At a time when many churches in the West face a shortage of new vocations to the priesthood, the Church of England is enjoying a surge in ordinations.
Archdeacon Gordon Kuhrt, director of ministry for the Archbishops’ Council of the Church of England, told ENI that he was “absolutely thrilled and optimistic” about the trend in ordinations.
According to official figures from the church, ordinations of both deacons and priests this year are the highest since the 1980s. Church dioceses reported that 396 people were to be ordained deacons this Petertide (near to St Peter’s Day, June 29) ? a nine per cent increase on the previous year, which in turn was higher than 1997. Some 362 deacons were to become priests ? an eight per cent increase on Petertide 1998.
In the Church of England today, deacons usually become priests after one year, although a few choose to be members of the “permanent diaconate.”
Archdeacon Kuhrt identified four main reasons for the church’s success in obtaining new vocations: growing confidence in the relevance of the gospel; the impact of the church’s “much maligned” Decade of Evangelism; teams in parishes mixing clergy and lay people; and “sorting out its views” on women priests.
Among the ordinations this Petertide, 141 out of 396 deacons (36 per cent) are women, and 138 out of 362 priests (38 per cent) are women.
The Church of England’s ruling general synod voted in 1992 to accept women into the priesthood, with the first ordinations being carried out in March 1994.
Archdeacon Kuhrt said: “The media are often negative, and it’s easy to forget that while 15 per cent (of church members) are unhappy about women priests, 85 per cent are rejoicing.”
The average age of people joining the ministry is mid-30s. However, there is a trend for younger people to join. Kuhrt would like to see the age fall further, although he stressed that previous working experience outside the church was valuable for ministry. One way to attract more people to the ministry was to further extend the range of activities open to priests, he said.
“When I joined the ministry 30 years ago, you could be either a vicar (parish priest) or a chaplain (in schools, hospitals, prisons, the armed forces and so on). There are many more possibilities now, including non-stipendiary roles that suit some people.”