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Church of Ireland Synod: Call for more vocations to ordained ministry

24 May 2024

Tim Wyatt reports from the Church of Ireland Synod in Armagh

CHURCH OF IRELAND

Bishops in procession at a pre-Synod service

Bishops in procession at a pre-Synod service

THE urgency in recruiting more priests dominated discussion of the report from the Commission on Ministry, on Saturday morning. The Bishop of Down & Dromore, the Rt Revd David McClay, who chairs the Commission, said that it had given much time to thinking about how vocations could be further encouraged, and was constantly producing resources to “stimulate people to think and pray as to whether God might be asking them to consider ordained ministry”.

Work initiated, on pioneer ministry and clergy tenure, among other things, had now developed enough for them to form their own committees. The Commission was also urging all dioceses to offer fuller support for clergy well-being, Bishop McClay said. In some parts of Ireland, priests had access to free counselling through the Church. The Commission was exploring how to share examples of church growth across the wider Church, he said.

The Archdeacon of Armagh, the Ven. Dr Peter Thompson (Armagh), said that the Church was heading towards a dramatic fall in the number of stipendiary clergy in about six or seven years; and so nurturing further vocations was vital to the future of the Church. He also questioned whether the Church of Ireland Theological Institute’s approach, in making all candidates complete a Master’s degree in theology, was right, and suggested that more flexibility in putting ordinands on higher or lower level courses, depending on their qualifications, was preferable. He urged the Synod to reconsider ordination training to see if it could be streamlined and improved.

The Bishop of Cashel, Ferns & Ossory, the Rt Revd Adrian Wilkinson, reflected on how research showed that those in caring professions tended to be happier in their jobs. He said that clergy in his diocese, while tackling big challenges, were encouraged and content, and praised the Theological Institute for how it had prepared and trained people for ministry. All ministry was a response to the call of God, who had chosen us to “go and bear fruit that will last, and all clergy have the wonderful privilege of doing this”. He urged those listening to consider if they were being called to respond to God’s choosing of them, and to join “what should be a very happy, rewarding and fulfilling profession”.

The Archdeacon of Belfast, the Ven. Barry Forde (Connor), a member of the Commission, said that it was a “crying shame” that the committee given the task of looking at clergy tenure had no work to report back to the Synod this year. Members should “demand” that the Commission did not return empty-handed next year, but bring back serious proposals for what was an “urgent” matter, he said. Referring to an earlier debate about the permanent health insurance policy for clergy on sick leave for more than a year, Archdeacon Forde said that it was potentially unfair. How long should clergy off work be expected to be paid from the financial offerings given by congregations? Indefinite sick pay would leave an “intolerable” burden on dioceses, and not be in the financial best interests of the Church. “How long does this go on before it becomes unfair, unreasonable, and intolerable?” he asked. “It is a major issue that we need to wrestle and grapple with.”

The Revd Jack Kinkead (Dublin & Glendalough) agreed that it was important to consider the long-term future of the Church’s ministry. Retirements of clergy would soon vastly outnumber ordinations; so he urged members to consider their own vocations.

Canon Malcolm Kingston (Armagh) said that the clergy-tenure committee had good reasons for failing to bring a report back to the Synod, including overstretched staff and unavailable members. He reassured Archdeacon Forde that the work had not been forgotten.

The Synod received the report of the Commission and approved its new membership.

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