Comments: opinion

I could not agree more with the useful pieces by Linda Woodhead and Abby Day. Since there are very few churches with a critical mass of young people, we should scarcely be surprised that there are also very few young ordinands. Moreover, if we were to look at the background of those ordained under 35, we should not be surprised to find that they are mostly from a few powerful party churches - possibly rather more from an evangelical than Anglo-Catholic or liberal background. As usual, most young ordinands are middle class.

The extreme paucity of ordinands under 30 is, of course, highly alarming. They would have to have been born before 1988, or so, and their intellectual and spiritual formation would therefore have occurred after the turn of the century. They grew up when the internet, computer games, Sunday trading and the rise of Sunday morning football led to an almost total collapse in church attendance by young families. Since the millenium the rise of the new atheism and the need to accommodate the sensibilities of fast growing minorities has neutralised almost all forms of religious indoctrination within the education system, converting RE into a species of anthropology. The figures cited are so frightening, it almost looks like the end of the road.

Another reason for the drought in stipendiary vocations amongst the young is money. Many have crushing student debts to fund. They might look at elderly congregations and wonder how they themselves will subsist in old age. They will consider the rapidly rising cost of housing and ask themselves how they will ever accumulate enough capital to enter the market at 70 (at which age they may not obtain a mortgage). They will therefore wonder whether the game is worth the candle. Perhaps mounting financial anxieties, and the demoralisation of so many clergy at an institution that is dying around them, also explain the high rate of attrition among existing stipendiaries to which Prof. Woodhead alludes.

Abby Day is quite right. When the current generation of women who grew up in the 1940s and '50s finally dies (most will be gone within the next decade), the impact upon a vast number of churches - possibly the great majority - will be devastating, and final. It will not do for us simply to hope and pray. We need to plan for this painful eventuality. Right Now!

Posted by J Drever at Saturday, 8 February 2014 at 2:59pm GMT

Student loans are hardly an issue, given the level of stipends. For good or for ill, paying 9% of whatever you earn above £21k imposes an annual cost of no more than a couple of hundred pounds for the vast majority of clergy.

Unless an ordinand has a large private income or expects rapid promotion, their student loan will end up being cancelled without them having to make a significant contribution to repaying it.

Posted by Stuart, Devon at Sunday, 9 February 2014 at 10:06am GMT

Given that (a) an increasing proportion of the attendees and officers of the Church of England are women and that (b) the general synod voted to continue the (in all other occupations illegal) policy of restricting women's career progression to the junior roles only, reserving all the senior (and therefore better paid) posts in the church to men only, it's hardly surprising that the number of applicants is falling.

Given the church also has a policy of open hostility and exclusion towards homosexual men who might wish to take jobs, the church is currently restricting its senior staff to men, and not just any men, but heterosexual men who are sufficiently uncaring about others that they are happy to take a job knowing that a lot of their colleagues are excluded by sex or sexuality from applying.

History has not been kind to the non-Jews who took jobs in German universities when Jews were excluded. Perhaps men who might otherwise join the church think similarly about joining an organisation which excludes women and gays? Blaming it on Sunday trading, the Internet and the Student Loan Company seems to be entirely missing the point: sexism and homophobia might be popular amongst the over-65s, but amongst degree educated people under 40 they are on the same shelf as racism.

Posted by Interested Observer at Sunday, 9 February 2014 at 10:27am GMT

'The figures cited are so frightening, it almost looks like the end of the road.'

I'm afraid I completely agree with that.

Posted by John at Sunday, 9 February 2014 at 3:35pm GMT

'Perhaps men who might otherwise join the church think similarly about joining an organisation which excludes women and gays?'

What about those of us men who might want to change the church for the better...?

I also think characterising every Bishop (as it is Bishops we're talking about here) as 'sufficiently uncaring' is grossly unfair to many of the bishops who have been very strong advocates and for many years of the removal of barriers to the episcopate on the basis of sex or sexual orientation.

Posted by Alastair Newman at Sunday, 9 February 2014 at 4:48pm GMT

"What about those of us men who might want to change the church for the better...?"

Given that the synod voted down equal rights for women, thus firmly anchoring the CofE in what historians call "the long nineteenth century", they don't seem to be making a terribly good job of it, do they? Every time the CofE has been given a chance to vote on not continuing a sexist policy against women, it votes for sexism. Every time the CofE has been given the chance to vote on not continuing to be homophobic, it votes for homophobia. Anyone who joins it is joining an organisation that is committed, and continues to reassert, its sexism and homophobia.

"I also think characterising every Bishop (as it is Bishops we're talking about here) as 'sufficiently uncaring' is grossly unfair"

Well, perhaps had bishops not voted solidly against civil partnership, solidly against same-sex marriage and then, when challenged on the latter, denied having done the former, one could take this argument slightly more seriously.

