Friday, 24 June 2011

The past and future of ordained Anglicanism

In my study is a file I rarely look into, but which contains a substantial section of my past. Today, however, I dug out some of the old Ember Lists from my old alma mater of St John’s Nottingham.
The reason was that I had just been sent the Ember List for 2011, and I couldn’t help making a mental comparison — but time can be a deceiver, so I wanted to remind myself of what we looked like back then.
The short answer is, very ’70s, but also very young and, as regards the ordinands of course, very male — although there are several female students.
Back in 1974, for example, whose alumni included Richard Inwood, the other John Richardson (and a Jill Richardson), plus Chris Sugden, there were, as far as I can count, thirty-four ordinands.
Not only were they all male, however, they were also astonishingly young by today’s standards. At present, the Church of England deploys just a handful of clergy under the age of thirty (currently 86 out of over 11,000 - which is actually an improvement on the last five years). Back then, Richard Inwood was just 28, and some of the others were even younger. Across the Church of England as whole, you would find hundreds of young men in their twenties.
As one whose graying hair is here for all to see on the internet, I hope the present members of the Nottingham Ember List will forgive me saying they are generally of more mature years.
But why should that matter? After all, God is interested in the old as well as the young, is he not? Well, yes. But the fact is that in ministry you tend to reach those similar in age to yourself. It is not impossible, but it is relatively rare, for youth ministry, for example, to be successfully driven by people in their fifties. And are we not always being told of the need to reach ‘the youth’?
In the 1970s, the ordained ministry of the Church was undoubtedly more representative of the national age spectrum than it is today — something which was surely to be applauded.
As to gender, my own views on the subject are reasonably well known (though I am emphatically not, as has often been alleged ‘opposed to women’s ministry’). However, my immediate concern is the apparent decline in male ordinands. I have not checked (though I have on file) the Ember lists for ’76 and ’77, so there may have been fewer graduates in those years. But if God has simply increased the number of vocations by calling women to the ordained ministry, then in fact the number of male ordinands in 2011 compared with 1974 represents a decline of almost 60%, from thirty-four to fourteen (along with a similar increase in age).
Altogether, it is another good reason not to be revisiting the past. Discovering that the Church into which you were ordained with such enthusiasm thirty-five years ago has, as resulted of your collective efforts, become smaller and older, is not a recipe for a happy retirement.
My one consolation is a conference I am running for Junior Anglican clergy next month which has attracted about two-dozen attendees. As far as I am concerned, my generation blew it, and the generation below us suffered the consequences. The hope for real Anglican revival must lie in a generation yet to emerge as leaders. In the 1970s we thought we were it. We weren’t. Hopefully there is still an opportunity to put some things right.
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  1. Couldn't agree more! But what went wrong? Why are the baby-boomers the last generation to be attracted to ordained ministry in significant numbers.
    The ordination of women had two effects:
    One was to fill the gap which the men were leaving for which we should be grateful.
    The other was to put off asking the awkward question
    of why so few young men were coming forward.
    I was encouraged that the bishops held a youth summit recently - about 10 years too late, though!

    Tim W Sussex

  2. Bishop Dominic Stockford (Evangelical Connexion)24 June 2011 at 15:52

    Interesting, but in my opinion it is based on an error! Nowhere in the New Testament can I find any exhortation to "reach the youth". Nowhere in Jesus' ministry is there any example of Jesus engaging in spcial Youth Ministry.

    Surely our task is simply and solely to preach the Gospel in season and out of season, to everyone and anyone. It is the same Gospel, and it doesn't change no matter who stands before us. Let's stop being youth obsessed, like the world, and be Gospel obsessed, like we should be.

  3. Male vocations may not be down.
    Male 'success' rates at selection conferences
    may be why you see the decline in male ordinands you do.

    Peter C, London

  4. Part of the problem is the pushing of younger people who feel a call to ministry into youth ministry. I can't help feel that there are some false assumptions at play:
    -young people don't want older people ministering to them/older people can't minister effectively to young people
    -old people don't want some wippersnapper ministering to them/younger people can't minister effectively to old people.
    -youth ministry is an easier option, training for the real stuff with adults.

    I think +Dominic is right that we should be gospel obsessed, but that means that we should be encouraging younger people who love the gospel and want to (and can) preach it into considering ordained ministry, just as is done with older people in the same position rather than pushing them away from it and into other things for a while (do they come back? probably not until their 50s, if at all) while they get older and more acceptable to the selection committees, who seem to view youth as a vice.

  5. I'll tell you a problem I often feel when considering the ministry.

    I'm 21, I am a firm believer in Christ, interested in our faith and the beliefs of the Anglican tradition and believe fully in them. But I don't go for the whole "everybody under 30 must bang a tambourine and run around with their hands in the air during services in order to be true Christians"... as such I feel extremely uncomfortable speaking to the clergy about my calling because honestly if I were to say "I pray through the Daily office and sing Psalms unaccmpanied each and every day and read the Bible as often as I can on a daily basis" most clergy would either think

    A) This kid is nuts
    B) this kid is lying
    C) this kid is a Saint

    and let's face it, most would go for option A or B which means that when the time comes for me to go forward to a selection panel I'm going to have to think up something about how I think guitars are the perfect way of spreading the gospel, or how mindless repetitive "worship songs" that seem to have no purpose except to repeat one sentence over and over again are way better than Psalms - just so that I seem like a generic "normal, modern, teen" Christian.

    James S, South Londonderry, Northern Ireland

  6. I come from the older group (post-60-baby boomer) called to ministry late in life. In the discernment process still, I was initially discouraged by the hurdles for mature candidates, but have been encouraged to continue as it seems that I may still have time for a worthwhile ministry as an Associate Priest.

    It's obvious to me that we over-emphasize the need for younger ordinands, and it seems that evidence shows that those in their late teens to mid-twenties are absorbed in education, establishing a career. The church might or might not be a choice, as the salary and prospects might not be that bright for them.

    The church seems to have made a pragmatic decision to take slightly more mature candidates, who can demonstrate an education history and work ethic and have had some exposure to life post-teens. I'm not sure that it's the right decision, but the question is how to attract those young Christians, doing their A Levels or during their further education to consider a call to ministry.

    It seems to me that School and University Chaplaincy is one key to this. Meeting and encouraging young Christians too explore a possible vocation, but also by their example and leadership to encourage those thinking of the Priesthood to see it in action.

    The other thing that I see first hand, is the daily grind of parish life, which is relentless and can be a cause of pain, distress and burnout, unless the individual minister is thoroughly grounded in prayer, the spiritual life and worship and knows that boundaries exist to protect them as well as their flock.

    The ministry of women is not and should not be an issue, we should thank God that so many, who might have been denied the opportunity to serve, now have the freedom to fulfill their vocation and do so well across the church.