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Ethnicity falls behind gender in vocations project

07 October 2016

Starting our review of Renewal and Reform, Hattie Williams looks into the C of E’s bid to increase ordinations

INCREASING vocations is a central part of Renewal and Reform, the vision for the Church of England, which, led by the House of Bishops, sets out to reverse the steady decline in the numbers of clergy, laity, and especially young people in the C of E, as described in recent church reports.

Vocation is seen largely in terms of callings to ordination and lay ministries. The new section of the C of E website on Renewal and Reform includes vocation under the heading of Renewing Discipleship & Ministry. Other catagories under this heading are Discipleship (nurturing the call and teaching the faith), Resourcing Ministerial Education (the recruitment and funding of ministry, lay and ordained), and Lay Ministry (increasing lay ministers, and bettering their relationship with the clergy).

Resourcing Ministerial Education (RME) concentrates on tackling the task of increasing the number entering ordained in the C of E by 50 per cent by 2020, and predicts that this will be best achieved by diversifying the range of candidates put forward for ordination, targeting, in particular, young women and ethnic-minority candidates.

“A 50-per-cent increase sounds massive, but, translated into actual numbers for a typical diocese, this means an increase from eight to 12 per year, which seems highly realistic,” the director of the Archbishops’ Council’s Ministry Division, the Ven. Julian Hubbard, said. “On that basis, I am confident that the overall increase is achievable. Different dioceses will contribute in different ways, and our research suggests that some dioceses have significant scope for increase, especially among younger people.”

This goal — to tackle the net decline in the number of stipendiary ministers in the Church by achieving a “significant increase in the number and quality of ministerial leaders, lay and ordained” — was first set out in the report Renewal and Reform: Resourcing Ministerial Education (News, 12 January 2015). It was brought to the General Synod in February 2015 by the RME task group, which was established by the Ministry Council in March 2014, chaired by Dr Steven Croft, then Bishop of Sheffield (now Bishop of Oxford).

The paper set out a number of sub-aims to support the overall target, including:


  • to recruit younger, more diverse candidates, with a wider range of gifts
  • to achieve a ten-per-cent increase in ordinands by September 2017
  • to achieve an increase of at least 50 per cent in ordinations on 2013 figures and sustain annually from 2020
  • to increase current investment in this by 50 per cent (a further £10 million per year)
  • to reduce the time it takes to explore vocation (to start and end within a year)
  • to spend £200,000 on expanding the under-30s vocation scheme (from 30 to 250 participants)
  • to push “measures to improve quality in selection and at all stages of ministerial education”
  • to change funding so that the dioceses receive a block grant to fund candidates thereby “entrusting greater power to dioceses in making decisions about forms of training”
  • to expand “context-based” training


The motion was approved by the Synod; the RME task group was disbanded, and its work was transferred to the Ministry Division.

A series of meetings regarding the new funding proposals was conducted between the Ministry Council, the Archbishops’ Council, the House of Bishops, the theological-education institutions (TEIs), and the dioceses.

The Ordained Vocations Working Group, chaired by the Bishop of Guildford, the Rt Revd Andrew Watson, was set up in June 2015 to take forward the outcomes and provide “stimulus and encouragement” to the goal of increasing and diversifying ordained vocations.

A second paper was brought to the Synod in February 2016. It gave detail to the proposal to entrust each of the 42 dioceses with the power to decide how its own ordinands would be trained, and how much would be spent on this training.

After fierce debate, the Synod welcomed both reports and agreed to the new funding proposals. It also requested that the Archbishops’ Council report to the Synod by July 2018 on its progress in increasing lay and ordained ministries.

From September 2017, £41,900 is to be given to train candidates aged under 30, enough to cover a three-year residential course. Those in their thirties are to receive £28,000; those between 40 and 55, £18,400; and those over 55 at the start of training, £12,300.

The formula has caused some alarm. The Chaplain, Fellow and Dean of Welfare at Corpus Christi College, Oxford, Canon Judith Maltby, said that focusing funds on young ordinands would have a significant impact on women, who were already “grossly underrepresented” in the Church.

A report from the Ordained Vocations Working Group last month suggests that, at 27 years old, candidates for stipendiary ministry are six times more likely to be male, while, at 56, candidates for non-stipendiary ministry are three times more likely to be female.

“Women are disproportionately represented in full-time education in the over-40s group; so by making this funding model simply about age, women are going to lose out on the opportunity to study full time,” Canon Maltby said.

Full-time education in a theological institution at Oxford or Cambridge was also costly, and under the new model there would be pressure on diocesan secretaries to cut such costs. There was a “deep anti-intellectualism” in the Church, Canon Maltby said, which was drawing ordinands away from full-time residential training in a theological institution. “One of the roles of the priest is to be articulate and knowledgeable about the Christian tradition. Why has that become a controversial subject?”