Posted by Interested Observer at Sunday, 9 February 2014 at 8:35pm GMT

"grossly unfair to many of the bishops who have been very strong advocates and for many years of the removal of barriers to the episcopate on the basis of sex or sexual orientation." Alastair Newman

'or sexual orientation' Really? With the exception of the Bishop of Buckingham, this is news to me. If you are able name these 'many' others, I am happy to be corrected.

Posted by Laurence Cunnington at Sunday, 9 February 2014 at 8:47pm GMT

Thanks to Christopher Howse - enlightening, as ever. I have a book titled "The Secret Language of Churches and Cathedrals" by Richard Stemp, visually wonderful.

Posted by Pam at Sunday, 9 February 2014 at 8:53pm GMT

Alistair - would you like to name those bishops who, over the years, have been 'very strong advocates' for the removal of barriers to episcopal ordination for lgbt people? And why episcopacy in particular?. All candidates for the episcopacy have to be ordained deacon and priest first.

The prime characteristic of any such advocacy seems to have been an embarrassed silence.

Posted by Richard Ashby at Sunday, 9 February 2014 at 9:35pm GMT

Chalk me up as another interested party when it comes to those Church of England bishops who've proved "very strong advocates" for LGBT rights.

My own definition of a "very strong advocate" would be a bishop who denounced 'Issues' and its "discipline" as abusive homophobia, said that it had no place in his diocese, and called on every single bishop who supported it to resign in disgrace from the church in particular and public life in general.

Sounds a remarkable man. What's his name?

Posted by James Byron at Monday, 10 February 2014 at 8:05am GMT

Oh dear, it doesn't seem to be exactly in vogue to defend the CofE on here, but I'll try...

"Given that the synod voted down equal rights for women"

And some of those who voted against were...WOMEN! Conservatism is not a male prerogative, on this or on any other issue (as I was told by a female Orthodox friend who sadly left the CofE over this issue). It was, of course, also the house of laity rather than bishops or clergy who defeated the measure last time round.

"Well, perhaps had bishops not voted solidly against civil partnership, solidly against same-sex marriage and then, when challenged on the latter, denied having done the former, one could take this argument slightly more seriously."

Yes, the hypocrisy of the Lords Spiritual saying they had been in favour of civil partnerships was dreadful. The Lords Spiritual do only make up a part of the College (and indeed House) of Bishops though.

"With the exception of the Bishop of Buckingham, this is news to me."

Alan Wilson as you mention. I think I'd also include David Walker and Nick Holtam. I was lumping the two issues together, and I admit that on the latter there has been largely silence. But on the issue of the removal of barriers to women becoming (deacons, priests and) bishops, there is a huge majority of the current bishops in favour. And many have been very vocal about that.

Posted by Alastair Newman at Monday, 10 February 2014 at 10:34am GMT

"What's his name?"

Alan Wilson apparently.

So, is this significant enough denouncement of "Issues" for you? Not being a diocesan bishop he has no diocese which is "his"...

http://blogs.spectator.co.uk/coffeehouse/2013/04/its-time-for-the-church-of-england-to-drop-the-culture-wars/

Are Nick Holtam's statements on this not strong enough for you?

http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/religion/10087845/Opponents-of-gay-marriage-like-supporters-of-apartheid-says-senior-bishop.html

Or will only calls for resignation satisfy?

Posted by Alastair Newman at Monday, 10 February 2014 at 4:37pm GMT

"And some of those who voted against were...WOMEN!"

So what conclusion do you reach from that? Newsflash: women do not form a homogenous bloc who share a single viewpoint.

Posted by Interested Observer at Monday, 10 February 2014 at 4:40pm GMT

Actions are what count, Alastair Newman.

As a suffragan, Wilson is in no position to suspend the application of 'Issues.'

Holtam has committed himself to "supporting marriage as it is currently understood" and "upholding the current discipline and practice of the Church of England." (While taking full advantage of the liberal "discipline and practice" that allows his own marriage to a divorcee.)

Unless Holtam says, unequivocally, that 'Issues' and its toxic "discipline" doesn't apply in Salisbury Diocese, he's part of the problem, not the solution.

Posted by James Byron at Tuesday, 11 February 2014 at 12:18am GMT

"So what conclusion do you reach from that? Newsflash: women do not form a homogenous bloc who share a single viewpoint."

Which I said where?

This was in response to your original post which contained such as "heterosexual *men* who are sufficiently uncaring about others that they are happy to take a job knowing that a lot of their colleagues are excluded by sex or sexuality from applying" (actually not all of the bishops are heterosexual, but anyway) or "History has not been kind to the non-Jews who took jobs in German universities when Jews were excluded. Perhaps men who might otherwise join the church think similarly about joining an organisation which excludes women and gays?"

So just because I'm a man who's a member of this church and considering joining it (as you put it) I'm no better than collaborators with anti-Semites? Nice...

Posted by Alastair Newman at Tuesday, 11 February 2014 at 10:38am GMT
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