ALTHOUGH the Roman Catholic Church has experienced a more
dramatic collapse in the number of full-time stipendiary clergy,
their numbers in the Church of England have also fallen. Until
recently, however, the decline has been offset by a sharp rise in
the number of clergy not paid by the Church, meaning that the
problem has been masked - the overall number of licensed minsters
has hardly declined at all.
Because this process has been gradual rather than planned, it
has resulted in a proliferation of different categories of clergy
and other types of minister. The Church's latest statistics on
ministry begin with two pages of definitions of the various
categories. Not all those who are ordained are licensed, but all
those who are licensed (or have Permission To Officiate - whether
lay or clerical) count as "ministers".
Leaving such complexities to one side, the overall result is
that traditional full-time stipendiary clergy are now the exception
rather than the rule. Today, there are more than 28,000 licensed
minsters, of whom two-thirds receive no stipend. What the figures
recently released by the Church's Statistics Department for the
period 2002-2012 also suggest, however, is that this expedient can
no longer cure the decline.
Between 2002 and 2012 the total number of full-time stipendiary
clergy (see slideshow) fell to 7674. The fall was greatest among
men, and was partially offset by a rise in the number of female
full-time stipendiary clergy to 1767 - an increase of about 40 per
cent over the decade.
The growing number of ordained women has not been enough,
however, to halt the overall decline of full-time stipendiary
clergy. The decline has been compensated for by a growth in the
number of parochial clergy working without a stipend, which rose
sharply between 2002 and 2007, but has started to decline since
then (to 3148). The fall in the number of Readers is particularly
sharp: more than 20 per cent, over the decade, to 6623.
THE age profile of ministers suggests that 2002-12 represents a
hinge period in the Church's history. Massive change was deferred
by a volunteer army of people who stepped in to offer their
services free of charge. They shored up the existing structure.
But that army is ageing, and moving towards retirement, and
there are much smaller ranks of people - paid and unpaid - coming
up behind. This is hardly surprising, given the general decline in
Anglican affiliation and attendance documented last week (Church
Health Check, 31 January).
Figure 1 shows that, like lay Anglicans, the majority of
full-time stipendiary clergy are now aged over 50. The largest age
group of stipendiary clergy - 42 per cent of the total - are in
their 50s, and the average age of full-time stipendiary clergy is
rising. In contrast, there are fewer than 100 full-time stipendiary
clergy under the age of 30, and only one in five of them is a
Women are concentrated in non-stipendiary ministry. Almost a
quarter of stipendiary clergy are now female, and more than half of
NSMs are female. Women now account for 16 per cent of incumbents,
compared with seven per cent in 2002. But ordained women's
age-profile is rising at the same rate as men's, with women's
average age of 52 the same as men's.
The number of women under the age of 35 being ordained is tiny,
and it seems that younger women are either not coming forward for
ordination, or are not being recommended for training. In 2012, 71
per cent of candidates under the age of 40 who were recommended for
training were male.
The growth in the number of non-stipendiary clergy does nothing
to alter the ageing profile of the clergy, because they tend to be
even older than stipendiary clergy, who have an average age of 60.
More than half of all NSMs and ordained local ministers (OLMs) are
aged 60 or over, and of all non-stipendiary clergy, only three per
cent are under 40, compared with 12 per cent of full-time
stipendiary clergy. Similarly, 57 per cent of female Readers, and
61 per cent of male Readers are aged 60 or over; just two per cent
of Readers are under the age of 40.
THE reality is that many of those who have been recruited and
trained since the '80s are coming to ministry as a second or third
career. They will exercise a correspondingly shorter spell of
ministry. Although this brings the skills of mature people with a
range of skills and experience into the Church's service, it does
not help to recruit younger people.
Ministry in the Church has become increasingly a middle-aged or
older person's calling, whereas the norm before was young men,
often straight from university. "Now we have all grown old
together,and simply recruited others of the same age or older," one
incumbent, who was ordained in 1978, told me.
Figure 2 shows the breakdown of types of licensed ministers in
the Church. Senior clergy make up about five per cent of all
stipendiary clergy (this category includes bishops, archdeacons,
deans, and other cathedral clergy; clergy working at Lambeth Palace
are classified as extra-diocesan, and are not included in the
Of a total of 349 senior clergy in 2012, 39 were female, 24 more
than in 2002. The average age of senior clergy is 52 - the same as
other clergy. The average age of diocesan bishops is 62.
Chaplains account for five per cent of the ministerial pie. In
2012, there were 1018 chaplains, plus 315 non-stipendiary clergy,
who work within dioceses but outside the parochial system, and 98
employed in theological and Bible colleges. This represents a
decrease of seven per cent in the total number of chaplains over
the decade. Army chaplains and hospital/health-care chaplains have
experienced the larger decrease. A growing proportion of chaplains
are female (241 in total).
THE number in religious orders is now small. It has fallen to
402 from 641 in 2002. The most marked decrease has been of
professed lay women and female novices - there are currently seven
female novices, and ten male novices. The number of Church Army
evangelists has also fallen.
Although it offers only a snapshot, Figure 2 also helps us to
see why the Church now faces a serious problem of staffing. It
demonstrates clearly just how many ministers in the Church are now
non-stipendiary: the two largest categories are Readers and active
retired clergy. But of all types of ministers, it is these that are
set to decline the fastest.
This is compounded by the fact that the loss of clergy
significantly exceeds new recruitment. Retirements are high, and
will continue to increase. The category labelled "Other losses" in
the statistical tables is also very high. Indeed, in 2012, more
clergy were "lost" (295, including 59 women) than retired (272). We
do not know why so many clergy are leaving stipendiary ministry, or
where they are going.
Ultimately, what the figures reveal is the end of a decade of
respite for the Church of England - thanks to Anglicans' offering
to minister without pay. This is a decade in which the Church could
have been planning for the predictable changes that are now in
Put simply, the Church of England is soon going to have to
operate with far fewer ministers, both stipendiary and
non-stipendiary. Women's ordination has helped a little, but women
continue to be disproportionately represented in unpaid, part-time,
and low-status jobs in the Church. It is unlikely that this
situation can be sustained - even if conscience allowed it.
To put it bluntly, there are no longer enough troupers left to
keep the show on the road, and the show will have to change.
Linda Woodhead is the Professor of Sociology of Religion at