The Principal of Trinity College, Bristol, the Revd Dr Emma Ineson, spoke positively of increasing vocations. Trinity College had had one its highest intakes in this year, she said, and continued to support a mixed community. “There is an exciting fresh wind blowing through the Church. The Archbishop of Canterbury has come in with a clear agenda to revive and grow the Church, and our numbers are encouraging.”

But she shared Canon Maltby’s concerns that the funding proposals might make it difficult for older ordinands to train full-time in theological colleges. “Older people with more life experience encourage the younger ones, and vice versa,” she said.

The value of this relationship in a residential setting was “enormous, and it will be to our cost as a Church, now and in the years to come, if we don’t make the commitment to put the funds towards enabling as many people as possible to train like this.”

She was confident, however, that the Ministry Division was “working relatively well” with theological colleges on these concerns.

Over the past three months, the Ministry Council had held eight consultations with theological colleges and dioceses, which had been attended by more than 150 staff, Archdeacon Hubbard said. He expressed his gratitude for the “constructive” response of the theological colleges. “We have made a number of changes in response to their concerns, including some substantial changes which will help with the transition to the new system.”


SIGNS of growth in vocations to ordained ministry are beginning to show. Bishop Watson, who chairs the Ordained Vocations Group, said that figures from its latest report, which sets out to raise the number of candidates for ordained ministry from an average of 500 every year to 750, were “cautiously encouraging”.

In a separate telephone survey of 30 dioceses conducted by the Ministry Division on behalf of the group, directors of ordinands estimated that they would send an average of 29 per cent more candidates to a selection panel in 2016-17 than they had put forward in 2014-15, he said. This suggested a “high level of commitment to the vision for a 50-per-cent increase in the number of ordinands by 2020, with all but two of them having made significant changes to their vocations work as a result.”

The vocations report also suggests that ordinands below the age of 32 make up 26 per cent of those recommended for stipendiary ministry. The Warden of Cranmer Hall, part of St John’s College, Durham, the Revd Mark Tanner, who is to be consecrated bishop for the see of Berwick later this month, said that Cranmer Hall had a younger demographic than the national average — the average age of ordinands there last year was 32 — and that there were more women than men in training there.

“There are lots of young adults in the college, both undergraduate and postgraduate, as I think all of the sport, music, drama, and social facilities appeal to younger adults more directly than other theological colleges,” he said.

The report also suggests that the number of women recommended for ordination training has almost reached parity with men: a ratio of seven men to six women. This varies, however, from equal numbers in Blackburn and Leeds to larger gaps in dioceses such as Chichester (15:8), and London (165:67)

More research is to be produced by the Ordained Vocations Working Group in time for a vocations conference next January. “One of the major questions our group is looking to address is why some parishes (and indeed dioceses) are so much better at fostering ordained vocations than others,” Bishop Watson said.

The director for discipleship and ministry in the diocese of Salisbury, Canon Jane Charman, who also serves on the Ministry Council, agreed that, although there was a “huge amount of work” being done to increase vocations, “some dioceses will find it easier than others to make a step change.”

Canon Charman leads a team of 15 people. The diocese also employs a full-time vocations co-ordinator, a part-time young-vocations resource officer, and seven young-vocations champions (younger curates).

“We have seen a big increase in the numbers wanting to explore ordained ministry, and projections are that we are on course to meet our objective of an additional 60 vocations to ordained ministry over the next ten years, which exceeds the national aspiration of 50 per cent,” she said.

Renewal and Reform had given “fresh impetus and greater focus” to previous work in increasing vocations. The main challenge was the “sheer scale” of the task at hand, not least in closing the diversity deficit.

“Another issue is in attracting younger women: women often discern a vocation somewhat later than men, plus a big proportion of younger vocations nationally are emerging from churches in the Evangelical tradition, not all of whom are equally supportive of women’s ordained ministry.

“It would be a great shame and a backward step if we saw a dip in female ordinands just at the point where we have achieved the inclusion of women in all three orders of ordained ministry.”

Ethnicity in ordained vocations is less balanced: at Cranmer Hall, the vast majority of students were White British, while five to ten per cent were Black, Asian, and Minority Ethnic (BAME), Bishop Tanner said. “Our influence over the diversity of our students is limited, as many have to be selected for ordination before they come here. That selection process is overseen by others — but the early signs of diversifying, as discussed at the last Synod, are encouraging.”

The overwhelming majority of all stipendiary clergy (93 per cent) were white British in 2015 — a marginal decrease from 93.5 per cent three years ago, according to the latest statistics on ministry, published by the Research and Statistics department of the Archbishops’ Council, in June.

