Sunday, July 15, 2012

Invisible Vicars

This post about the future of the CofE has attracted several fascinating comments, and getting on for 2000 readers so far. Most are worth highlighting in a post by themselves, but here's just one:

One further observation from someone who has been a priest in chaplaincies/cathedrals/outside the parochial system nearly all his ministry- Many clergy seem to be disregarded when they leave those bits the hierarchy can manage (the parochial system). This can be to the detriment of both them and the church- especially as many minister (e.g. in armed forces or education) disproportionately to those outside the church.

Also, I suspect the numbers of clergy that are simply not accounted for is greater than many might imagine. Has anyone ever studied what I think in other professions is called "wastage"? Have we statistics? I was shocked to discover how many I was at theological college had quietly drifted out of ministry altogether.
Might many of the clergy at the edges have something special to contribute to the shrinking core, if ever they chose to, or were asked to?

There are some stats in the official figures about clergy leaving and rejoining parochial ministry, but (as with many of the stats) there's no analysis or asking of questions. It's very easily to quietly drop out of the CofE, as many former members and former clergy could tell you. And clergy in chaplaincy roles are mostly invisible to parishes unless there's concerted effort on both sides to integrate.

Who is looking out for the invisible clergy, or (as I suspect), do we all just have to look out for ourselves? And before I get too accusatory, I need to remember that there are former members of my church here in Yeovil who are still waiting to hear from the vicar....


  1. But do they want to be looked out for? I'm guessing that many of those who leave the licensed clergy do so for negative reasons, ie. they are fed up with the church for one reason or another, and I imagine that the last thing many of these would want is to be followed up by the church.

    On the other hand, if you leave for the simple reason that you have got another job, eg. as a teacher/therapist/dustman etc, you do remain a priest, and you have the option to seek PTO or a license from your local Bishop. In such cases the onus is on the minister to get back into the system, but the option is there.

    In any case the person who "drops out" has to tender their resignation to their Bishop. I guess that would be the most appropriate moment to explore what the next stage of ministry might look like for that person, rather than trying to track them down at a later stage.

    Curiously, having just resigned a parish post to take up an employed position with a Diocese, I think I might have become one of those disappeared clergy. Strange thought.

  2. In effect are you saying that only licensed clergy receive oversight and pastoral care from a Bishop?

    How does it work for others - say for those in Hospital Chaplaincy?

    I know that the Armed Forces have a single service system in place to care for their clergy, surely the NHS and Prison Service must have a similar system for their?

    Isn't Crockfords the place to seek to ask Clergy who've left ministry to provide updated contact details?

    How does it work if a Priest after many years out of Licensed Ministry asks to return or applies for a role that requires a Bishop's licence? Where do references come from etc?

    Just pondering.

  3. I think you can get lost between the chaplaincy sector and Diocesan life - it's easy for chaplains to fall of the radar of the local parishes, if they were ever on it in the first place. And because of separate 'command structures', sector chaplains and parish clergy are rarely brought together. So the two worlds rarely intersect, and I wonder how much traffic there is between the two.

    The other big question is whether anyone follows up people who've left parish ministry and not gone into chaplaincy work. A big investment goes into training clergy, but we don't protect that investment very well. I've heard some horror stories of training posts which nearly finished people off in just their first couple of years as a priest, and there is a lot of sink or swim when you finally get charge of a parish/benefice.

    If you switch Dioceses, it's even worse. I moved from Bath and Wells to Durham after being a curate and had to arrange my own induction process. I very nearly went under at one point, and only the support of some alert and compassionate fellow clergy kept me afloat. If I'd avoided the local chapter (as many clergy do), I'd probably now be Opinionated Layman.

  4. There is also a vast and partly untapped resource among our SSM clergy who often bring all sorts of gifts that the church needs not only in terms of spirituality and conventional parish or chaplaincy ministry but in terms of fresh thinking and the ability to undertake work that helps us to change our perception of what is possible. The recent report by Teresa Morgan shows just how much scope there is for listening to our SSMs and developing their insights - the report certainly suggests that they themselves feel 'under listened to and under used'.

  5. A fascinating subject that one or two of us have tried to measure. The best figure (unofficial of course), but elicited from an assiduous study of Crockfords(how sad!), anecdote, and use of networks, seems to be about 200 hundred per year! As the church does little about what the rest of the world would know as 'workforce planning and monitoring (dread phrase) it remains one of the black holes of church life. My own studies would suggest that the drop out is occuring pretty equally across all catgrories of clergy. The reasons for this have been suggested by previous contributors.