logo

News, Views and Ideas


‘Beyond Boundaries’

Exploring the world of Self-Supporting Ministry
A Summary ofThe Self-Supporting Ministry Diocesan Advisers’ Conference
Wednesday 27 February 2019 at Merton College, Oxford

We shall not cease from exploration
And the end of all our exploring
Will be to arrive where we started
And know the place for the first time.

T. S. Eliot, ‘Little Gidding’ (Four Quartets)

Self Supporting Ministry

“It can be misleading that we define those who undertake Self-Supporting Ministry in financial terms. In truth, their gifts and identity represent a far greater contribution than the title suggests, one for which we are hugely grateful. As priests and deacons, those who don’t spend all their time in the Church bring with them experience of the world and have invaluable insights into making practical theology work. Standing in the place between the Church and culture they are in a place of spiritual encounter – a gift to the world and to the Church.”

“We need to ensure that those who are called to Self-Supporting Ministry are enabled to fulfil their calling, whether as associate priests, incumbents, within archidiaconal ministry - even episcopal calling! The Church doesn’t always understand their experience and gifts they bring. SSMs need to be translators and we need to ensure they are given the tools to understand their boundaries, their rhythm of life, and to develop working agreements.”

The Rt. Revd. and Rt. Hon. Dame Sarah Mullally DBE

A Brief Summary of the Conference

The 2019 Conference was entitled ‘Beyond Boundaries; Exploring the World of Self Supporting Ministry’.

This conference was intended to provide opportunity and enable SSMs to think and step ‘Beyond Boundaries’. The title recognises that boundaries pervade our lives and tend to shape and structure the working life of a priest. They are given by history, culture and experience; and are reinforced by the institutions and authority. SSMs frequently work at the edge, often across boundaries and frequently blurring the edges.

Each diocese was invited to offer the opportunity for attendance to interested parties. The encouragement given was that these should be the SSM Adviser, a member of the Ministry Development Team and/or an interested and an active SSM. Of the forty two dioceses thirty were represented. 

The key note speech was provided by the Rt. Revd. & Rt. Hon. Dame Sarah Mullally, DBE, Bishop of London.

Notes of Bishop Sarah Mullally’s keynote speech

  • Paul wrote ‘You know for yourselves that I worked with my own hands to support myself and my companions’; he stayed in Corinth with Priscilla and Aquila (who like Paul was a tentmaker) and praised the ministry of Phoebe (Acts 28.2; 20.34; Romans 16.1-2). None of them saw themselves as SSMs, and it is unfortunate that our Church defines its ministers by whether they are paid or not
  • The Church of England is very grateful for the ministry of its SSMs, and many dioceses increasingly depend on them; it is further unfortunate that women are over-represented as SSMs and under-represented as incumbents or in senior positions in the Church
  • We need to understand what God is calling us to in terms of mission and ministry, work out the best way of taking that forward, and change some of our sloppy boundaries.

The Place of SSMs & MSEs

  • they bring specific skills and expertise that can help the Church, but the potential to contribute in transformational and pastoral terms is untapped
  • the secular world has recognised that people who come to their work with other interests offer something extra that enables other people with similar interests to relate
  • SSMs are bridge-builders, and can be translators or communicators that allow the Church to better reflect the world and become more rooted in it
  • Christopher Moody (in Chaplaincy: The Church’s Sector Ministries) envisages health-care chaplaincy as being in-between, or on-the-edge, and uses the island of Patmos as an image – at the top of the mountain is the monastery, at the bottom are the tourists, and in the middle is a cave where John wrote his revelations, an in-between place of transformation and encounter. SSMs should be encouraged to occupy places in the middle, or on the edge, as visionaries, for that is where Jesus is to be encountered; we struggle to see God in our world, but SSMs help us to do so
  • We now live among two generations who have not been brought up going to church – it is important for SSMs to speak to the world in the language of the world and to engage with the contemporary culture, for they best understand what it means to be a Christian, a leader and a manager. There are challenges because the Church does not understand what gifts SSMs bring
  • The Church sees an SSM as someone who has slightly not got what it takes to be a stipendiary – they are not quite so well educated, and a bit older – and it needs to recognise and encourage the myriad of the very different vocations to follow Christ, and to change the vocabulary of vocation
  • In terms of training, there needs to be a mixture of non-residential and residential courses and for the teaching to be looked at carefully, so that it not only theologically equips students for the sacramental and pastoral aspects of ministry, but it also trains them to handle the secular – curacies and training should be creatively and sensitively tailored to the call of individual
  • Currently there is not a language for what it means to be called to be, and to do as, an MSE, and the individual is left to work it out. The Working Agreement should not just focus on church work but on work life, that is, a life that incorporates a balance with Sabbath rest and addresses the question of who God is asking the individual to be, because time will prevent the individual from being as effective as he or she would want in all areas
  • Some in the Church have to accept that many SSMs do not feel valued, not least when the training offered could with some imagination be provided when individuals can more easily attend. A broader understanding is required of ministry, and the value to God of the strength and rootedness of SSMs who give their time to the Church
  • The Church will always depend on its tentmakers – it must learn how to use them.

