MEMBERSHIP of religious communities in the UK runs into the
thousands. It is a fact that belies many of the stories about the
decline of monasteries and convents. In fact, in recent years,
there has been a huge growth in vocations to the religious life;
but this growth is among members of a community who do not live
together under one roof.
Brother Damian Kirkpatrick is a Franciscan, and joined the
Anglican Society of St Francis more than 40 years ago. He said that
while his order currently had six novices - which is "quite
unusual, often it is one or two" - there were thousands of members
of the Third Order (who follow the Franciscan rule, but do not live
in the community).
"There are around 70 Franciscans living in community in the UK,
but in the Third Order there are 2000; it has really grown,"
Brother Damian said.
"A lot of people are very interested in the religious life, but
people today are thinking about giving some time to it rather than
living it out 24/7.The attraction is there, but people are wary of
the commitments: a life of chastity, which does not go down well;
and obedience, when people are used to being individuals, choosing
what they want to do for themselves."
For many who feel some kind of vocation towards the religious
life, the Third Order is the answer. "In the Third Order, the
emphasis is on taking the richness of tradition and spirituality,
and seeing how it can be lived out of some form of community, but
usually not all under one roof. Dispersed communities are very
"I don't think we shall ever lose our traditional orders,
Franciscan or Benedictine, but they are going to be smaller
communities than they were 20 years ago. But it is very important
that the Church should continue to have a visible sign ofthe
religious life, or else [it] is just hidden away, in secular
Perhaps more needs to be done to raise the profile of vocations
to the religious life. But the challenge to adopt a very visible
sign of commitment to life in community, and to prayer, has been
taken up by the Archbishop of Canterbury, who is an oblate of the
Anglican Benedictines. He has asked four members of the ecumenical
community Chemin Neuf to live at Lambeth Palace, as part of his
commitment to a renewal of the life of prayer and religious
22 November 2013). They arrived last month, and join in daily
prayers with the Archbishop.
"There has never been a renewal of the Church in Western Europe
without a renewal of prayer and the life of religious communities,"
Archbishop Welby said. "If we want to see things changed, it starts
There is also a shift taking place within the Church of England
to do more to help lay people to discover their vocation, whatever
that may be. Vocations advisers are increasingly being given the
task not justof thinking about ordination, but tohelp people
discover their callingin the Church and in the wider world.
"We are encouraging diocesan vocations advisers not just to
recruit to ordained ministry, but to think more about discernment
and lay development: how the laity are involved in the Church and
in the world. But it varies enormously from diocese to diocese. We
are trying to do more joined-up thinking, working together as
mission and ministry and education," the national adviser for lay
discipleship and shared ministry, Joanna Cox, said.
The Revd Margaret Dean, Rector of Reepham Benefice and a
vocations adviser in the diocese of Norwich, acknowledges this
shift. "[In the past], I think, the C of Ehas thought of vocation
as being primarily ordained ministry, but I always start from a
different place, really, in terms of thinking whether people are
actually called to teaching, or evangelism, or something completely
"Within the Church, there is something for all of us to
contribute into God's great story, and the next bit is to help
people find the best place to be, where they can flourish and be
who God has made them.
"We are given guidance as to the kind of questions to begin to
think through with people if it does seem that they're moving
towards ordination . . . but I try not to get to that point too
quickly, because I think there's a lot more to discoverabout who
people are, and what their gifts are. We are available to people
for as long as they want to talk to us.
The Revd Jules Cave Bergquist was formerly national vocations
adviser, and is now the diocesan director of ordinands (DDO) for
the diocese of Oxford. Oxford diocese has dozens of vocations
advisers at deanery level, who are the first port of call for those
referred on by their priest. The part played by the vocations
adviser was "not to say no to anything", she said, but to refer
"Vocations advisers explore vocations in the widest sense: they
only go through to the DDO once they are sure they have a call to
ordained ministry. If their call is to be an evangelist, then they
will goto to talk to someone about the Church Army; if it is to a
religious community, then they will talk to someone about that.
Vocations advisers are like a triage nurse, really: they look at
where God is in the person's life, they look at their whole being,
and they work with people to listen to their sense of calling.
"Vocation is so much more than the sum total of your gifts. Just
because you are good teacher doesn't mean you should go and teach
confirmation classes. God's call is so much wider than that."
Mrs Cave Bergquist also believes that the Church is getting
better at helping people who are articulating a sense of having a
vocation towards becoming a priest. "The process of discernment has
become professionalised, more careful and systematic. It is an
evidence-based process, and it is less bruising than before, when
people used just to be told: 'No, you're not suitable,'" she
Practice varies widely from diocese to diocese, but those seeing
Mrs Cave Bergquist, or one of her colleagues, wanting to explore
ordained ministry, are given tasks to complete to ensure that they
understand the breadth of the Church of England. They visit
parishes across the spectrum, from conservative Evangelical to
Anglo-Catholic, and then have to give presentations on the parish
they have visited to fellow explorers.
She also "twins" people, partnering together those who are very
differentin churchmanship, and of different gender, and they are
sent to each other's churches and asked to do a Bible study
"It's a bit likeBlind Date, to see how people cope, and
for them to see that difference has a human face. Everyone who has
done it says it's a useful experience."
Although the latest figures show a rise in the number of younger
people - in their twenties - being ordained,she said that she has
seen caution about people coming forward to explore ordination.
"It's noticeable in areas like the north, and among young people. I
think it is because of the uncertainty and discussions about gay
clergy, and people are waiting and seeing what will happen."
The leadership principal of the Church Pastoral Aid Society
(CPAS), the Revd James Lawrence, wants to celebrate the number of
younger people being ordained, but is also cautious. "If it's not
just a blip, it's exciting."
