My nostalgic moment about Ember Lists yesterday got me thinking about the figures on the CofE website, which seem to confirm something which experience suggests, namely that when it comes to full-time stipendiary clergy in the Church of England, the women basically tend to be older than the men.
Now I would be the first to admit that statistics are tricky things and my analysis may be off. Nevertheless, several interesting things can be observed.
First, the actual number of male assistant curates peaks at 35-39 (206). This is also the point at which they are the greatest total percentage in their gender-group (3.5% of all male clergy, compared with 2.5% for those five years older and 2.9% for those five years younger). However, the balance of incumbent-status clergy and assistant-curates in this age group is about the same (52% and 48% respectively are incumbent-status or assistant curates).
By comparison, women assistant curates in this age group total 57 and represent 3.3% of all female clergy, which is not dissimilar to the men. However, the balance of incumbents to curates in the age group is strikingly different, being 43% and 57%, respectively. Moreover, whilst the percentage of those five years younger is lower (and is higher than that for the men) at 3.2%, the percentage of curates for those five years older is 4.4%, and for those aged 45-49 is 7.2% of the female total.
In fact, the number of female assistant curates peaks at 50-54 (116), at which point they represent 7.6% of all the female clergy. Moreover, the percentage of women incumbents in this age group is still only 67% of the total, whilst a third (33%) are assistant curates. By contrast, 92% of the men in this age group are incumbents and only 8% assistant curates. The same ratio amongst women is only reached at 60-64, although by this time the actual numbers are very small (200 incumbents compared with 14 assistant curates) and the statistics may be correspondingly less reliable.
Rather harder to show in a blog post, but just as telling, is the ‘quinquennial’ rate of percentage change in the clergy who are assistant curates in each age category.
Age % of Men % of Women
in curacies in curacies
25-29 92 100
30-34 70 67
35-39 48 57
40-44 22 46
45-49 12 40
50-54 8 33
54-59 4 16
Similarly, we may compare the increasing percentage of incumbent-status clergy:
Age % of Men % of Women
as incumbents as incumbents
25-29 8 0
30-34 30 33
35-39 52 43
40-44 78 54
45-49 88 60
50-54 92 67
54-59 96 84
Just to reiterate, these are figures for stipendiary, parochial, clergy. They do not include non-parochial posts, part-time or self-supporting clergy, or ‘dignitaries’. Nevertheless, they seem to indicate two clear trends. One is that male and female clergy differ in their age profiles related to incumbent-status or assistant curate posts. The second is that a higher proportion of male clergy are in incumbent status posts at an earlier age than is the case for women. Conversely, a higher proportion of women clergy are in assistant curate posts at a later age than is the case for men.
To put this in plainer English, but slightly more tendentiously, it looks as if men get ordained younger than women, and therefore tend to become incumbents at an earlier age than do women.
Now my question is this — and it may not be the one people are expecting — but if it is true that (a) male clergy are typically younger than female clergy and (b) getting ordained is dependent on God’s call, why would God be calling older women and younger men?
And for what it is worth, here is my answer: God is far less involved in this process than we like to think. Actually, the age differences can be accounted for by issues of sociology at least as much as theology. My guess — and it is a guess — is that far more women feel the ‘call’ after their children have grown up and left home than do men, and that accounts for the key age difference and all the other phenomena we observe.
But this then raises a question in my mind, which has actually been there for some time, as to whether we have really got it right when it comes to ‘calling’.
The selection process, and indeed the Book of Common Prayer, lays a great deal of stress on the ‘inwardness’ of calling: “Do you think in your heart that you be truly called, according to the will of our Lord Jesus Christ, and the order of this Church of England, to the Order and Ministry of Priesthood?”
But what is a ‘true calling’? In my own day it was understood to be a special sense from God that this was what he wanted me to do. In Scripture, however, I find very little emphasis on inward feelings and an awful lot on outward, observable, competence and the decision of the Church to recognize that (eg Titus 1:6-9). Jesus’s ‘calling’ of the disciples, in particular, seemed to owe nothing to them feeling they should become apostles, and everything on his appointment of them (John 6:70).
Arguably, then, the Church should be fingering people and telling them they jolly well ought to be considering the ordained ministry, not waiting while they wait to see if they have ‘a call’. And that being the case, I would have thought we want to get people in their prime, when they are young enough, and free enough of other ties, to be able to give time to training, and then themselves to ministry wherever they might be needed. (That, at least, was something we were getting right forty years ago.)
But that being the case, ought we not to be seeing far more young, and doubtless single, women going into training — just as we currently see quite a high percentage of young, single men?
On the other hand, if we’ve got this ‘calling’ business right, I come back to my earlier question — what is it about God’s plans and purposes such that, if men and women are ‘equal’ in their endowment for ordained ministry, he seems to call them at such very different times in their lives?
25 June 2011
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