Additionally there were five well known and respected ‘stream leaders’ who led parallel

break-out sessions:

Revd Dr David Heywood - Deputy Director of Mission (Ministerial Formation), Oxford, and author of Reimagining Ministry

Revd Hugh Valentine - Worker Priest, St James Piccadilly and founder of the website ‘With In Tent’

Revd John Lees - Career Strategist, SSM and author of SSM – A Practical Guide

Revd Dr Jenny Gage - SSM Adviser Ely, and author of Twenty-first Century Minister: The Priest in Secular Work (forthcoming)

Revd Canon Dr Emma Percy - Chaplain, Trinity College Oxford, and author of What Clergy Do: Especially when it looks like nothing.

A full report can be obtained from Anne Lanyon-Hogg (ssmnewhereford@gmail.com)


Self-Supporting Ministry - What Next?

Final Words and Next Steps

During the 2019 SSM National Conference participants had the opportunity to identify items of consequence and to make suggestions, from their reflections on and of the day, as to what might be carried forward. The following were the ‘top nine groupings’ of recommendations:

  • Senior Representation
    • Identify bishop for SSM episcopal oversight who has SSM knowledge, experience and interest and who has benefited from secular employment.
    • Appoint a ‘National SSM Advisor’ to mobilise and engage at diocesan levels and represent at national level.
    • Ensure that each diocese has an SSM Adviser appointed and active – with a place on the Ministry Development Team or Bishop’s Staff.
  • Increased Visibility

Fundamental foundation block is that of One Ministry – One Priesthood. All lived-out priestly ministries are of equal importance and part of God’s plan. However, at the moment there is a call for greater visibility and understanding of SSM and MSE ministry. This needs to be managed in a way that benefits all and further enable the Church. It may be uncomfortable but it must not divide.

  • Common Language

With increased visibility will come the shaping of a common language within the church. A language that does not belong to and support the legacy cultures of stipendiary and parochial ministry, but refreshes understanding and is in keeping with ‘Renewal and Reform’.

  • Create a National Network or forum

The purpose is to claim and proclaim the ministry broadly defined as SSM. This is not intended to be a pressure group focused on the National Church or upon individual Dioceses. It would be an informed group to enhance the development of coherent strategy; share knowledge, and good practice; engage with regional SSM Adviser groups; and provide a vehicle to support change and encourage energy.

  • Share Good Practice

Examples of good and bad practice exist across dioceses – more of the latter than the former. Typical examples include the approaches to Work Agreements; Ministry Development Review; fees, expenses and gifts; SSM checklists (what to do in vacancy or with seriously ill incumbent); Continuing Ministerial Development for SSMs.

  • SSM Research

Nearly one quarter of dioceses have made use of the ‘open access’ research instrument (or SSM Questionnaire) that explores SSM attitudes and behaviours. Support is provided to ensure that each diocese has the instrument tailored to need and brand. Support is also provided to understand and analyse the data gathered and how to use this to inform strategy and actions. Dioceses that engage are also able to use the data gathered from across those who have completed for comparison and to stimulate thinking.

  • Shaping Diocesan Strategy

Some dioceses are developing strategic responses in response to the pressures of increasingly limited resource (people and finance); to changes in patterns of church attendance; and to alternative approaches to mission. Within this the role of SSMs may be thought of as part of the solution. However, to enable this to be effective, change is required to the way that the Church thinks about and engages with SSMs. Much of the above activity is the process of enabling this to happen.

  • Strategic Fund Bid

Strategic Development Funding supports major change projects which tend to be aimed at a diocesan level to make a difference in mission and financial strength. A major opportunity here could be a bid relating to MSE and the impact they will have in both mission and finance. Such a bid could be proposed at diocesan level or through two or more dioceses making a co-ordinated proposal.

Western Region SSM Advisers Group Meeting in September

It is clear that support for and representation of SSMs varies considerably across dioceses, even though all those attending held an office in their diocese. Much debate and brainstorming took place on the way in which SSMs can best serve the Kingdom and their diocese, with the very diverse gifts, experiences and contacts which they bring to the Church. There continues to be considerable concern about national and local policy regarding MSEs. The evidence is that this body is not thought of strategically, and there are not enough candidates coming forward. There is encouraging support for a second SSM Conference (see below). Various topics for discussion were suggested, including: Pathway IME Phase 1 & 2 to have a different form; exploration of opportunities for a strategic use and deployment of SSMs; formulation of a theology for MSEs; and the creation of a national network of SSM Advisers.



SSM Advisers National Conference

The Conference organised by the Western Region SSM Advicers group (that’s us, folks!) took place last year at Shallowford,. Although there was not a huge attendance, a great deal of interest has been subsequently expressed across all dioceses. A second Conference is being planned for early in 2019. We hope this will be a one-day event in Oxford and that other SSMs as well as Advisers will want to attend. More details will be available after the next meeting early in December.



SSM A practical guide

What’s SSM All About Anyway?

John Lees, who is SSM Adviser for Exeter Diocese, has published Self-Supporting Ministry: A Practical Guide (SPCK, 2018). If you've already got a copy, don't forget to loan it out to spread the word!