Friday, June 03, 2016

The Leading of the 5,000 part 2 - vocations and canaries

Every few years the CofE publishes an analysis of the number of vicars, and the latest (covering up to 2015) has just been published.

By some distance, the most-read post on this blog is 'The Leading of the 5000?', based on the previous set of clergy stats. It was an attempt to work out the number of vicars the CofE would have in the long-term:

if every year the CofE ordains 275 people, who work on average for 25 years, then our long-term full time workforce is 6875 full time clergy. Some of those will end up as archdeacons and bishops and cathedral staff (about 360 on current numbers) and others will end up in diocesan jobs, which leaves about 6200. There are currently around 1000 ordained clergy in chaplaincy jobs, in the NHS, armed forces, educational institutions, theological colleges etc. 

Which leaves 5000 of us in parish ministry, some of whom will be in training posts, so not allowed (I nearly said 'not able', but that wouldn't be true) to run a church. 

Has anything changed? The latest stats show a very slight move in the right direction. Average age at ordination is now 42 for women, 37 for men - with 60% of new ordinands being male, that makes an average age of 39. Add on 3 years for a curacy, and you're now looking at 26 years of active ministry for each one who works until retirement.

However, even though clergy can work until retirement, the average age at retirement is 64-65, which probably reflects the scores of clergy who take early retirement. There isn't any mention in these figures of retention rates (or 'collateral damage', as this post terms the loss of clergy to stress, burnout or ministry-wrecking moments partly induced by the nature of the job). If that average retirement figure takes in the number who leave early, then we're looking at an average working life of 23 years.

The numbers ordained each year were, in each of the last 4 years, 266, 288, 286 and 315. We'll know in the next few years if 315 is unusual, or the start of a trend. Here's the impact that might have:

If the CofE is ordaining 266 people a year, who work 23 years each, our long-term f-t workforce is 6118
If the CofE is ordaining 315 people a year, who work 23 years each, our long-term f-t workforce is 7245.

And as I said 3 years ago, from that headline figure you have to subtract bishops, archdeacons, clergy in non-parish jobs etc. Even the higher figure is 500 fewer than we currently have, and Peter Ould notes that some dioceses face a monster recruitment task in the next 5 years with 30%+ of clergy due to retire.

The CofE has a big push on now for ordinations, and ordaining younger people. Good. We also need to put time and thought into the number of clergy who are leaving, or living on the edge of leaving, because of the demands of the role and the inadequacies of their preparation and support. There are too many stories like this:

We were a cohort of men and women, on average in our 30’s, passionate about our faith, hopeful for the future of the church, and committed to lead and serve the church in its worship and mission.  10 years later I happened upon two of that same cohort seriously considering leaving the ministry.

The issue here is the same as the issue in 'The Leading of the 5,000'. We haven't redesigned the way the church works to accommodate the new reality. A system designed for over 10,000 full time priests serving a population of 10 million is not going to work with 5,000 serving a population of 55 million. Those leaving the dog collar behind are the canaries in the coalmine, they have sung, but is anyone listening? 


  1. Actually the comment about dioceses was mine...!

  2. Rev Kev McGarahan convicted of a sexual assault on a child today.
    The "Church" suppressed the crime for twenty years, but the truth will out ... oh, yes ... and the millstone be placed around the neck ...

    1. Whilst that's a terrible case, I'm not quite sure how it relates to the post above.