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Compulsory retirement ages debated

15 April 2016


Proposer: Judge Philip Price

Proposer: Judge Philip Price

COMPULSORY retirement ages for clergy are set to be retained after a long and, at times, contentious debate at the Church in Wales’s Governing Body. A working group had examined the existing age limits for clergy, lay office-holders, and churchwardens, and produced a report that recommended keeping the retirement age at 70 for clergy, besides introducing a maximum age for ordination of 60.

The Archdeacon of Morgannwg, the Ven. Christopher Smith, introducing the report on age limits, reassured the Governing Body that the Church valued the gifts of all its members, regardless of age. None of the limits in place were to be understood as a reflection of the contribution made by older members of the Church in Wales.

The working group closely examined the Equality Act and case law, but concluded that compulsory retirement ages remain legal, “if they can be justified as a proportionate means of achieving a legitimate aim”.

If age limits and retirement ages were abolished, appraisal procedures would have to be put in place to monitor clergy performance, Archdeacon Smith warned. “Exercising procedures can cause distress to those who have given long and distinguished services; a desire of avoiding such situations is a legitimate aim.”

The limited statistics that are available show that, since 2005, the average age of retiring stipendiary clergy is 65; just two per cent of clerics go on until age 70 or older. They also showed that the application of existing age-limits were enforced sporadically from diocese to diocese.

The working group therefore recommended that the minimum age for ordination as priest should remain at 24, and as bishop at 30. The upper age for ordination should be 60, Archdeacon Smith said, and this should apply to all clergy, stipendiary and non-stipendiary alike.

For clergy, the compulsory retirement age of 70 should be retained, with provision for a one-year extension at the request of the bishop in exceptional circumstances. This extension should not be available to bishops or Readers.

“Readers should not be licensed over the age of 75 across the province,” Archdeacon Smith said, “and there should be no title of Reader Emeritus, though bishops can grant annual permission to officiate after 75.” Age limits for all legal appointments should be brought in line with clergy, with retirement at 70.

Churchwardens had provoked the most argument, he said. After evidence from each diocese, the group had concluded that the current retirement age of 75 should be retained, but not enforced until 2020 for those over 75 already in post. Furthermore, no churchwarden should be appointed for more than six consecutive terms of office without the agreement of the archdeacon.

For other Church bodies, such as the Governing Body and diocesan conferences, lay members should retire at 75 (as is the case at present) and clergy should step down at 70.

A motion to receive the age-limit report was proposed by Judge Philip Price (Monmouth), who said that the rules must be systematic, and not piecemeal. Some in the working group were “old turkeys”; so, in putting this forward, they were, in a way, “voting for Christmas”. He had just had to retire as Chancellor of the diocese of Monmouth.

The Archdeacon of Cardigan, the Ven. Dr William Strange, seconded the motion, and focused his speech on churchwardens. The statistics showed that there were many wardens who were serving actively while over the constitutional age limit — perhaps as many as one in eight.

Nigel King (Swansea & Brecon), who is to be ordained at Petertide, said that, if these recommendations were accepted, he would not be able to have “much of a ministry at all”. He went on: “I don’t want a Church that only ministers to old people. I don’t want this church to be entirely dead; I want something much more exciting. But I wonder if there isn’t a place for me and others of my age in this Church of ours. I hope there is a job for me to do here.”

Canon Paul Mackness (St Davids) said that consistency was important, which is why it was wrong that clergy and lay people had different retirement ages. As one of the youngest clerics in the diocese of St Davids, realistically, by the time he got to his late sixties, the state pension would probably have risen to above the age of 70. He supported the abolition of most age limits, where practical, and time-limited terms of service to prevent “bed-blocking” by older people who refused to step aside and let someone younger through.

Dr Robert Wilkinson (St Davids) said that the report seemed like an attempt to justify the status quo. It made no reference to biblical figures of advanced age who continued to serve God, including “a chap by the name of Moses”. “If we adopt this 60 limit for ordination, we are going to be seriously shooting ourselves in the foot. I think we need to look at that very critically,” he said.

The Archdeacon of Newport, the Ven. Jonathan Williams (Monmouth), said it was right to have a retirement age of 70 from full-time stipendiary ministry, but there should be other options for other forms of priestly ministry such as house-for-duty posts, non-stipendiary ministers, and part-time clergy. These could be annually renewed by the PCC and archdeacon to ensure that the priest continued to be of use in his or her post.

The Bishop of Swansea & Brecon, the Rt Revd John Davies, also rejected the age limit for ordinations of 60. The current bishops’ guidelines had age limits, but allowed for breaking the limits where it was deemed appropriate. “If there was a clear case where it would be ill-advised to impose a limit, this protects us,” he said. “The 60 age-limit is way off beam, and I cannot support it.”

Barbara Harding (Llandaff) said that those who reached the age of 70 or 75 did not just “sail off into the sunset. . . You are still part of the Church, [and] you will, I assume, still come to church. You can be part of a PCC, and take on projects into the Church. We are not saying that you give up the Church. Your contributions are still valid.”

The report, Dr Gillian Todd (Swansea & Brecon) said, failed to recognise that younger people — not just the elderly — could also perform poorly. “You cannot put in an age limit as a proxy to managing poor performance.”

