AMID a national push for ordinands in their twenties and early thirties (News, 23 September 2016), diocesan directors of ordination (DDOs) are extolling the gifts brought by older candidates.
Writing in The Daily Telegraph this week, the Associate Priest of All Saints with St John, Clifton, the Revd Wendy Bray, ordained at 54, described how she had brought to her training community her life, “its experience, its doubts, its failings, and the — unrecognised by me — wisdom of a life lived longer than those I studied with”.
“Perhaps we have more time and patience to sit with those who need our company, journey with those who have lost direction, weep with those who weep, and laugh with those who laugh,” she suggested.
On Saturday, the paper published an interview with the Bishop of Winchester, the Rt Revd Tim Dakin, who suggested that “sixty is the new forty. We’re living longer, we’ve got a lot of energy.”
A diocesan age limit of 56 for ordinands has been dropped, and four of those training exceed it.
Although no national age limit exists, many dioceses operate one and the national funding available for each candidate decreases with age: £41,900 can be spent training a candidate aged under 30; £28,000 on those in their thirties; £18,400 on those aged 40-to-55; and £12,300 on those over 55.
Although younger ordinands are growing in number (News, 21 August), the average age at ordination last year was 44.9 years, rising to 56.3 for self-supporting ministry. In the past two years, the number of female ordinands aged 40-54 has risen by a third.
“We have had a considerable amount of older candidates over the years in Chester,” the DDO, the Revd Magdalen Smith, said this week. “Generally I have found these to be people of high calibre in terms of personal wisdom, spiritual maturity, and with a great to deal offer in terms of inhabiting a grounded, creative, and missional ministry.
“They often have a great deal to offer in terms of supporting a local ministry but are also often willing to go beyond their local boundaries to minister elsewhere. . . We need to remember we have a rich pool of older people who have an established understanding of Christian faith. A vocation is a vocation whether someone is 26, 46, or 66.”
The DDO in Hereford, the Revd Neil Patterson, reported that the diocese had never stated a specific age limit, and that ordinands at Petertide had ranged in age from 25 to 65.
“We do, however, echo the national push for more young vocations,” he said. “I was the youngest in the diocese for nine years after my ordination aged 24. There are particular aspects of supporting young candidates — discerning potential and providing opportunities — at which the Church as a whole is getting better. . . I do not perceive a drive for more younger clergy as one for fewer older ordinands: surely we are seeking to support and encourage all whom God is calling to ministry?”
In Carlisle, the DDO, Canon Peter Clement, said that there had been a “large increase in those exploring ordained ministry over the last few years”, many of whom were aged 50 to 60 and exploring self-supporting ministry, “which fits well with the ecumenical vision for the county”.
For stipendiary ordained ministry, candidates must be ordained before they are 58; and for self-supporting ministry, 70 and higher age limit “seems to be working”, he said. “It is important that we encourage and allow people to use their God-given gifts and skills, and liberate the people of God.”
The head of discipleship and vocation for the Church of England, Catherine Nancekievill, said: “We are encouraging Christians of all ages and backgrounds to consider how they might be called to serve God, including the possibility of lay or ordained ministry.
“People of all ages bring something distinctive to ministry.”