OPTIMISM in the Church about the increase of female ordinands is “misleading” and fails to take the issue of gender balance in the clergy seriously, a new report from Women and the Church (WATCH) concludes.
The campaigning group has analysed the Ministry Statistics 2018 report from the C of E’s research and statistics division (News, 18 October 2019). The reported increase in female clerics in 2018 and the fact that more women than men began training for ordained ministry that year was welcome news, the group says, “but the press release only tells some of the story, and omits crucial information to the point of being misleading.”
WATCH says that 41 per cent of ordinands under the age of 40 in 2018 were women; 38 per cent under the age of 30 in 2018 were women; and, in 2019, according to an answer to a question in the General Synod last month, 40 per cent of ordinands under the age of 40 were women.
Therefore, WATCH argues in its report, “The proportion of women and men in licensed ordained ministry will be very slow to reach a gender balance, if it does so at all.” This is because younger trainees will presumably serve for longer than older ones and therefore the gender imbalance of long-serving clergy will favour men for several decades.
The report states: “The continuing gender imbalance is not being taken seriously enough even to merit comment, and therefore, is not being investigated effectively. . . One projection [from the Church of England] assumes that ‘the age distribution of female clergy ordained will match that of male clergy’ with no evidence or strategy for achieving this target.
“The report itself says, when discussing projections of future clergy numbers: ‘If the gender pattern remains the same, then in ten years’ time 64 per cent of clergy will be male and 36 per cent female.’ Such a statement, with no strategy to reduce the gender gap during these ten years, is shocking, and would be challenged in most other professions, including vocational ones such as medicine.”
The age and gender of ordinands also affected their ordination pathway: full-time residential, full-time non-residential, and part-time non-residential.
Most male ordinands (64 per cent) took up full-time training, two-thirds of whom were residential, compared with 49 per cent of full-time female ordinands, just more than half of whom were residential.
Therefore, WATCH states, because dioceses offered larger, more flexible grant options to younger ordinands, women ordinands — 60 per cent of whom were aged 40 or over — were less likely to be offered the option of full-time or residential training. The Ministry Division should be able to say how much is spent on training women and on training men, the report says.
It asserts: “While it is important that an ordinand and DDO [diocesan director of ordinands] discern the best mode of training for each individual, which might well be part-time, at the moment, gender is clearly a very significant difference in how future clergy are trained, and the impact of this should be investigated much more thoroughly than it is at the moment.”
Theories about why the number of young female ordinands is lower than the number of men should also be investigated, it says. “One possible reason . . . is that the Church is seen as an institution which undervalues women, is misogynistic and has embedded discrimination against women in its structures, as well as in its culture.”
This includes a lack of clarity surrounding maternity leave, shared incumbencies, or part-time stipendiary parish posts, and a lack of role models.
“This does not seem to be an issue that is being monitored by Ministry Division. Another question [put to the General Synod] asked how much was spent on training women, and how much on men. The answer was that the information could not be provided.”
The head of vocations for the Church of England, the Revd Helen Fraser, said: “The overall rise in the number of women starting training is very welcome indeed, but it is vital that more young women consider the possibility of ordained ministry.
“We have seen some progress towards this, with the number of young women (under 32 years old) starting training for ordained ministry rising by 44 per cent since 2016. But we acknowledge that more needs to be done, and we are working towards this goal.”