*** DEBUG END ***

Growth in clergy vocations slows

02 September 2019

Consideration is being given to stemming the projected decline


The Bishop of Bolton, the Rt Revd Mark Ashcroft, with deacons ordained at Petertide this year. Half of the deacons in this photograph would have had their “enquiries about ministry . . . channelled . . . away from ordination to priesthood” at churches with a theological commitment to male headship, Lizzie Taylor, a member of the Cambridge Churches Women’s Equality Network, said

The Bishop of Bolton, the Rt Revd Mark Ashcroft, with deacons ordained at Petertide this year. Half of the deacons in this photograph would have had t...

THE spike in clergy vocations reported in the past two years will not be repeated this year, putting the target of a 50-per-cent increase by 2020 in doubt, Church House said this week.

The annual Ministry Statistics, published by Church House on Monday, show that, by the end of 2018, there were there 590 ordinands beginning training, a 24-per-cent increase on 2014 (News, 24 August 2018), just half of the target which was a key element in the C of E’s Renewal and Reform programme.

The statistics also show a doubling of the proportion of candidates recommended for ministerial training who identify as BAME, since 2016 — news that was welcomed by the National Minority Ethnic Vocations Officer, who cautioned, however, that the Church was still “a way off from where we would want to be”.

Asked on Monday about whether the Church would meet its target of a 50-per-cent increase in vocations to ordained ministry compared with the 2013 figure, the interim director of ministry, Canon Mandy Ford, said: “It depends how you want to look at it. Inevitably it is not a straight line. We haven’t released figures for this year yet, but we will not see the same increase that we have seen over the last two years.

“That is inevitable, given the bounce that goes with a new initiative. So, whilst the news remains encouraging, we will be looking more carefully at what longer-term projections might be telling us.”

The variation in the length of training undertaken by ordinands — some complete it within two years — would have an impact on the number of curates being deployed each year, she said.

Behind the drive to increase vocations are projections indicating that 25 per cent of serving clergy are due to retire in the next five to ten years. The number of stipendiary priests fell from 8006 in 2012 to 7700 in 2018. According to these, the latest figures, the average age of stipendiary clergy is 52.4; for non-stipendiary it is 62.2.

The problem has been offset slightly by the average age at which clergy retire, which has risen from 64.1 in 2014 to 65.7. Also, thousands of clergy continue to minister after retirement, operating with Permission To Officiate (PTO).

Even if the 50 per cent increase is achieved by next year — producing a pool of nearly 8000 full-time-equivalent clergy — the pattern of decline will return if this is not sustained.

The Church Commissioners were “extremely forward-looking”, Canon Ford said, and were looking for “sustainable growth” over the next ten to 12 years. At the General Synod in July, the chair of the Archbishops’ Council finance committee, John Spence, confirmed that the Council would cover the entire cost of the increase in ordinands up until 2025.

“We are expecting a real surge in number of curates and want to provide funding for curates proportionally greatest for dioceses where finances are weakest,” he said.

The Church Commissioners are looking beyond next year’s deadline to consider how to stem the projected decline through the use of the Strategic Ministry Fund, acknowledging that certain dioceses are struggling to fund ministerial training and the rise in the number of curacies.

The number of parishes in which a resolution under the House of Bishops’ Declaration on the Ministry of Bishops and Priests — the provisions for those who are unable, for theological reasons, to receive the ministry of women as bishops and priests — has been passed has fallen from 550 in 2017 to 510.


Another 2020 Renewal and Reform target is for half of all ordinands recommended for stipendiary ministry to be under the age of 32. The Ministry Division does not supply this figure. Instead, it states that, of the 320 ordinations of stipendiary clergy last year, one third (34 per cent) were under the age of 35.

The average age of ordinands — 42.5 — has remained relatively static since 2014. The average age of recommended candidates was 34 in 1988.

In 2018, one third of all ordinands beginning their training were aged under 35 — slightly down from 36 per cent in 2014. The biggest growth as a percentage of the total was seen in the older age-groups (aged 45 and above). The increase has been celebrated by DDOs (News, 7 September 2018).

Those training with the intention of becoming incumbents made up three-quarters of all ordinands (74 per cent) in 2018, an increase of 30 per cent since 2014. The proportion of those training for incumbent roles who were women has also increased, from 26 per cent in 2014 to 37 per cent.

