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WATCH deplores lack of young women in ministry

18 February 2022

Diocese of Norwich

New deacons receive Bibles from the Bishop of the Lynn, the Rt Revd Jane Steen, at their ordination last Michaelmas

New deacons receive Bibles from the Bishop of the Lynn, the Rt Revd Jane Steen, at their ordination last Michaelmas

THE Church is “demonstrably failing” to encourage young women to train for ministry as the majority of places in training colleges are being taken up by young men, the campaigning group Women and the Church (WATCH) has warned.

Its annual analysis of data suggested that a serious culture change was needed, it said.

Women were more likely to enter training later in life, after the age of 40, and shifts in the Church’s grant funding for training to prioritise younger ordinands meant that older candidates would get funding only for part-time training. The majority of women ordinands (58 per cent) were aged between 40 and 59, while the majority of men (53 per cent) were under 40.

“At the moment, the Church of England is demonstrably failing in its aim of encouraging young women to train for ordained ministry,” the report says. “This also means that in many residential training institutions the majority of ordinands will be male, and so these ordinands are being formed in a context which continues to normalise clergy being male.”

Women were also in the minority of academic staff at training colleges, and only one college had a woman principal, further normalising male leadership.

The vice-chair of WATCH, the Revd Rosalind Rutherford, said: “We need a culture change, and we need to start with some hard listening and hard thinking. Women’s voices are still not being heard in many dioceses. If we don’t ask what are the blockages, we will never find out the answers.

“Dioceses need to have a strategy to increase numbers and to affirm women’s ministry.”

Many dioceses did not take seriously the need to increase the number of young women entering ministry, or women applying for stipendiary posts, she said. She praised the diocese in Europe for setting out a strategy to raise the number, which historically had been low, of women clergy.

Improvements in other areas for women had also levelled off, she said: the number of women appointed as diocesan bishops had failed to increase over the past two years.

Two dioceses, Carlisle and Rochester, had no women on their senior staff, and two of the largest dioceses, Leeds and London, had ratios of two women to 14 men, and three women to 13 men, respectively.

There were just ten women deans at the end of last year, the report said.

The proportion of women who were stipendiary priests has continued to grow, however: 25 dioceses now had 30 per cent more women in stipendiary parish positions, compared with ten dioceses in 2015.

Chichester remained the diocese with the lowest proportion of stipendiary women clergy, at 16 per cent, while Ely had the highest, at 43 per cent.

The picture was very mixed across dioceses, however. In Sheffield and Hereford dioceses, the proportion of women clergy had been consistently decreasing over the past few years. Other dioceses had had consistently low numbers of women in stipendiary posts, such as Exeter, where they constituted 17 per cent in 2020 — down from 19 per cent in 2015.

Women continued to occupy a high proportion of self-supporting (SSM) posts. Sheffield had nearly as many SSM women clergy as stipendiary women clergy, but five times as many male stipendiary clergy as male SSM clergy.

In the General Synod, the proportion of women in the Houses of Clergy and Laity had barely changed over the past five years: it now stood at 53 per cent of laity and 33 per cent of clergy. In four dioceses, no ordained women had been elected: Blackburn, Ely, Portsmouth, and Winchester.

WATCH said that it would be studying carefully the planned future reductions in clergy numbers as a result of growing financial challenges faced by dioceses, to ensure that women were not adversely affected.

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