A young priest in an ageing Church

by
02 November 2006

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Sir, - Thank you to the Revd Dr Neil Burgess for raising an issue that the Church is afraid to speak about ( Features, 18 March).

As one of the diminishing six per cent (aged 25, ordained last Petertide), I can identify with the "unnatural" sense of being surrounded by one's elders. It is not only true that I am invariably the youngest person present at any of our seven PCCs, or other meetings, but also that the next-youngest person is often my training incumbent, at 44.

Having been also much the youngest of the nine ordained at Hereford last summer, I sometimes feel rather like a washed-up relic of the 1950s. Yet, if I remember rightly, a majority of parishes surveyed would like an incumbent under 30. I am the only person in this diocese who might be able to be that.

None of this is to belittle the wonderful support and encouragement I have enjoyed from the parishes, or to suggest that older ordinands exercise any less effective a ministry than my efforts. My feeling is simply that we are trumpeting so keenly the many older ordinands coming forward, and also the growth in lay ministries, that we are failing to ask where the young clergy might come from in the future, if they are needed.

My vocation was nurtured in the conveniently but accidentally clerical world of Oxford - not all young people called to serve God are so fortunate. I was also fortunate to attend a theological college where young and old lived a suitably uproarious life, and to enjoy it immensely. I suspect a careful survey of university chaplaincy would reveal a steady decline in the number of chaplains working in the sector, with, after all, little financial support from the wider Church for their work.

I ask only that the Church start to ask God who, if anyone, he wants to be ordained, and work out how it is going to call them, rather than trusting so much to the late-medieval invention of the "inner vocation".
NEIL PATTERSON
The Glebe House
New Road Gardens
Cleobury Mortimer DY14 8AW

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