Church ‘should foster young vocations’

by
10 January 2007

by Bill Bowder

Fostering vocations: an image from a New Wine Ordinands' conference in London, last week

Fostering vocations: an image from a New Wine Ordinands' conference in London, last week

YOUNG PEOPLE have told the Church that it must do more to encourage vocations to full-time ministry among those under the age of 30.

In a survey, young people who are due to attend a one-day conference tomorrow on vocations at Sidney Sussex College, Cambridge, told researchers that young ordinands offered the Church a much longer period to develop ministerial experience. Younger clerics were also better able to communicate with people of their own generation, they said.

The research was conducted by the Revd Professor Jeff Astley, Director of the North of England Institute for Christian Education in Durham, and the Revd Professor Leslie Francis, from the University of Wales, Bangor. It was based on answers by 20 would-be clerics.

The conference, hosted by the diocese of Ely, will also include people under 30 who have already been ordained. It received a £1500 grant from the Church’s Ministry Division, as part of a drive to reverse the trend towards older ordinands.

Professor Astley said on Wednesday that the responses showed that young clerics were seen as “more able to appreciate their particular moral and lifestyle concerns — many of which were perceived as being very different from those of older people”.

“Clergy and family were two groups that were mentioned as both encouraging and discouraging vocation to ministry, although, in both cases, more respondents placed them in the former category than in the latter,” he said.

“Internships”, in which would-be clerics tried out ministry, “were felt to be worth encouraging.” But, “some respondents pointed out how discouraging was the advice sometimes given by selectors that a young candidate should go away for a while to ‘gain more experience of life’.”

One of those due to attend the conference was Gemma Burnet-Chetwynd from Belfast, a 22-year-old Cambridge graduate in theology. She was confirmed last year, and is now a pastoral assistant at Little St Mary’s, Cambridge. “I have felt called since I was 19,” she said on Tuesday. “People have been saying ‘You are far too young. Why not get a job?’ I did get a job in an IT company in Cambridge for a year. But I think it would be a mistake to tell people to go away and get a career at this stage.

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“I want to give my whole life for the Church. I can’t imagine doing anything else. Young people are maybe not so experienced, and a bit naïve, but they are more formable, and do not have such concrete ideas. They are more lively and just have more extra energy in their 20s than people in their 50s,” she said.

James Walters, aged 28, who was also due to attend the conference, has been training at Westcott House, and has just completed his Ph.D. He hopes to be ordained in June. He said it was important for the Church to redress the shift to the older generation. “Why are people under 30 on the whole not going to church? Why is the Church dissociated from the younger generation?” he asked on Tuesday.

“I hope younger priests will develop insights connected with their culture. They understand the realities of changing moral choices that the Churches are a little slow to understand. The whole Church needs to question its engagement with contemporary culture,” he said.

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