As many of you will know, I am a self-supporting minister or SSM in the Church of England. Some of you may be more familiar with the term NSM which is a non-stipendiary minister and exactly the same role! 2023 is a significant year for Self-Supporting Ministers in the Church of England. It marks the 60th anniversary of the first ordination of SSMs in Southwark Cathedral in 1963 of the first to complete the Southwark Ordination course.
In September I attended a seminar and Festival Eucharist at Southwark Cathedral to give thanks for 60 years of self-supporting ministry. It was an interesting and encouraging day.
The service book introduction starts:
‘Around three in ten licensed clergy in the Church of England are Self Supporting Ministers (SSM’s). They undertake the full range of clergy duties, including some leadership roles but do not receive a stipend or pension. Some SSMs give most of their time to parochial ministry after careers in other sectors. Around half sustain themselves in work outside the church, following in the tent making tradition of Paul and Barnabas. Many (including ministers in secular employment) consider the workplace to be their main focus of ministry’.
We first gathered in an upstairs room at Southwark Cathedral and were encouraged by a greeting read from Archbishop Justin. He said that he was grateful for the generous support of SSMs and our modelling of servant hearted leadership and that we were welcomed and valued by the church.
We then heard from John Lees who wrote the book ‘Self Supporting Ministry – a practical guide’ in 2018 and went on to form the National Network of Bishops Advisors on Self Supporting Ministry. The steering group of the National Network has undertaken ground breaking work with the Ministry Council on creating best practice guidance for SSMs.
Our seminar talk was from Bishop Eleanor Sanderson the Bishop of Hull since 2022, formerly Assistant Bishop of Wellington in New Zealand. She spoke deeply and beautifully about us being pilgrims together in the movement of God. About the importance of our stories and the stories of the beginning of faith in the country we are ministering in. She called us to a fresh missionary adventure that comes from the ground up as we are going through our lives, about taking responsibility, agency and empowerment in partnership with God. And the importance of prayer and changing the culture of the Church of England by not fitting the mould, but that this will be hard!
After the seminar we moved into Southwark Cathedral itself for our Festival Eucharist where we heard from Bishop Julie Conalty the Bishop of Birkenhead. She encouraged SSMs saying that we were not just an extra pair of hands, not lesser versions of stipendiary ministers and that we are simply distinctive. That our sacrifice is very real but has its rewards. She talked of the joy and privilege of ministry and of finding Jesus at work in liminal spaces. She thanked SSMs for all that we are and all that we bring, assuring us that our ministry is seen and valued.
So be encouraged if you are an SSM and if you think that you might be interested in this type of ordained ministry, please do talk to me.
Rev Lucy Hollingsworth