THE Church of England is hoping for a sustained increase of at
least 50 per cent in ordinations by 2020; the streamlining of the
vocations process; and for a younger and more diverse cohort for
ministry. The recent report Resourcing Ministerial
Education says that the Church as a whole "needs to make a
significant shift from a passive approach to vocations work to a
proactive approach to seeking the number and quality of candidates
the Church requires".
The bald fact is that the number of people entering stipendiary
ministry is not sufficient to replace those who are retiring or
leaving it. The latest statistics, published in 2013, show that one
in five of the clergy is aged 60 or over. In 2012, this was the
average age of self-supporting clergy, who now make up 28 per cent
of diocesan clergy.
"Assuming [that] previous rates of death, retirement, and other
reasons for leaving remain constant, and given the known age of
current clergy and known ordination plans, the fall in the number
of stipendiary clergy since 2002 is projected to continue at a
similar rate, with the net change over the period 2012-2016
estimated to be a fall of four per cent, from 7880 (full-time
equivalent) stipendiary clergy in 2012 to 7530 in 2016," the
It is not all doom and gloom, however. Statistics also show that
22 per cent of ordination candidates in 2012 were under 30,
compared with 15 per cent in both 2002 and 2007. Last year, the
figure was 25 per cent. The initiative Call Waiting is praised for
its proactive and fruitful approach to growing vocations, as is the
work of young-vocations champions in the dioceses (Features, 14
The Bishop of Sheffield, Dr Steven Croft, who chaired the task
force for the report, told the General Synod last month (News,
20 February) that the need for more vocations was "well past
urgent". The report - which calls for the initiative to be held
wholly and deeply in prayer by the whole Church - proposes
"significant investment in vocations work, entrusting greater
powers to the dioceses in making decisions about forms of training,
a new stream of funding for lay ministry candidates, and measures
to improve quality on selection and at all stages of ministerial
The problem is laid bare when it comes to the recruitment of
incumbents, particularly, but by no means exclusively, in the north
of England. Dr Croft says: "In Sheffield, we are always thankful to
have one good appointable candidate in response to an advert, and
it can be a wait for a suitable candidate to respond.
"For a number of years, the decline, due to retirement, matched
the necessity to reduce budgets. Now all the dioceses are
indicating that they don't want to see a reduction of posts over
the next few years, and the gap between the clergy [that] dioceses
want to have, and those available, will become wider as time goes
on unless we take further action."
Significant areas of work include giving young women the
resources to respond to the call; and continuing to counter - as
the initiative Young Vocations has done - "the word that was out
there, but never officially said: that people ought to go away and
do something else before offering themselves for or-dained
ministry. We want to say loud and clear that what people can offer
in their twenties is very different from what those in their
thirties and forties can offer, and we need many more of them in
the years to come."
There are two parts to any vocation, Dr Croft says: "The kind of
inner response and prompting to what God is calling them to do; and
the Church making known what kind of ministers it needs, and what
qualities they need to have. For that, we need more and better
communication than has been done in many dioceses."
Dr Croft acknowledges that the vision that is articulated, and
the target of sustained increase in numbers, is a "massive" change
to look for, but believes that the target is realistic. Even with
the looked-for numbers, however, a significant reduction overall is
still likely in ten years' time.
But it is hoped that the aspiration will, he says, "help the
whole Church make this a serious and urgent subject for prayer and
imaginative action, breaking the pattern of what we have done in
the past". And the shift to a proactive searching for vocations is
very much allied to the emphasis of the report Developing
What churches with a good record of developing emerging
vocations have in common, he says, is "fostering a culture of
discipleship and encouragement, enabling people to grow in their
expression of ministry locally, and then gradually to offer
themselves for a wider ministry, lay or ordained".
SO, WHAT do Diocesan Directors of Ordinands (DDOs) themselves
think of the proposals? Canon Faith Claringbull is DDO in
Birmingham, where there has been an encour-aging rise in the
numbers coming forward for ordination, including an increase in the
number of young people. "This is the youngest city in Europe; so
I'd be worried if we didn't," she says, commending the work of both
the champions for young vocations and minority-ethnic vocations in
the diocese, and concluding: "We're feeling quite buoyant and
upbeat, though we wouldn't want to be over-confident."
