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Hallo again to all.

The curate is a cultural trope in English-speaking Christianity, much like the curés and abbés of Francophonie, Italy's more recent Don Camillo, the padres of military fiction and cinema. Whether the punchline of anticlerical (or philoclerical) jokes, the defender of the downtrodden, the gentle-living mystic whose mud is as close as his boots, or a chronicler of local nature and history, the curate is a type defined and circumscribed by humility of station, stability of location, generally in the literature by overwork—and always a measure of underpay.

As chronicled amply by Anthony Trollope and A. Tindal Hart, depicted by Rowlandson and Hogarth, the curate does the brunt of the work in a parish for a fraction of the pay. In a squirearchy of which there are still echoes to be seen and heard in our parishes, an incumbent received the largesse of tithe-barns and ancient emoluments, but was required only to secure adequate services in a parish, rather than officiating at them himself. Non-resident priests collected churches, canonries, prebendaries, stalls, lectureships, studentships, and foxhounds.

The resulting system of 'pluralities' was an appropriate target for nineteenth-century reform movements: urging more direct engagement among the period's priests and people, more strenuous responsibilities for officeholders, and the gradual abolition of sinecures. The concomitant move toward a livable stipend for what were called the 'lower clergy' became its own mounting concern. A current corollary is the public conversation about disparities in clergy compensation with respect to gender, age, or national origin. The summer's General Convention in Texas sought to address matters of equity in clergy compensation, along with an ambitious raft of resolutions aimed at lasting cultural change within church life. Transatlantic comment examines the possibility of adopting an American scheme of stipendiary compensation in the Church of England. The secular news media have even picked up on the perennial woes of church finance.

Whatever one's opinion, the apostles' teaching and doctrine seems to be that hard work is to be rewarded by sustenance enabling that work. It is as ever helpful to have prior controversies to give us guidance as we muddle our way forward.

See you next week.

Our Signatures

Richard Mammana


All of us at Anglicans Online

5 August 2018

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