PREBENDARY John Lees is both the National Officer and the Bishop of Exeter’s Officer for Self-Supporting Ministry. He believes that it is “time to get the shop window organised” on making the varied callings in the Church of England more visible.
“There are a range of flavours available, and we need to tell the story,” he says. “There are so many callings in the Church. However, if you can’t see it, you can’t be it. Most Anglicans do not know there are so many different callings.”
Prebendary Lees also warned of the danger of “old-fashioned sexism” in the Church, which means the majority of stipendiary clergy are still men.
“The Church has pushed women into unpaid roles,” he says. “There are lots of ways of putting pressure on women. They are [still] asked why they want to be a vicar — why not be a Reader, instead?
“Age is another issue. Larger cities such as London and Oxford attract younger people, but the average age of a church member in most other places is 72. Young people are not so keen to be wardens or Readers. They want other roles.”
It is still common for people to seek ordination in their fifties and sixties, he says. “It’s partly a traditional model, and partly because work becomes less important.”
Ethnic minorities are still not represented in ministries, while gay and lesbian Christians may be increasingly welcomed, but “there are still horror stories.”
The Revd Alastair Prince is the Vocation Strategy Development Adviser in the diocese of Durham. Born in Hull, he grew up on the Canadian prairies before returning to England in his twenties and training for ordination. “The Church is evolving. The perceptions of what a clergyperson can look like have changed,” he says.
In Durham, for example, they have seen more people coming forward from working-class parishes.
“We run a vocations event each year, where we bring in people who are exercising different ministries, so people can see the full spectrum of what is available, including the religious life.
“People in different ministries describe what they do, and their calling to that particular ministry. They do it in a sort of speed-dating way. After that, I’ll meet with people individually, and ask if there was one that particularly excited them.”
The vocations adviser in Exeter diocese, the Revd Hannah Mears, is a self-supporting minister who runs a vocations project, Called by Name. “I launched it over two years ago,” she says.
The Exeter diocesan vocations adviser, the Revd Hannah Mears
“We do it about four or five times a year, and have successfully run it on Zoom during lockdown. The feedback has been very encouraging. It is about bringing together the principals of local theological colleges, DDOs, lay-development leaders, and a recently ordained curate. The focus is about empowering all the people of God.
“It is an opportunity to ask people if God could be calling them to ministry. They may feel a mixture of nerves and excitement at this question. The event is a great chance to consider what it means to follow God’s call, and to hear from people involved in different shapes and sizes of ministry. Attending does not commit anyone to anything, but could be the next step you need to explore further.”