She works closely with the university chaplain, in another
fruitful partnership. The challenge in Birmingham, she says, is to
look at vocations in a much broader way, and a way forward could be
a team who considered both lay and ordained ministry together.
Those aspects particularly excite her in a report that she broadly
welcomes for its vision of a growing Church with a flourishing
ministry; but it contains some proposals that she would want to
Her concerns are largely around the simplification and
streamlining of the process towards a Bishops' Advisory Panel
(BAP). The report suggests that "in the case of those candidates
who need it, vocation and exploration can be begun and concluded in
a year," which leads her to reflect: "I certainly wouldn't want to
skimp on the quality of the work we do here, and that I know
colleagues do elsewhere.
"We always have people who are anxious to move forward as soon
as possible; but, in my view, I need to do more work with
[candidates] now than I did ten years ago, especially with the
young people coming forward.
"I don't want to hold them back; but it's important they
understand the breadth of the C of E, and that they have some good,
deep roots of prayer. So I put people on placements, and make sure
they have a spiritual director; we do some equipping during the
discernment process which, I think, puts them in good stead.
"When I see people going forward for a BAP, and then into
ministry, I'm discerning people for the long haul. We need to lay
some careful foundations, because people going into a BAP in their
twenties have 40, even 50, years ahead of them, and are going to
oversee tremendous change. So we need to be looking at issues of
character and prayer and relationship in a very careful way, as
well as whether they have energy and vision."
She says she has felt "massively resourced" by Ministry Division
in her work as DDO, and commends the team for a "careful and
consistent way of operating" which ensures consistent standards of
selection. "That's really important, if we are still going to be
recruiting, as it were, for a nationally deployable ministry," she
says. "It's a very good partnership."
Canon Ann Turner, the DDO for the Bradford Episcopal Area of
West Yorkshire & the Dales, has also been in this field for a
decade, and currently combines the position with that of parish
deacon and Rural Dean. A national assessor on Bishops' Advisory
Panels, she, too, welcomes the proposals. "It's wonderful to know
that there is hope for the C of E if we can get the increased
numbers," she says; but she emphasises that the part played by a
DDO would need to be a dedicated one for the increased
The report encourages the development of new regional or
diocesan training courses for incumbents on the development of
vocations, recognising that, at present, "a large proportion of
vocations arise from a small proportion of parishes." Referrals
come only occasionally from incumbents, Canon Turner says: most
come via the diocesan website, at the instigation of a spiritual
director, or after a vocations day.
"The candidates are out there; we just have to identify them,"
she says. "I think there needs to be engendered a new sense of
responsibility in incumbents, who should be the first people to
recognise a vocation among one of their congregation.
"I don't get the feeling that parish priests are actually
praying on vocations, or preaching to it. . . I welcome it when
parishes say, 'Come and talk to us,' but that's maybe one a year,
even though I write to them all every year before ordinations, and
offer to preach, or lead a course, or whatever." More resources on
the ground would help incumbents to tackle vocations, she says.
"Those who do, get results."
The report recommends that candidates who will be under 50 at
ordination will continue to attend a BAP; those over the age of 50
will be selected locally by their bishop, and the cost of their
training will fall directly to the diocese.
The demographic in Bradford is changing, and Canon Turner is
pleased to see an increased number of good candidates coming
forward in their twenties. Several candidates in recent years have
been in their late sixties, even early seventies, and the diocese
now has an age cap of 60 at the time of ordination. "It has
stimulated young people to know they can do it at their age: that
it is not an older people's vocation," Canon Turner says.
Of the streamlining of the process, she acknowledges that there
will always be candidates who will fly, "who will come to me in
September, and start training 12 months later". But others may need
working with for two or three years before they go to a BAP, she
emphasises, particularly those who have left school with few
qualifications, and are unused to academic study. These she sends
to do a couple of modules on a foundation degree course in
theology, to get them into the habit of reading, reflecting, and
writing. Others may go through the process quite quickly, and then
need to stop it for a while if circumstances change. "Every
candidate is an individual, and must be treated so," she says.
It is a complex picture, Dr Croft acknowledges. But he senses a
will to make the proposals happen, and, most important of all,
describes it as "a moving picture. We are going in the right