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Young enough to minister in the Church of England, but not as a priest

by
07 September 2012

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From Mrs Elizabeth Arnold-Davies

Sir, - I welcome the letter from your unnamed source (10 August) concerning the age of ordinands and what surely what amounts to ageism in the Church. I have had a very similar experience, though I was 68 when I offered myself for training, and was told that, although I most certainly had a vocation, I could not be considered, because I was not, at my age, financially viable.

What I find ironic is that, in subsequent years, it has been possible for the Church to use me to cover services and carry out other duties as a Reader, as there are no priests (or deacons) available.

There are many weaknesses in the argument propounded by the Church in declining to give consideration to the ordination of people in their 60s, but the weakest of all is that priests are obliged to retire at 70. That is just not true. Once a priest, always a priest - unless you blot your copybook in ways unacceptable to Christian teaching. Priests remain priests, but it is incumbents (and bishops) who are required to retire at 70, after which time they are worked to a standstill covering parishes where there is no incumbent because there is a shortage of ordinands. Looked at dispassionately, that is a ridiculous situation. Ordain an older candidate, and at least he or she could be as useful as a retired priest.

I came to lay ministry after many years in the teaching profession, which I regarded as a Christian vocation. During all those years, having gained a specific qualification to teach church doctrine, my priority was to bring children, and if possible families, to a knowledge of Christ. On retirement, I felt I was able to give my time to the Church; I presented myself for training as a Reader, and was welcomed with open arms.

Within a very short time I realised my mistake. While I was serving at the altar at the eucharist, it was made very clear to me that I had chosen the wrong path, and I was being called to be ordained. Apparently, I was not too old to serve God, but too old for the Church.

If the Church is to survive and remain credible, it must look again at its criteria for selecting candidates for ordination.

Elizabeth Arnold-Davies
3 Queen Street
Aberaeron
Ceredigion SA46 0BY

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