Canon Ford said that the statistics were also a reminder of the contribution made by 7000 clergy who continue to minister after retirement, and nearly 3000 who minister without stipend. “It is notable that a proportion of our NSM clergy are of incumbent status, or ministering in parishes without incumbent colleagues,” she said. “This is just one example of the way in which the shape of ministry is changing, and will be a prompt to ensuring that training for ministry equips people for different shapes of ministry in the future.”



Although more women than men were recommended for training last year (54 per cent compared to 45 per cent — up from 43 per cent women in 2014), of the 110 people under 35 ordained for stipendiary ministry last year, 73 per cent were men. Of all ordinands beginning training last year under the age of 35, 60 per cent were men. The goal is for women to make up 50 per cent of the under-32s recommended for training.

Overall, the percentage of clergy who are women continues to rise: from 27 in 2014 to 30 last year. The rise is also seen among stipendiary ministers — 29 per cent are women, up from 26 per cent — and in senior posts, up from 16 to 25 per cent. Women make up half of all non-stipendiary and self-supporting ministers — though the gender profile of clergy whose chief work is as a chaplain is similar to that of stipendiary clergy (71 per cent male).

On Monday, Canon Ford said that the “biggest barrier” for younger women discerning a vocation to ordained ministry concerned family-friendly policies. A guidance note on best practice, including maternity leave, was currently being developed, which she hoped would “give comfort to younger women”. An important element was the opportunity to serve part-time — “but that not being a barrier to full-time incumbency and senior leadership in the future”.

She said: “We recognise that the value of having that diversity in the workforce means you may have to make allowances now to accommodate people’s family needs.”



THE National Minority Ethnic Vocations Officer, Rosemarie Davidson-Gotobed, welcomed an increase in the number of ordinands from BAME backgrounds: 7.9 per cent compared with 6.2 per cent in 2017, and four per cent in 2016. In the current pool of stipendiary clergy, the proportion is 3.9 per cent — up from 3.1 per cent at the end of 2012.

“Within that celebration, we need to be mindful that we are still a way off from where we would want to be,” she said. Among the initiatives under way was a mentor directory, which seeks to provide lay and ordained mentors across the country, willing to support those from historically under-represented groups. There are currently 30 people trained for this; the goal is 100 by the end of the year.

A minority-ethnic vocations conference had also been expanded to several regions, and anti-bias training was helping people to reflect on attitudes and perceptions that “might unconsciously hinder someone else’s call”. She also offered follow-up training to dioceses to boost confidence in “cross-cultural communications”. Increasing the number of BAME clergy in senior roles would flow from work at junior levels, she said. “One cog can’t move until the other cogs move.”



The report shows a gradual decrease in the total number of Readers/Licensed Lay Ministers in active ministry over the past decade, from just over 10,000 in 2009 to 8240 in 2018. The number of Readers in training has decreased by just over one quarter (27 per cent), from 930 in 2009, to 680 in 2018. These were greatly outnumbered by the total number of Readers who became non-active last year: 1130, making a net loss for the year of 450 Readers.

Serving readers are most commonly female and aged 60 to 69. Those in training were most commonly female aged 40 to 59. The vast majority are White British: 3.4 per cent of serving Readers and 6.5 per cent of those in training identify as BAME.

Last year, the Central Readers Council called for flexible learning as part of a drive to recruit a younger and more diverse body of Readers (News, 4 May 2018).

The Research and Statistics unit is currently working on a project to gather statistics on lay ministries.

Browse Church and Charity jobs on the Church Times jobsite

Forthcoming Events


Church Times/RSCM:

Festival of Faith and Music

26 - 28 April 2024

See the full programme on the festival website. 

Early bird tickets available


Intercultural Church for a Multicultural World

28 May 2024

A Church Times/Church House Publishing webinar

Tickets are FREE


Church Times/Modern Church:

A Political Faith?

Monday 3 June 2024

This panel will explore where Christians have come to in terms of political power and ask, where should we go next?

Online tickets available


Church Times/Modern Church:

Participating in Democracy

Monday 10 June 2024

This panel will explore the power of voting, and power beyond voting.

Online tickets available


Green Church Awards

Closing date: 30 June 2024

Read more details about the awards


Welcome to the Church Times


To explore the Church Times website fully, please sign in or subscribe.

Non-subscribers can read four articles for free each month. (You will need to register.)