THE number of people expected to start training for the priesthood in the autumn has risen by 14 per cent, the Ministry Division announced yesterday. The growth has exceeded hopes in the division, which is seeking a 50-per-cent increase on the 2015 figures by 2020.
This year, 543 men and women have been recommended for training, compared with 476 last year. A central plank of the Renewal and Reform agenda is to reach 750 by 2020, but also to lower the average age, and encourage vocations from younger women, and those from Black, Asian, and Minority Ethnic (BAME) backgrounds (News, 7 October).
The new figures include a 17-per-cent increase in women coming forward. Of the 543, 52 per cent are women, and women make up 38 per cent of those aged under 32, compared with a historic average of 22 per cent. The goal is for half of all ordinands to fall into this age bracket; it is currently 25 per cent. Five per cent of recommended candidates described themselves as BAME: an increase of two per cent, but not statistically significant, given the small numbers.
The head of discipleship and vocation at the Ministry Division, Catherine Nancekievill, described the overall increase as “very welcome”. The hope had been to achieve a ten-per-cent increase. Between 2014/15 and 2015/16 the increase was just two candidates. Growth was not spread evenly across the Church, she said: some dioceses had begun pushing for an increase before 2015, including London, Liverpool, Chester, Guildford, Bath & Wells, and Southwark.
“It is really important that dioceses who are seeing an increase keep on going and become exporting dioceses,” she said. “It takes approximately between two and four years for someone to go from initial awareness to being recommended at BAP. Dioceses that have only recently started work need to hold their nerve for the first couple of years, when they are unlikely to see a change.”
The division did not want discernment to be rushed, she said: “Discernment takes time, and we don’t think it would be good for the future of the Church to rush such an important process as if we were making water run faster through a pipe. We are building a fatter pipe, not speeding up the water. The good practice, expertise and infrastructure we are building now will ensure we can sustain the increase throughout the 2020s.”
She is confident about increasing vocations among young people: research suggests that they are “looking for a working life that matches their values” and want to make “a positive contribution to society”. An important component of the push is the Ministry Experience Scheme, which provides volunteer placements for young people to explore ministry in parishes. Funded by Allchurches Trust, the scheme is set to grow over the next three years, to 250 people per year by 2024. The Trust is also funding research that explores public perceptions of ministry.
An increase in the number of BAME people recommended would take a “really targeted substantial effort”, she said. “That isn’t letting ourselves off the hook, it is being realistic about the scale of change needed.
“When we started the work to encourage vocations, there were lots of pockets of good practice that clearly worked that we could learn from. We don’t have the same starting point when it comes to encouraging BAME vocations to ministry. We are building from the ground up.”