After 30 years of designer angst about clergy shortages I am amazed that this should be so, but the simple fact is that there are actually more active C of E collars on the streets of England in 2005 than in 1959. I don’t know about you, but this surprised me. It also strikes me as the kind of raw figure that won’t be of any interest to Fleet Street, because it neither provokes fear and anguish, nor validates their prejudices and fantasies about the C of E.
The distribution, however has entirely changed. The preponderance is distributed more, I would guess, according to population. The bad story then was rural/urban. Now I would anticipate it to be North/West as against South/East. There are far fewer full time collars of the conventional sort, but far more retired active and self supporting. Looking ahead this means their shelf life and deployability is far lower. People in the 1960’s complained that vicars were too young and inexperienced about the rest of life. Now they complain that they’re all on second careers. You can’t have it both ways! Or can you? Training needs, however are radically different.
The report Bishop Alan was quoting was picked up by a journalist of the Sunday Telegraph to produce an alarmist report quoted by Fr David MacGregor, and prompted Bishop Alan to take the mickey Bishop Alan’s Blog:
The most important person in a business is always, in a way, the person on the front desk. The wellbeing of clergy is, in that obvious sense among others, vital to the wellbeing of the Church. Since Chaucer’s time there’s been public anxiety about this subject. 200 years ago Sidney Smith lamented the decline in the quality of clergy since the enforcement of residence was preventing gentlemen from desiring ordination. In the roaring 20’s, Hensley Henson bemoaned the decline in the quality of ordinands since the first world war. The document quoted in last week’s Sunday Telegraph, however, is barking up a very different tree. A more accurate headline than “poor quality of vicars alarms church leaders” would probably be “desperation to dramatize drab HR questionnaire twits journalist.”
I find this interesting because though it was a different time and a different place, 30 years ago I was responsible for training self-supporting clergy in the Anglican Diocese of Zululand, and I thought most people in the diocese had the wrong idea of the role of self-supporting vis a vis church supported clergy.
Many parishes had anything between 5 and 30 “outstations”, and the clergy would itinerate to celebrate the Eucharist. I thought each outstation should have, if possible, 2 or more self-supporting priests and 2 or more deacons. The “rector” (who need not necessarily be ordained) should be a pastor/teacher (a somewhat different kind of ministry) equipped to train and support the clergy at the outstations, and itinerate for training and teaching, not sacraments.
That was the sort of thing advocated by Roland Allen in his book Missionary methods, St Paul’s or ours? nearly 100 years ago, but never really put into practice anywhere. I still think it should be applied, mutatis mutandis, in Orthodox mission, though in practice it would need to be modified. It is difficult to have self-supporting clergy, since most of them would be among the urban unemployed.
Among Anglicans in South Africa there may have been similar patterns. In 1971 a book was published. The vanishing clergyman : a sociological study of the priestly role in South Africa by Trevor Verryn. He noted a marked decline in the number of Anglican ordinands in training. Within a year or two of the publication of his book, the trend was dramatically reversed, as a result of the spread of the charimatic renewal movement, and at least one of the Anglican theological colleges in South Africa had to be enlarged to cope with the influx of new students, most of them married and entering second careers.
There was a similar study to Verryn’s in the Church of England, The fate of the Anglican clergy: a sociological study by Robert Towler (London, Macmillan, 1979). Though it was published eight years later, the period of study was similar to Verryn’s; Bob Towler followed the 1966 intake of five Anglican theological colleges in England over the next 10 years. I was one of them.
It was quite an interesting period, and I suspect one of great change in outlook for many — the time of hippies, of student power. Now most of those in Towler’s study will be approaching retirement, and it might be interesting to see what has happened to them and how their views have changed. How did they change the church, and how did the church change them?