The news came through from the BBC, flashing on my phone that the presenter and Radio 2 DJ, Chris Evans, was positioned in the salary bracket of £2,200,000 – £2,249,999. I looked admiringly at my phone only to think, if only! But then came the realisation that Chris Evans, despite his charismatic, boyish charm, did not own his life. Perhaps a quick and hard judgment to make but therein lies some truth – celebrities are owned by the public that fund their fame. I would not like to be in the public spotlight and perform as they are required. Would you? If so, how much would it take?
In comparison to some superstars, Chris Evans is a bit of a pauper. In an age when footballers are contracted £150,000+ per week, I wonder if we might have lost a little perspective when it comes to the workers wages. My dad was fond of telling the story that he did not earn in a month (when he first entered employment) the cost of my first bicycle (a standard Raleigh racer). I remember us eating meat substitute in order for my mum to balance the books, no meals out, no foreign holidays. Yet I didn’t know what poverty was like. We survived comfortably. Our lack of wealth did not correspond with the real financial need that some people suffer, caught in a trap between dependency and hopelessness which forces the poor to remain poor.
Thinking in theological terms, the poverty trap can easily be transferred to things spiritual. One of my tests of a healthy society is the ability for people to find a freedom of religious expression and spiritual devotion. The Church can, of course, be the actual cause of a spiritual trap, preventing the community from reaching out beyond the expected norms of belief and behaviour. Christians can be ultra conservative and blinkered to the signs of the kingdom which are unsettling and counter-cultural. Today, society as a whole suffers religion, it does not celebrate it. Some high-level interventions need to take place if our mission is to liberate people from the spiritual trap.
I would like to think that a healthy, outward-looking, deeply- compassionate and wildly-creative local church could be the answer to this malaise. The Church does not pay a salary. Priests and church workers are paid a stipend. This is a sum of money which enables the worker to live, it covers expenses. The stipend is not payment for hours worked or targets achieved. The stipend affords the Church a band of brothers and sisters to cover the whole country with the sacramental task of the cure of souls. These stipendiary payments allow me to do that profoundly deep and treasured task, to be the ‘curer’ of all souls in this wonderful parish of Summertown. This is a privilege that £150,000 a week or £2,500,000 a year cannot buy. I live off a stipend, not a salary, and I am enormously grateful for it.
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