He has seen hundreds of people go through You and Ministry
weekends, which CPAS has been running now for 50 years. They are
mostly younger people in their twenties and thirties. The weekend
is aimed at those who are exploring ordained ministry, and
vocations to religious communities and the Church Army.
"We get people coming at all different stages: from those who
have just had one chat with their vicar to those who are already
seeing their diocesan director of ordinands," Mr Lawrence says.
"People come because they want to pray, and they want to have
space. This year, we have three groups: 75 people in all. We also
run some day events for younger people - 15-to-25s - and we get
lots of teenagers on those, exploring their vocations.
"We don't follow up - that's deliberate; so we are 'out of the
system'; we don't report on them to anyone. There is no pressure to
"Anecdotally, though, we know that a number go forward to
ordained ministry. We also get a number who go away feeling clear
that ordained ministry isn't for them. We make it clear that, as a
disciple of Jesus, it is baptism that engages people on the
vocational journey, and we encourage people with that."
At the Cuddesdon School of Theology and Ministry, students often
enrol on courses to explore calling and vocation, a tutor, the Revd
Jennifer Brown, says.
"Students come to deepen their knowledge, and to explore their
vocation. For some, it is an early stage in discerning their
calling to authorised ministry; others are already involved in
their church but want to expand their theological education. Some
are spouses of those training for ordination, and they want to do
the course toequip them for the new role they will have of
supporting their partner. The course is designed to help students:
to give them confident skills and knowledge to decide what they
want to do."
Students who graduate from the London School of Theology (LST)
take a variety of different paths, a lecturer in practical
theology, Adam Smith, says. "A number will go into leadership of
the Church; some may go on into formal ordination training in the C
of E, or other denominations. We are not so focused, as other
colleges are, on the creation of ordinands. We have alumni who are
now senior police officers, judges or lawyers, or a host of other
vocations, such as teachers or social workers.
"We would explore [calling] with them at interview, but we
recognise that that's a journey that students are on, and some will
come here with quite an articulated sense of their call, and a
tangible goal; but others come, and part of what they do here is an
ongoing exploration of a sense of calling."
Chloe Lynch, who teaches formation at LST, agrees that courses
also contribute towards students' developing more of an
understand-ing about what they may be called to.
"The formation programme [which accompanies each undergraduate
course] looks to develop their sense of where they fit in the
Church, and the theme of the third year is vocation, asking: 'What
does God want for you?' Vocation is thought of very broadly here:
it's not just about fitting you into your hole and leaving you
"In all theological colleges, all students have tutors whom they
meet with regularly who ask them, whether they're ordinands or not:
'How is your sense of God's call on your life unfolding at the
moment?'" the Acting Principal and director of Anglican formation
at Trinity College, Bristol, the Revd Dr Paul Roberts, says.
"If a student has real anxieties, they also have recourse to a
spiritual director outside the training environment, whom they can
ask the 'black hole' questions, or say: 'I'm not even sure there's
a God any more.' It may not even be an intellectual thing; maybe
people learn more about themselves, and then they ask: 'Is this
"However, across the theological colleges, only a very, very
small percentage comes to the conclusion that it isn't them after
all. [And] we have professional trained counsellors who can help if
people clearly need to deal with past hurt in the course of
training for public Christian ministry."
Rachael Costa, aged 23, is the founder of a new
mental-health charity. Her sense of being called to this specific
field developed while at Bible college
I've always known I was going to be involved in Christian
ministry, in some shape or form. I started Googling "Bible
colleges" when I was 14, I was so keen.
But then I became ill with depression, although I recovered
enough to go to London School of Theology when I was 19. I kind of
assumed that ordination would follow, eventually, although I was
still too young and too unwell to consider it at the time.
I'd become aware of how little the Church knew about mental
health. The college arranged for me to shadow a couple of
mental-health chaplains for two weeks, and I was like: "That's it!
That's the area of Christian ministryI'm going into." I wanted to
do something to help; so I did what people my age do, and started a
Facebook page about mental-health awareness, which has blossomed
into the charity Think Twice.
Fortunately, I had lecturers who believed in me, and could see I
had the potential to make the difference I so wanted to. I wrote my
dissertation on suicide, and how the Church can respond; did a
Master's, looking at clinical depression and pastoral theology; and
became a volunteer chaplain in a mental-health unit for a year.
More and more, I had the sense that this was going to be my mission
I still struggle with my mental health, [but] you need to listen
to what makes your heart beat fast and makes you think: "This needs
to change!" And listen, of course, to God, through prayer; or talk
to the people around you. You have to work at hearing God's voice,
and do the research, as well, to see what needs to be done.
Dan Hughes, aged 27, is training for ordination at Ridley Hall,
DAN HUGHES felt called to be a church leader from a very young
age - "about 16 or so" - and chose his university subject,
theology, with that in mind.
At the time, he was worshipping in a Free Church congregation,
but his mother suggested that he try out an Anglican church at
university. He did, and something clicked, he says.
After three years at Birmingham University, he did an internship
at a church. "I decided then that I wasn't ready yet to be a
Instead, he trained and worked as a teacher for three years,
also getting married in that time. "My incumbent suggested that I
went on a You and Ministry course, run by CPAS. It helped me to
question the assumptions I had about ministry, because I felt I'd
been called for so long, and it opened up what I needed to do. It
was really helpful for my wife, too, because it was all a big
unknown to her.
"I came away thinking: I want to do this. My vicar endorsed me,
and I went on a course in my diocese, Birmingham, for those
exploring ministry, and I started meeting the DDO. By the time I
went to my Bishops' Advisory Panel (BAP), I was pretty much at
peace: I had the support of my church and diocese, but if I didn't
get through, I knew God was in control."