Finance: ministerial

John Wesley was at first against any formal provision for his itinerant preachers; indeed, he enjoined them to accept only food and shelter. As Methodism developed, however, this proved impractical and a system of carefully calculated allowances was instituted, covering only basic necessities (e.g. £12 p.a. in 1752). In 1769 an allowance of £10 p.a. was added for a preacher's wife. The Ministers' Children's Fund was not established until 1819, although as early as 1748 there was a yearly public collection for Kingswood School. Direct contributions gave way to support from the General Assessment and later by the Mission and Service Fund. The fund made small grants in respect of each minister's child and contributed to various Methodist schools, including Kingswood, so that ministers could send their children to a denominational boarding school. Eventually the grants to each child were phased out, with a compensating increase in stipend. Under the latest restructuring, support of Methodist schools has been drastically curtailed; educational grants now fall directly on the Methodist Church Fund and the Ministers' Children's Fund has been abolished.

The term 'stipend', in place of 'allowance', is quite recent, many ministers objecting to the term because it suggested payment for the Lord's work; but the word has now become fashionable and officially recognized: ministers are no longer paid solely on the basis of the cost of necessities, but with careful regard to what is paid by other denominations and comparable professions. Note is taken annually of movements in the Index of Retail Prices and various earnings indices. The minimum stipend is mandatory on all circuits and is now paid centrally. In the past each Methodist denomination had a Sustentation Fund which enabled poorer circuits to be supported by those able to raise more money, in order than a minimum stipend could be paid to the ministers. In the 1970s this function was taken over by the Home Mission Fund, to enable grant-making to circuits to be streamlined.

Between 2015 and 2018 reports were brought to the Conference on a major review, including the theological reflections about the basis upon which stipends are paid, and in particular allowances abve the minimum stipend, and a range of recommendations was adopted, but the basic principles remained unchanged.

Almost from the outset there have been arrangements for financing ministerial travelling. In earlier days many circuits had a Horse Hire Fund or owned a preachers' horse. Soon after World War II, a Rural Travel Fund was set up to contribute to the cost of car travel in rural areas. As motor transport advanced, an Urban Travel Fund was also established. The two funds were eventually merged and concentrated on making provision for car depreciation. This was assessed as a cost to the circuits and was invested, to be repaid with interest when a minister was obliged to change his car. As tax regulations relating to benefits in kind became more stringent, ministerial stipends were increased and the fund abolished. Mileage allowances were a circuit responsibility.

From early in the twentieth century the Invalid Ministers' Rest Fund, supported by benefactions and legacies, provided properties, with funds for their maintenance, to be used by sick ministers for recuperation. In the 1980s the properties were sold and the proceeds added to invested capital, so that enhanced grants could be paid to sick ministers. The Contingency Fund was started after Divisional restructuring in 1973 to make grants to Circuits when a minister was sick for more than six months and when other difficult ministerial situations arose. Such grants are now made direct from the Methodist Church Fund.

Provision for Supernumeraries was, for many years, on an ad hoc basis, often relying on local generosity. Ministers were often obliged to continue in the active work well into their 70s. A Preachers' Fund was established in 1763, but without John Wesley's initial approval, as such funding for old age seemed at odds with an entire reliance on God and was considered too worldly. Two years later somewhat reluctant provision was made, with benefits quoted at £10 p.a. In 1805 it was renamed the Preachers' Merciful Fund and later became the Worn Out Ministers' Fund. Each of the uniting Churches in 1932 had its own Annuitant Society, but the provision made by these bodies was comparatively small. The 1946 Conference set up the Ministers' Retirement Fund to provide a more reasonable, but still small, pension for all retired and active ministers. Circuits bore contribution rates much greater than normal liabilities to ensure that the Fund eventually reached an actuarially sound position. Pensions are still based on cash stipends and do not include the value of the manse provided, although this is offset by the properties available through the Housing Society. An Auxiliary Fund, successor to the Preachers' Fund and at one time an adjunct to the Ministers' Retirement Fund, was set up to make grants to impecunious Supernumeraries, their spouses, widows or widowers to supplement pensions. This is now known as the Fund for the Support of Presbyters and Deacons.

The Methodist Ministers' Housing Association (now Society) was formed in 1948.

  • W.A. Sturdy, Methodist Finance Past, Present and Future (1932)
  • Clive Murray Norris, The Financing of John Wesley's Methodism, c.1740-1800 (2017)
  • Conference Agendas 2017, pp.101-128 and380; 2018 pp.117-127