And the Ordained Vocations report suggests that the proportion of candidates from BAME backgrounds is currently lower than the proportion of BAME people in congregations, and much lower than the proportion of BAME people in the general population (News, 23 September).

The Revd Paul Cartwright, Chaplain to Further and Higher Education, is a member of the Committee for Minority Ethnic Anglican Concerns, which works to increase ethnic diversity in all levels of the Church. He said that the lack of diversity was becoming increasingly apparent.

Out of a total of 53 members of the House of Bishops in 2015, there was one BAME member. Of the 206 members of the House of Clergy, seven were BAME; and of the 207 members of the House of Laity, 11 were BAME.

“Over the past few decades, numerous reports with recommendations have been prepared in relation to the inclusion of BAME Christians within the Church of England, and when brought to General Synod these have been warmly received,” he said. “So why haven’t these goals been achieved?

“It is the responsibility of all Christians within the Church to help and encourage those who may need it to achieve God’s calling upon their lives.”

Archdeacon Hubbard reported that a Young Vocations Adviser and a Minority Ethnic Vocations Officer had been appointed in the past month to nurture vocations among young women and those of BAME heritage. “They will be working with communities and dioceses to break down the barriers. We are well aware of the challenges, but we are committed to a significant shift in the demographic profile of ordinands.”


LOOKING at ministry numbers overall, growth is still a long way off. Another report, Ministry Statistics in Focus: Stipendiary clergy projections, published in tandem with the Ordained Vocations report, suggests that, on current trends of clergy joining and leaving stipendiary ministry, there will be a “steady decline” in the pool. Even if the target of a 50-per cent increase in ordinations by 2023 is achieved, it will only stabilise the pool of 7600 full-time clergy by this time, not enlarge it.

Predictions on the number of BAME ordinands are absent; the report simply projects that in 2035 around 43 per cent of all stipendiary ministers will be female, and that the vast majority of all stipendiary ministers will be younger, between the ages of 30 and 60.

But things will get worse before they get better, the Secretary General of the Archbishops’ Council and the General Synod, William Nye, has predicted. “Even assuming we achieve the aspiration to increase vocations by 50 per cent, this means that the total number of stipendiaries will continue to fall for a number of years before starting to rise again,” he wrote in a blog after the July Synod sessions. “Getting back up to the present 8000, say, will depend not just on more vocations, but on the age profile of ordinands and of retirements.”

The projections are based on the latest statistics on ministry, published in June, which showed that the number of stipendiary ministers fell from 8300 to 8000 between 2012 and 2015. The total number of all ordained ministers fell from 20,650 to 20,440.

More stipendiary ministers were ordained in 2015 (315) than retired (276), but the figures suggest that ministers delaying retirement by one year or more would only slow the rate of decline, not prevent it.

Bishop Watson concluded: “There are signs that a deeper understanding of ‘calling’ has been eroded in the Church and in society, and that the Church has been far too passive in its approach to calling out vocations in recent years.”



Ordinand’s view

Rachel Prior, a young ordinand at Trinity College, Bristol, said that dioceses had a “key role to play” in affirming a sense of being called among both women and young people. “My diocese had genuinely invested in me long before I got to theological college. It is important for the Church not to be afraid of young women.”

Meeting women clergy during her theological studies at university “reaffirmed a sense of call to the priesthood”, she said. One way to increase vocations among younger women, she suggested, was by “talking honestly and candidly about what it is like to be a priest and a mother.

"This had weighed on my mind, and it was liberating to be able to hear about how flexible priestly ministry can be and about maternity leave.”



Online resources

A website on vocations (www.churchsupporthub.org/vocations) has been created to offer advice, articles, book reviews, events, and ideas on exploring and encouraging the call to ordination. It states: “As a whole the Church needs to make a significant shift from a passive approach to vocations work, to a proactive approach. Seeking an increase in all kinds of vocation in the Church, including an increase in the number and diversity of candidates for ordination training. We have a vision of a growing Church with a flourishing ministry.”

This includes encouraging a younger and more diverse group of people to follow the call to ordination, developing lay ministries, and serving all church traditions.

The website directs those interested in pursuing vocation who are under 30 to www.callwaiting.org.uk and those who are over 30 to www.churchofengland.org/vocation.

“Nurturing vocations to ordained ministry is only one aspect in relation to encouraging the growth of the Church,” Archdeacon Hubbard said. “We hope that many other forms of vocation and calling with thrive and flourish in partnership with those who are ordained, including lay ministries, forms of Christian leadership and witness both in the gathered Church and in the Church scattered in the world.”

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