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Church of England strategy to increase ordinands takes its toll on dioceses

08 December 2017


DIOCESES may struggle to cope financially with the national target of adding 50 per cent to the number of ordinands by 2020, a Church Times survey suggests.

A questionnaire sent to diocesan secretaries and directors of ordinands discovered that, although all seemed to support the target, all but one of those who responded were concerned, or very concerned, about how this might be financed. One wrote: “The desire is there, but not the funding.” Some are undermining the strategy by capping the number of people recommended for training.

Financial anxiety is focused on the cost of training, but also what happens after training: many dioceses will struggle to support and house an increased number of assistant curates, and are warning ordinands that they will not be able to return. Other dioceses are looking for cheaper training pathways, or hoping for an influx of self-supporting (i.e. non-stipendiary) clergy.

The Church Times circulated an online survey in October, after the Bishop of Guildford, the Rt Revd Andrew Watson, warned in July that some diocesan boards of finance were “overstretched to breaking-point”, and that some dioceses were planning a cap on ordinand numbers, either through “poorly resourced vocation teams” or “a noble but mistaken commitment to guarantee curacies for all their local candidates” (News, 14 July).


Support in principle

SIXTEEN dioceses (11 in the Canterbury province, and five in the York province) out of 42 completed the Church Times survey. The sample includes relatively wealthy dioceses, and those in receipt of funding allocated to the poorest 50 per cent of dioceses.

No diocese said that it did not support the increase of a half in principle. One DDO, however, was “concerned that not enough time has been spent looking at the trends both in church attendance nationally and numbers coming forward. . . If congregations are falling, is not a falling number of ordinands consistent with that?”

The responses also show that the national target has been adapted to suit local contexts. One diocese is seeking a 300-per-cent increase in self-supporting ministry, but a 25-per-cent reduction in stipendiary.


Meeting the target

THE respondents were asked how likely they thought it was that their diocese would meet the target. Just one chose the option “very unlikely”. The remainder were equally split three ways, between “very likely”, “likely”, and “difficult but achievable”.

When asked: “How concerned are you that the target will be a challenge for your diocese financially?”, one was “not concerned”, and four were “very concerned”. Of these, one wrote: “We clearly need funding from central sources to enable this.” Ten were “somewhat concerned”; one attributed this to the fact that the cost would “feed through into Vote-1 expenditure [to meet the costs of training clergy] which is levied on dioceses”. Another wrote that the Common Fund was having to double over two years, and that “any further training-related rise will cause real difficulties.”

The remaining respondent wrote: “It depends on the kind of training that we offer — certainly will be looking to nail this down a bit more over the next year. And how many of our ordinands are stipendiary — we would be really helped to have more people offering for self-supporting ministry.”

This aspiration may clash with the Ministry Division’s drive to ensure that more younger candidates come forward, given that they tend to be recommended for stipendiary ministry.

A more optimistic respondent wrote: “There will be a financial peak, and then it will settle down.”


Current and future costs

ELEVEN dioceses said that they had the funds to meet the training costs of everyone currently recommended; five said that they did not, and one of these had asked for “transitional support”. One respondent wrote: “The tying of funding to candidate age may lead to volatility in the level of funding received,” and commented: “We are concerned that our policy of providing the most appropriate training pathway and institution for each candidate may be hindered.”

Another wrote: “If we continue to support ordinands over 40 in full-time training, we will build up a deficit.”

Under the Resourcing Ministerial Education (RME) reforms, £41,900 is given to dioceses from the centrally administered pool to train candidates aged under 30 (enough to cover a three-year residential course), compared with only £18,400 for those between 40 and 55. When these new figures were first published, concerns were expressed that costs could determine the training pathway recommended to candidates (News, 12 February 2016).

An assessment of the reforms after one year, carried out by the Ministry Division and seen last week, suggests that the number of ordinands in non-residential full-time training has grown by almost 70 per cent; the number of residential ordinands has fallen by nine per cent; and the number of ordinands on a regional part-time course has increased by 22 per cent.

When it came to a 50-per-cent increase, only five of the 16 dioceses said that they would have the funds to train more ordinands. Five said no, they did not have the funds; six selected “don’t know”.

One diocese that had already exceeded the 50-per-cent target wrote: “We are having to put in place guidelines for accepting ordinands based on the cost of course.” Another said that expected glebe sales should cover the additional costs.

When asked “How confident are you that your diocese will be able to fund the extra curacies/title posts generated by the increase in ordinands?”, only one respondent was “very confident”. Eight were confident, four were “not very confident”, and three were “not confident at all”. One wrote: “Not without central help.” Another wrote: “We need more priests, but we will not be able to fund large numbers of stipendiary posts.”

Five mentioned housing, described by one as “our biggest challenge”. One of those who were “confident” acknowledged that additional training costs would have an impact on the diocese’s commitment to developing lay vocations.


Staying solvent

ASKED about measures that might be taken to cope with costs, most (nine) said that they would not cap ordinand numbers; but two had done so. One explained: “In the sense that we have not been able to make our desired staged increase”. Another that had capped numbers now plans to increase them by one candidate per year.

Four said that they might cap, and one of these described it as a means of “smoothing out” the increase (the diocese seeks to secure 12 stipendiary and 12 non-stipendiary ordinands per year). One wrote that capping would “adversely affect the efficacy” of the national strategy, and another wrote that they would not adopt this approach, “because we see this [the target] as urgent”.

Nine said that they would not delay sending candidates to Bishops’ Advisory Panels, or recommending candidates for training. But four said that they may, and two said that they would. It would be “invidious and discouraging to expect them to delay because of financial considerations”, one respondent wrote. “We try to put mission and ministry ahead of finance, but can’t bury our head in the sand for long,” wrote another.

Asked about exporting candidates to other dioceses, seven had already done so, six said that they might, and one said that they would.

One respondent wrote that funding arrangements “seem to penalise those dioceses which have been more successful in growing ordinand numbers beyond their capacity to take curates. There is currently no credit to dioceses for the cost of training ordinands who are subsequently exported elsewhere.”

The Director of the Ministry Division of the Church of England, the Ven. Julian Hubbard, said: “We are keen to find ways to make sure that the dioceses are able to bring forward an increase in ordinands, and that they have the financial resources which they need in order to do so. We are encouraging dioceses to develop plans so that they are clear about their future financial needs in this respect.”

Commenting on the data about training pathways, he said that “diversity of provision in training” was “a strength: one which reflects the varying mission needs of dioceses and the different learning requirements of ordinands”. This preliminary analysis showed that residential training pathways “remain almost twice as popular as non-residential full-time training for the September 2017 intake. We have also seen growth in the numbers of young people and women training residentially.” More detailed analysis would be published early in 2018.

Asked to clarify his “breaking-point” comments in July, Bishop Watson reiterated his assertion that a 50-per-cent rise in ordinands was “not business as usual for the Church, and may need some extra funding from the centre. Some dioceses have got imaginative ideas about how to finance the extra curacies that will be needed, but others will be unable to do so.” The issue was becoming “more pressing”, given the increased ordinand numbers (News, 27 September).

The increase in ordinands has resulted in an increase in the expenditure by the Archbishops’ Council which is substantially funded by dioceses (a sum described as “apportionment”). This year’s Archbishops’ Council budget records that the increase in apportionment has been restricted to three per cent, and the shortfall made up by drawing on capital. This is not sustainable, it says, but neither would it be sustainable to put the burden on dioceses.

The Council says that “firmer evidence” of growth in vocations will be needed before conversations with the Church Commissioners about unlocking additional funds can begin; but Bishop Watson believes that this dialogue should begin immediately.

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