Dear siblings, are we a 'splendour for the Lord'?

I did a thing for my siblings in the Baptist Union of Great Britain and revealed it to them at the BUGB Council meeting in November 2018 posing the question 'are we a splendour for the Lord?'

It seems to have agitated a few conversations around the place but I thought in my usual spirit of transparency that I would share a summary of it here:

As a member of the Baptist Union (BU) Council I was asked to produce a piece of art work to sit within the room of the November 2018 BU Council meeting by the General Secretary. As a council member co opted, I am aware that I have power and privilege, that others do not have. Knowing that I would only be asked to produce some artwork for BU Council once I felt led to use my voice to raise up an area of inequality that I have often noticed amongst my colleagues.

It is in this, the 100th year, of Ordained Baptist Women, at the time when the gender pay gap continues to be debated nationally in the media, that this collaborative reflection on the shared life of ministers within the Baptist Union has taken root.

As Baptists we recognise that the nuances of stipends and housing packages, benefits and expenses are unique to each congregational setting. However, the trustees of the Baptists Union of Great Britain set out the standard, as below:

% Increase

Please note that the manse value relates only to the calculation of Pensionable Income for the Baptist Pension Scheme. It is not intended to be a guide to the level of housing allowance to be paid to a minister in lieu of provision of a manse, which should be agreed between a church and minister based on the housing market in their area. The manse value should also not be treated as taxable income or a taxable benefit.’

With this ‘bench mark’ in mind I have undertaken a survey of Baptist Ministers to identify if there is a gender pay gap amongst male and female ministers in the Baptist Union of Great Britain.

The findings for the 2018 gender pay gap in the Baptist Union of Great Britain are as below:

Male Respondents
Stipends for male respondents (56.34% of those who responded):
·       20% of male respondents receive a stipend under the recommended BU Stipend
o   of which 4.87% are part time
·       30% of male respondents receive a stipend that meets the recommended BU Stipend
·       50% of male respondents receive a stipend over recommended BU Stipend
o   17.5% of male respondents receive a stipend which is over £30,000

Housing provision for male respondents:  
·       70% of male respondents live in a manse provided for duties
·       20% of male respondents are provided with Housing Allowance
·       10% of male respondents are not provided with either a manse or Housing Allowance  

Female Respondents
Stipends for female respondents (43.66% of total respondents):
·       52% of female respondents receive a stipend under the recommended BU stipend
o   38.7% of which are part time
·       29% of female respondents receive a stipend that meets the recommended BU Stipend
·       19% of female respondents receive a stipend over the recommended BU Stipend
o   3% of female respondents receive a stipend which is over £30,000

Housing provision for female respondents:
·       61% of female respondents live in a manse provided for duties
·       16% of female respondents are provided with Housing Allowance

·       23% of female respondents are not provided with either a manse or Housing Allowance  

A Splendour for the Lord
Early on in preparing for this piece of work I was led to the scripture Isaiah 61:3, with a particular emphasis on the later part of the verse. Aware as ministers, as a denomination, people, both within and out side of our congregations, look to us as ambassadors of God.

As ‘Baptists Together’, we are united, interdependent with each other and as such my desire was always to display these results as a shared endeavour. When the results were collated, I asked, again from across the Baptist social media groups and pages, for creatives to join me in a collaborative piece to be displayed in the Baptist Union Council meeting of November 2018. Once people had contacted me with their expression of interest, they were sent the following brief:

‘I have undertaken a gender pay gap survey and am looking for people to complete a leaf based on a specific respondent’s details. The leaf can be in whichever medium you choose, presented in which ever style, colour, interpretation you choose but no bigger than your hand please. Then I would ask that the leaves be posted to me by 1st October, so I can collate them all together. The piece will sit in the middle of the 2 day meeting and then everyone in attendance will be given a leaf to take home.
This way: different people are represented; different artists are involved, and different people take a part home. A reminder that we are Baptists Together, interdependent on each other and grafted into the true vine and a vision of what it is to be a splendour for the Lord. If you feel you could help with this then please let me know and I will send you the anonymous details for your leaf. Grace and peace Gemma’

If people were able to commit to working to this then they were sent the details of one respondent. For example ‘#8 an accredited Baptist minister who is female with a full time stipend of £11,100 and an annual housing allowance of £3000. The respondent comments ‘I work full time hours but I am only receiving half a stipend as I am minister of a small church’.’

The individual leaves were received independently meaning that each artist was unaware of anyone else's art work or respondent’s details. They were not made aware of the findings of the full survey until the installation was unveiled.  

The tree was assembled in the gathering place for the Baptist Union Council meeting of 6th & 7th November 2018. It was a culmination of the leaves, presented together within a tree, for the first time. ‘A splendour for the Lord’ all interconnected, interdependent and yet all independent.
The piece is intentionally trinitarian in it’s approach; one ministers data, one artist from the wider BU family, with one council member for each leaf. All BU council members were encouraged to take a leaf home at the end of their two day meeting. A reminder that we continue to hold each other long after the meeting ends. The tree is indented to be viewed as a cross but intentionally has 13 branches, a branch for each of the associations within the.     

Only a few members of the BU Council were aware prior to the unveiling of the topic for the piece. This was intentional. The power of art is in the initial viewing and I didn’t want people to come with pre conceived ideas.

Upon first sight a few Council members were intrigued, some tried to work out the theme for the piece, looking at leaves which have more obvious data on. Others walked around it. It was placed flat on the floor in the middle of the two halves of the meeting space. The space had seats in rows at the front and then seats around tables for discussions at the back. This meant that every Council member had to continuously walk past the piece. ‘A splendour for the Lord’ was introduced to the Council members at the start of the two day meeting, after the sung worship.

Once the context for the piece had been revealed a few more Council members came and engaged with the piece. The Baptist House team were keen to talk about the findings, to look at the art work and to ponder how this might be taken further.

Over the two days though I was disappointed that many continuously stepped over the piece. Council members were reminded several times to take a leaf home as part of the continued sense of holding each other. However half the leaves were left behind once the meeting ended. When I drew attention to this on social media some replied  they were simply keen to get on the road and that it was not a snub to have not taken one.

As humans, when we are uncomfortable we tend to disconnect rather than engage with the discomfort, perhaps this is what was occurring. Or perhaps there is more of a culture of apathy which our independence as individual churches and ministers not financially supported from the centre supports and encourages. Or perhaps I am reading too much into this as this is an area of concern that directly affects and impacts me and my family therefore perhaps, I hold a conflict of interest. So many perhaps possibilities!      

For now I shall sit with the tree ... 

*Disclaimer* I was not paid to do this. It is not an in-depth look into the nuances, it is an attempt to reveal whether we have equality in the stipend practices for accredited Baptist Ministers in a snap shot. Yes I did approach the pension teams who have a fuller grasp of this information but I was not able to access it. If you would like to pick it up and do further work please do get in touch.