WHEN the Additional Curates Society (ACS) opens its new offices in Birmingham city centre next month, it will be 180 years since Joshua Watson, a businessman who counted Newman, Keble, and Pusey among his friends, founded it with a donation of £500.
The goal then, as now, was to “ensure that the Christian faith is proclaimed in poor and populous parishes”, through the funding of assisting priests, and encouraging vocations.
This week, Adam Edwards, the communications director for the Church Union, and an NSM at Holy Trinity, Ettingshall, in Lichfield diocese, said that, although dioceses now paid stipends, grants from the Society were ensuring that parishes could be “topped up”, from part-time to full-time clergy. The Society was also investing in work to encourage vocations, through the Here I Am initiative, launched in 2014.
“The number of traditionalist men coming forward for ordination is doing well,” he said. “We are getting a lot of younger men coming forward; a lot of young men have been ordained recently, so that feels really positive. What we want to do is encourage people in secondary school to start thinking about what their vocation might be. It’s certainly a flourishing time for vocations in the Catholic tradition.”
Additional Curates SocietyThe vocations conference
The work included supporting candidates from working-class backgrounds, he said, so that “the voice of the people is expressed in vocations to the priesthood”.
Last year, the society paid out almost £70,000 in grants, bursaries, and vocation payments. It supported 20 parishes, and three individuals were given stipendiary support amounting to £43,000. The annual report for last year notes “an increase in grant applications particularly to support half-time appointments where dioceses are trying to reduce financial outlays”.
In its first 100 years, the society supported 3000 of the 14,000 parishes in England and Wales, in grants totalling £3,477,418. Towards the end of the 19th century, with Queen Victoria its patron, it was making more than a thousand grants a year, and, by 1937, it was supporting 734 curates in “Poor Parishes and New Districts”.
Articles in the Church Times archive testify both to the gratitude of recipients and changing expectations about the ratio of priest to parish. In 1957, it was suggested that “the adequate shepherding of souls became humanly impossible when a parish priest had to deal with more than 6,000 people without clerical help”, and, in 1963, the Bishop of Southwark, whose diocese received the largest grant of £4000, the Rt Revd Mervyn Stockwood, admitted: “I do not know what we would do without the ACS.”
The general secretary of the ACS, Darren Smith, said this week that “the need to provide priests especially in the poor and populous parishes of our Church remains, and ACS has a massive role to play in this.”
The new premises, due to be opened on 5 October by the Bishop of Wakefield, the Rt Revd Tony Robinson, had helped the society to “modernise”, Fr Smith said. Besides office space, there are kitchen facilities, and a meeting room with the latest technology that can be used for worship as well as meeting, for up to 30 people.