NUMBERS of candidates recommended to train for stipendiary ministry are at their highest for 34 years, after a year in which the Church’s discernment programme had to move online.
In a report celebrating “extraordinary and unexpected outcomes”, the Ministry Council states that 591 people were recommended to train for ordained ministry — the highest number for 13 years — of whom 431 were recommended for stipendiary ministry.
“God has not stopped calling people to serve and lead his church through lay and ordained ministry and we are encouraged and reassured by his provision,” the head of vocations in the Archbishops’ Council’s Ministry Division, the Revd Helen Fraser, said this week.
In March 2020, the majority of BAPs were cancelled, owing to the pandemic, and, within weeks, the Temporary Online Discernment Process was established (News, 7 May 2020).
A greater diversity of candidates has emerged: ten per cent of recommended candidates were of UK minority-ethnic background, up from 7.8 per cent in 2019 (News, 19 June 2020). For the second year running, 54 per cent were women. Of those under the age of 32, 27 per cent were women — short of the 50 per cent goal set out under Renewal and Reform. In total, 24 per cent of ordinands who started training were under the age of 32, against a target of 50 per cent (News, 23 September 2016).
Regional courses remain the most popular training pathway: there was a 12-per- cent increase in intake recorded from 2019. A total of 32 candidates to be Ordained Pioneer Ministers were recommended to train, up from six in 2016. Overall, the recommendation rate for those attending BAPs has increased from 81 to 91 per cent since 2016.
On Tuesday, the head of discernment in the Ministry Division, Joy Gilliver, said that the temporary online discernment process had “enabled a trusted process of discernment and selection to continue, which would have been impossible otherwise.
“The main challenge — for candidates and assessors alike — has been the difficulty of assessment in a context where it has been impossible to encounter one another in the flesh, where the human context of social interaction and engagement is so important in being yourself in an assessment context. This is also important because relational skills in face-to face encounter are so essential in ordained ministry.
She continued: “We are really committed to combining the learning from the online process with the benefits of face-to-face encounter in the new Shared Discernment Process (News, 25 June), and the House of Bishops has agreed that Stage One, with its focus on what a candidate knows and can do, will now take place primarily online.
“We are committed, of course, to making bespoke provision for any candidate who, because of a particular disability, would find online engagement online in Stage One impossible. Stage Two, with its focus on being and growing, will be face-to-face.”
A key target of the Renewal and Reform programme was a 50-per-cent increase in vocations to ordained ministry by 2020, compared with the 2013 figure, from an average of 500 every year to 750 (News, 23 May 2016).
The growth has come from stipendiary recommendations, up by more than 40 per cent since 2013, and which made up 73 per cent of the cohort last year.
In 2019, the stipendiary clergy cohort stabilised. The Ministry Council estimates that, in 2020, there were 7670 stipendiary clergy in the Church, down from 8300 in 2012, but in line with the Renewal and Reform programme’s goal of a “stable pool” of 7600.
Recommendations to self-supporting ministry have remained relatively static, and research into the causes has begun (News, 4 June).