Thursday, October 23, 2008

Fewer and Older: New Church of England stats on clergy, ordinations, schools and finance

A new clutch of stats out today from the Church of England. It covers finance, ordinations, schools and clergy numbers. Membership data normally comes out in January.

A few headlines (see also the Church Times report)

New ordinands
The number recommended for ordination in 2007 was 595, 1 up on 2006, but the age profile remains a worry. There are more younger candidates than before, but still only 40% are under 40, and with 2-3 years at college then 3 years as a curate, it's 5-6 years from beginning training to a position of geniune responsibility. The church is trying to recruit younger leaders, but there aren't that many young people in our churches, and younger people tend to be attracted by....younger leaders. The average age of CofE vicars is now 51.

Clergy totals
The overall number of paid clergy is dropping by roughly 150 a year. Despite the increase in ordinations, high numbers are retiring or leaving vicarhood each year, over 20% of current clergy are due to retire in the next 5 years (including over half of my Deanery!). Also, more than half of those ordained are into non-stipendiary (unpaid) ministry, which isn't a like-for-like replacement to full-time paid clergy. The result is that the projections for Diocesan clergy have been revised down: Bath and Wells (my Diocese) is now allocated 187 clergy in 2012, down from 196 in the previous estimate.

Church schools
Though the overall number of church schools has dropped, they are a slightly higher proportion of the national total because of school rationalisation across the board. 18.7% of primary and 5.3% of secondary children are educated in a CofE school. However, as you'll know if you've ever been inside a church school, this can mean anything from a community school that just has 'CofE' in the name, to one where a Christian ethos is known shared and lived out in the school day.

Giving and finance
Though the CofE is shrinking, income continues to rise, with more people in tax-efficient giving schemes, giving a higher average per head. In real terms giving per head is over 50% higher than it was 20 years ago, which begs certain questions about the church of 20 years ago that I won't go into!

So What?
I'll be honest, I'm concerned about the average age of my fellow clergy, and about the ability of the CofE to maintain it's current level of activity with fewer and fewer full-time staff. I'm also concerned about the levels of stress and busyness amongst clergy in general. There are too many plates spinning, and those spinning them are (in the main) getting older.

We have to rationalise - national church, diocesan structures, sector ministries (does the Army have a 'Sheffield' figure for clergy?). And look at what we do as well - the debate rumbling elsewhere about disestablishment also has practical consequences: is having 26 bishops in the House of Lords a resource-effective way of contributing to national debate? If so, why do fringe groups like Christian Voice get on the radio more often than Bishops?

We also have to ditch two illusions:
1. That the Church of England is the only show in town. Other churches from other streams are equally part of the body of Christ, and our ministry to the nation has got to be done together. In many neighbourhoods, the 'local' church isn't an Anglican one - there's a new housing area around Weston-super-Mare which has effectively been parcelled out between Anglican, Baptist and other churches, so that each neighbourhood is served by a living local church, but it's not necessarily an Anglican one.

2. Connected to that, the parish system as currently constituted. There has never been a parish church for every community - just look at any Ordinance Survey map, or walk through a couple of urban neighbourhoods near you. Even less so has there been 1 vicar for every community.

The CofE needs to find ways of planting and sustaining churches which don't carry all the baggage of the parish system, which don't need a full-time vicar to oversee them, or all the financial and practical burdens of a building, or the requirement to lay on an event every Sunday morning called 'worship'. Much of our energy as churches is spent on maintaining a building to hold our weekly 'worship' event in, and in putting on the event itself. Fundraising, buildings maintenance and event management - is this the core calling of the church?

There used to be stories of a church which met in houses, prayed and worshipped together, pooled its money to help the poor, and tried to live out the teachings of Jesus and his followers. You can find it in Acts. There has to be a simpler way of doing this.


  1. There used to be stories of a church which met in houses, prayed and worshipped together, pooled its money to help the poor, and tried to live out the teachings of Jesus and his followers. You can find it in Acts. There has to be a simpler way of doing this.

    Sounds like the AA model is truer to the NT than our system, doesn't it?

  2. The Army is a Chaplaincy - ie outside of the mainstream Church - made up of more than CofE Clergy so it is not really fair to compare.
    As it is the CofE is the worst of all the churches at looking after it's chaplains. The local diocese can't seem to get rid of them fast enough, seemingly being embaressed by those clergy who want to work with soldiers (who give a great deal more to society than many their age)

  3. But doesn't the Army work like a kind of specialist Diocese? The Anglican chaplains in the army are still selected through the main selection system, so they count as numbers being ordained, but then I can't work out how they get into the Sheffield figures (if at all) - if you become an Army chaplain, are you counted as 'leaving' Diocesan ministry? Now that there's a specialist 'pioneer ministry' selection track, perhaps we should follow the logica and have a specialist selection track for certain chaplaincies too.

    Apart from the 1 Army chaplain I know (and I suspect it's you, RevEv!), I'm not aware of any way in which Dioceses support Forces chaplains, or even recognise that they exist.

    I think you might be right about Dioceses, judging from the fact that in 10 years of Diocesan ministry, I've never heard Army, or any other Forces chaplaincy, mentioned once.

  4. I am greatly encouraged to read that despite having been ordained for twenty five years I am still one of the younger clergy (being only 50!)

  5. my worry is that I'll reach retirement at still be underneath the average age! Though someone did call me 'grizzled' today, which is a special kind of word for folks in their 40's and 50's. I was mortally offended......

  6. I was priested just after my 51st year! Does David think therefore I'm 'past it'? Age is a number & state of mind! Most teens I know act as if way over 50...have such staid, scared and limited outlooks on life driven by young lives perpetually limited rather than lead lives of experimentation, risk taking, joy and freedom. Is it any wonder that there are no young people offering to serve...they can't hear God's call for the noise of society screeching at them they must pass pointless exams and meaningless qualifications. And why would they want to serve in ancient buildings, poor accommodation, minimal renumeration & holidays/benefits, no equality or employment safe-guards trying to bring the Gospel to warring Christian congregations, factions and denominations. We need an Oz-style climate to deal with our church buildings...over there they are eaten by something or rot & replaced..purpose built/user maintenance if the ancient per se is limited! O well!!