"Any financial difficulties parishes or the diocese may have cannot be solved by under compensating our priests. We value them too highly."

There may be a few Anglicans left with the out-of-date notion that because being the priesthood is a vocation to which men and women are called and privileged to serve in, they really don't have to be paid very much money. After all, their reward is in heaven.

That notion doesn't pay the household bills or feed the kids. A more modern view, one which the great majority of parish wardens and treasurers applaud, is that clergy are professionals and should be properly compensated for the years of study they've put into qualifying, and the great responsibilities they hold. Doctors, lawyers, teachers, and other professionals are properly paid: so priests should be.

Priests are compensated differently however, for historic reasons. The actual cash that the diocese insists they get in their paycheque seems rather low for university graduates: $26,200 is the minimum for a beginning curate, $36,200 for after 15 or more years. A parish can provide more money, and about a third do, but what most priests get in cash is close to these figures.

This isn't all that priests get. There's a car allowance, which is pretty close to what it costs to run a car; a utilities allowance, which is what it costs for heat and light. But most important is the housing allowance, which under diocesan rules is what it actually costs to rent a three-bedroom home. (The federal government, for historical reasons-read, the prominence of the Roman Catholic Church in Quebec-has always let the housing allowance be tax free, within limits. This helps parishes a lot.)

For years, the compensation-pay plus the allowances-that parish clergy receive for their dedicated work was supposed to be under study, but little was done. Now Ian Robertson of St. David's, Delta, a man who does like to get things done, took the helm of a Working Group on Clergy Compensation, which has been working hard all this year. And a preliminary survey of what clergy actually get has produced a rather shocking fact: when it comes to the housing allowance, collectively, parishes seem to be seriously underpaying many of their priests.

Under diocesan rules, priests must live in or very close to their parishes. This was automatic when most parishes provided rectories -but only about a dozen provide rectories now. Many Anglican churches are in older, established areas of Metro Vancouver, which, as everyone knows, have seen the cost of housing escalate dramatically. That that housing allowances haven't kept up shouldn't be a surprise.

There is no easy solution to this problem. Coming up with several thousand dollars for their priest's housing allowance will not be easy. Many parishes, especially smaller ones, are finding it difficult to pay for a priest now. Full-time priests in some cases are being replaced with part-time ones. Part-time priests are replaced with supply priests, who can afford to do little more than conduct a Sunday service. But these are short term solutions.

But the money must be found-and that means we need, collectively, to put more in the plate. The diocese may have some money to help temporarily on a case by case basis. However, as the Working Group states, the parish must eventually come up with the money.

Any financial difficulties our parishes or the diocese may have cannot be solved by under compensating our priests. We value them too highly.