More women than men enter clergy training, latest figures show

27 September 2017

Rising numbers: the Bishop of Manchester with new priests and deacons, in July

Rising numbers: the Bishop of Manchester with new priests and deacons, in July

MORE women than men are going forward for training for ordination for the first time in more than 15 years, statistics from the Ministry Division show.

Of the 542 candidates entering training this year, more than half (274) are women, 19 per cent more than last year: a record rise.

The statistics, published on Wed­nesday, show signs that the drive to nurture vocations to the ordained ministry — a central plank of the Renewal and Reform programme — is having an effect. Overall, the number of those entering training is 14 per cent higher than last year (476 candidates).

None the less, the C of E must reach its target of 50 per cent more ordinands by 2020 if it is to reverse the overall decline in clergy num­bers. At the present rate, people are not entering the ministry at the same rate as others are retiring.

Another Renewal and Reform target is to recruit younger and more diverse candidates. Ordinands are younger than last year: 28 per cent of this year’s intake are under the age of 32, compared with 23 per cent last year. At the other end of the age range, 16 per cent are aged 55 or above, compared with 20 per cent of last year’s intake. The overall number of new ordinands under the age of 39 rose by 39 per cent, from 109 to 151.

The figures were published in tandem with the Ministry Statistics for 2016. The Ministry Division recorded 7790 stipendiary clerics serving in the C of E last year (299 of whom were newly ordained); 3230 self-supporting parochial clerics (185 newly ordained); 6560 clerics with permission to officiate (mostly retired clergy); 1080 ordained chaplains; and 900 clerics in other positions.

The total number of people in ordained ministry has declined by 470 since 2013.

Men still outnumber women in ordained ministry, although there were equal numbers of non-stipendiary ministers; slightly more self-supporting female ministers than men; and ten per cent more female ordained local ministers. Women still made up less than a third — 29 per cent — of the total number of active clerics.

But, while the total number of female clergy has risen steadily from 5310 in 2013 to a record high of 5690 last year, the total for men declined by about 860 in this time, contributing to the overall decline in clergy in the past four years.

“The vocations data shows some progress in redressing the imbal­ance of age and gender,” the director of the Ministry Division, the Ven. Julian Hubbard, wrote in a covering letter on the report.

“[But] there remains a significant challenge around encouraging more from our BAME [black and minority-ethnic] communities, and nurturing the vocation of their members.”

There remain significantly more men than women in senior posts: 80 women, compared with 303 men. There were ten female bishops last year, compared with 99 males.

Ethnic diversity in senior posts was also low: 94.5 per cent were white British: a slight decrease from 96 per cent five years ago. Overall, the diversity of the clergy has increased slightly: in 2012, the percent­age of white British clergy was 93.5; in 2016, it had fallen to 92.8.

And, while the average age of stipendiary ordinands last year was 39, compared with 40 in 2013, women entering ordination were, on average, six years older than men. The average age of women ordinands has decreased slightly, from 45 in 2013 to 42 last year.

The average age of all stipendiary clergy (52) was younger than those in self-supporting ministry (62), while the majority of clerics with permission to officiate (PTO) had an average age of 75. The report suggests that this may not reflect the overall age of the C of E’s clergy, be­­cause most PTO clerics were “active retired”.

Of the 334 clerics who retired in 2016 (at an average age of 65.7), 76 continued ministering in another position, 13 of whom were unpaid. This compares with 276 clerics’ retiring in 2015, 149 of whom con­tinued in another position, includ­ing 15 unpaid.

Despite the reawakened interest in the religious life, religious communi­ties have continued to shrink in recent years, the figures show. Just 340 people were living in 65 religious houses in 29 dioceses in 2016, down from 550 ten years ago. Most religious living in community were women (72 per cent).

There were also almost two-thirds more ministers serving in towns and cities than in the country: 57 per cent of female sti­pend­iary ministers and 55 per cent of female self-supporting ministers were in urban posts. This was com­pared with 66 per cent and 59 per cent of men in the respective posts.

Mr Hubbard said that the report “underlines the need to press on urgently with the programme of work in Renewal and Reform, to encourage vocations to ordained ministry, and increase the number and diversity of the clergy who will serve now and into the coming decades.

“Comparing the present face of ministry presented in the Ministry Statistics with the face of the com­munities in which these clergy serve, significant challenges become clear about how far their age profile, gender, and ethnicity reflect the wider population.” But ordained ministry was not the only concern. “The role of lay ministries is in­­creasingly important, and needs further attention,” he said.

Resolution parishes counted. OF THE more than 12,000 Church of England parishes, at least 447 (3.7 per cent) have requested special arrangements since the introduction of women bishops, statistics from the Ministry Division show.

They include 393 parishes being served by a bishop whose theolo­gical convictions do not allow him to ordain women to the priesthood.

Seven bishops were listed as having provided extended epis­copal ministry for these parishes, includ­ing the Suffragan Bishop of Burnley, the Rt Revd Philip North, whose nom­ina­tion and then with­drawal as Bishop of Sheffield has been re­­viewed by the Independent Reviewer, Sir Philip Mawer (News, 23 September). Bishop North pro­vided extended episcopal ministry for 20 parishes last year.

Other bishops listed were the Bishop of Beverly, the Rt Revd Glyn Webster, who served 94 par­ishes; the Bishop of Ebbsfleet, the Rt Revd Jonathan Goodall (87 parishes); the Bishop of Rich­borough, the Rt Revd Norman Banks (74 parishes); the Bishop of Fulham, the Rt Revd Jonathan Baker (61 parishes); the Bishop of Maidstone, the Rt Revd Rod Thomas (44 parishes); and the Bishop of Wakefield, the Rt Revd Tony Robinson (ten parishes).

The figures, released on Wed­nes­­day, show the number of par­ishes to have passed a Resolu­tion for arrange­ments to be made in accord­ance with the House of Bishops’ Declaration on the Minis­try of Bishops and Priests in May 2014. The Declaration was written in preparation for the consecration of women to the episcopate, and reso­lutions under it have now super­­seded the former Resolu­tions A, B, and C, which had applied since 1993.

Figures were obtained from bishops’ offices, except for five dioceses, for which they were taken from the Forward in Faith and Bishop of Maidstone’s websites.

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