The Anglican boat is still heading for the demographic rapids.
Official figures just announced say that between 25% and 40% of full time stipendiary clergy are aged over 60. Only 3.4% of all clergy are from black or ethnic minorities. In his commentary, the Church of England Director of Ministry, Julian Hubbard, writes: “While the number of stipendiary ordinations showed a welcome increase between 2012 and 2015, this is not sufficient to redress the gathering effect of clergy retirements predicted over the next ten years.”
He added, “The statistics on the age and ethnicity of clergy show that we still have some way to go to ensure that the whole cohort fully reflects the demographics of the wider community.”
Mike Eastwood, Director of Renewal and Reform, the Church of England’s main response to falling church attendance, said: “These figures support what we have been saying about the need for renewal and reform in the Church of England. Renewal and Reform is about a message of hope, through changed lives and transformed communities, as people discover their vocation to love God and serve others. Renewal and Reform is not a top-down project to fix the church, but a narrative of local hope in God shared throughout the church. As part of Renewal and Reform, we are currently consulting on how we better release the gifts of all Christian leaders in church and wider society, whether ordained or not.”
As a priest with 46 years service, let me try to interpret the ecclesiastical spin for you.
In a word, Mr Hubbard has looked in the cupboard and found it to be bare. These numbers mean that the Church of England is very shortly going to be desperately short of full time, decently educated and properly trained priests. I will come back to the decently educated and properly trained aspect in a minute.
First, we notice the Church’s politically-correct obsession with racial quotas. St Paul said, “In Christ there is neither Jew nor Greek,” but the talkative old tentmaker did not foresee the preoccupations of the modern C. of E. Why this obsession with colour and racial origins? In Mr Hubbard’s contorted language, why should “…the whole cohort fully reflect the demographics of the wider community”? Why should the racial origins of the ministers be precisely proportionate to those of the parishes they serve? Everyone walking about has a brain (we suppose), yet hardly any of us are brain surgeons. Millions take the tube every day, but few actually drive the trains. And the euphemistic phrase “positive discrimination” cannot disguise the fact that the obsession with racial quotas is itself an example of racism.
Mr Eastwood’s verbose exposition of the policies of Renewal and Reform are all blather and bluster – a species of what in RAF slang was always known as “flannel.”
His peroration about the “…better release of the gifts of all Christian leaders in Church and wider society” is a glossy way of saying that in future the cash-strapped Church will resort to appointing unpaid layfolk to do the work presently undertaken by the stipendiary priesthood.
This will, of course, involve a further dumbing down to follow that which has been the norm in the C. of E. over the last forty years. When I was training for the ministry, some ordinands took degrees and higher degrees in theology and philosophy. But the minimum educational standard was impressively high, consisting of the 13 papers of the General Ordination Examination (GOE) – affectionately referred to as God’s Own Exam. There were 3 papers on Old Testament and 3 on the New; two on doctrine, another two on history, one on liturgy, one on pastoral studies and a final one on Greek.
Since that time, there has been a relentless falling off in which all kinds of ad hoc training schemes have come and gone, with the result that most clergy under the age of 55 know very little theology. Most of them have never so much as opened The King James Bible and The Book of Common Prayer, let alone used those books which used to be the head and cornerstone of English Christianity. The worst of it is there now exists – under the shibboleth of “anti-elitism” – a perverse institutional pride in knowing nothing.
Under all the spin, smoke and mirrors, the truth is that congregations will continue their precipitous fall and increasingly be taught and ministered to by people who are hardly qualified for the task.