Ministry vocations rise again, though overall figures remain sobering

Aug 24, 2018 by

by Madeleine Davies, Church Times.

EFFORTS to stabilise clergy numbers are on track, the Church of England’s Ministry Division has stated — though it suggests that incumbency is becoming both “more demanding” and “more clearly an option among several routes”.

Numbers released by the division last Friday show that the number of people recommended for ordination training in 2018 grew by seven per cent on the previous year: from 541 to 580. This follows a 14 per cent increase the year before, “putting the Church on course to achieving a key target of recruiting 50 per cent more candidates for ordination by 2020” (News, 7 October 2016).

There was another jump in the number of recommended people aged 32 or under: up 32 per cent from two years ago to 169. Twenty-nine per cent of those entering training for the priesthood this year are expected to be in this age bracket, slightly up on last year.

Behind the drive to increase vocations by 50 per cent is the knowledge that about 25 per cent of the clergy are due to retire in the next five to ten years. The number of stipendiary priests fell from 8006 in 2012 to 7740 in 2017, according to Ministry Statistics released this week and the average age of the clergy was 62.8 (52.4 for stipendiary), less than three years off the average age of retirement — which has increased for clergy from 64.1 in 2015 to 65.6.

Research has suggested that congregational growth is linked to higher clergy numbers (News, 5 August).

The secretary-general of the Archbishops’ Council, William Nye, has warned that, even if the 50-per cent goal is achieved, the total number of stipendiary priests will continue to fall for a number of years before starting to rise again, and that “getting back up to the present 8000 . . . will depend not just on more vocations, but on the age profile of ordinands and of retirements.”

If the goal is achieved by 2023, it will only stabilise the pool at the level of 7600 full-time clergy, not enlarge it (News, 7 October, 2016).

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