The Revd Dr Adrian Morgan (co-opted) said that, while it was important to honour the contributions of older people, the time had come for the Church to think seriously about how it would build up future leaders if it wanted to survive. The Church needed to take risks, and put younger clergy in thriving parishes where normally older clerics went to retire.


The Bishop of St Asaph, the Rt Revd Gregory Cameron, told a story of a group of historic parishes in the south of his diocese which had had a 12-year interregnum. After one priest was finally found to serve there, he retired three years ago. Since then, no one else had been wanted to replace him. After he challenged the parishioners to send someone for ordination, they offered two people, both aged 72. “These recommendations mean I could not do anything with them,” he said. “We put them through a process of discernment and training, which only cost £5000 in total. Now they are bringing life and strength and new ministry to that group.” He would vote for the report, he said, which was, in general, helpful, but there needed to be wording in the new rules to allow exceptions and greater flexibility.

The Revd Richard Wood (Bangor) said that many of the objections heard in the debate showed how the Church in Wales was still “obsessed with, and perhaps even addicted to, clericalism and office-holding”. It was “folly” to assume that the only way people over 70 could contribute was in holding office.

Canon Peter Brooks (Swansea & Brecon) said that if these suggested rules had been in place before, his parish would have lost the ministry of Mr King, who was soon to be ordained. The Church should not fear judging the clergy on competence rather than age, as this was where all secular employment was already heading.

The Revd Victoria Ashley (co-opted) questioned why stipendiary clergy were given a fixed retirement age, while non-stipendiary minsters could continue being granted licences for ever. “I would like to see some way of managing that upper limit to enable younger people to come through.”

Carol Cobert (Llandaff) said that nobody ever told Simeon and Hannah that they were past it, and they contributed hugely. At the Valuations Tribunal, where she was a volunteer, a compulsory retirement age was scrapped in favour of annual appraisals for everyone, which was working much better.

The Revd Jonathan Wright (Llandaff) praised the report for finding a way through a number of disparate viewpoints. “The solution is not extending the minimum age limit — that is a counsel of doom,” he warned. “Not being ordained does not mean people do not have a ministry.”

Jennie Willson (St Asaph) said that, as there was already a discernment process before someone could be sent for ordination, there was no need for a maximum age-limit. “We come back to this obsession with young people all the time. Yes, we want young people, but older people feel devalued. I don’t believe we will get the young people unless we are valuing the people who are already there.”

The Revd Mounes Farah (St Davids) said that the Church attracted who it is; its leadership expressed its identity. If no young people were put forward and seen to be leaders, it would continue to attract only older people. Those who were older could be valued in other ways, not only by giving them posts to fill.

Geoffrey Davies (Swansea & Brecon) said that the magistracy had had a system of regular appraisals for 20 years, regardless of age. “Do, please, use the tools that are already in place in the system, and do not be afraid to exercise appraisal,” he said.

The Assistant Bishop of Llandaff, the Rt Revd David Wilbourne, thanked the working group for its courage in encouraging young office-holders. “I believe a young office-holder is the best advert you can have that it’s OK to be young and Christian,” he said. “Simeon and Hannah were also marvellous, but their brilliance lay in recognising that the light of the world lay in an infant.”

The Bishop of Monmouth, the Rt Revd Richard Pain, criticised the working group for not consulting with the bishops on its report. Putting a maximum age for ordination at 60 would tie his hands behind his back. “We need the flexibility of approach in offering ministry to all God’s people.” Although he endorsed the aspirations behind the report, he said that he could accept it only with severe reservations.

It was clear, Judge Price said, that the maximum age for ordination needed to be looked at again. He thanked the members of the Governing Body for their contributions. But the idea of removing normal retirement ages in what was a “tough job, which is getting tougher”, was foolish, he argued.

The Governing Body carried the motion, but not unanimously.

That the Governing Body:

receive the report from the Age Limits Working Group;

invite the Standing Committee to bring forward specific recommendations, in the light of the Governing Body discussion, for decision at the Governing Body’s next meeting.


Governing body: other business THE chair of the standing committee, Judge Philip Price (Monmouth), introduced the committee’s report. Among the noteworthy parts was the news that a working group had been appointed to look into the question of fixing an archiepiscopal see, although he noted that, even when he first arrived on the Governing Body in the 1990s, this debate was already decades old.

Although the Church’s review of historic cases proved that it had a robust child-protection policy and practice, the committee welcomed the Goddard enquiry, and wanted to work with it constructively.*

The Church in Wales would be examined early on in the enquiry because the Archbishop of Canterbury had asked for the Church of England to come up quickly, and Justice Goddard had decided to take the Anglican Church as a whole. But “It’s important we are judged for ourselves and not lumped in with other churches,” he said. It was not yet known when the full inquiry would begin or what part the Church in Wales would play, but they had applied for, and been granted, “core participant status”.

The Governing Body voted to pass the motion and accept the report.

1. That Mrs Elizabeth Thomas be invited to attend the Synod of the Church of Ireland from 12-14 May 2016 as the Church in Wales’s representative.

2. That the Report of the Standing Committee be approved.

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