintain.

“We have become a church the poor can no longer afford,” said Bishop MacDonald. “Why is it that such a thing as Christian community needs so much of a physical structure and a financial structure to make it happen? That doesn’t seem right. Indeed, if the early Christians had needed what we need in order to be a church, Christianity would’ve been roadkill.”

Many ministers live out of God’s abundance
While meetings roll along at Church House, these non-stipendiary ministers are busy serving among the marginalized. This is the flip side of the issue: many of these ministries are vibrant and growing because they have sprung from real need.

Archdeacon Halkett spends much of his time giving the sacraments to Aboriginal communities that hold them sacred. Many families in his area choose to have their children baptized and he takes great joy in performing this service.

For him, receiving a stipend would mean that this ministry is expanded. “It would mean more presence in the communities, more visibility to the First Nations communities where I could serve and minister to youth, adults and elders,” he said.

Bishop MacDonald said that some Inuit non-stipendiary ministers call themselves an Inuktitut word that means “abundance.”

“They see themselves as surviving on God’s storehouse and goodness,” said Bishop MacDonald. “I think that a lot of non-stipendiary clergy work in that way. They don’t complain. They don’t get angry. They’re amazing.  I think that they rely upon God’s storehouse much more than most of us in the church do.”

The next meeting to address non-stipendiary ministry is planned for November 2010.

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