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.Please give a full name and location when posting. Comments without this information may be deleted.