Comments: Report from May House of Bishops

"The House explored the future of ministry considering diverse aspects including discernment, selection, training and lifelong learning."

That is all good and important. It seems recruitment is healthy (in that the figures are more encouraging than those for similar Churches on the continent). However, retention seems more problematic: a few years ago Linda Woodhead informed us that more clergy leave stipendiary ministry than retire from it. I don't know whether that is still the case, but even if it is the case in one calendar year, that is still astonishing.

The biggest problem, though, seems to be in deployment. Doubtless faulty deployment partly explains the problem of retention. But reliance on competitive interviews (which have their place), increasing specialisation as teams or groups are formed and the number of stipendiary posts decreases, and deepening complexity, all combine to make good deployment hard to achieve. Anecdotally, it is surprising how many clergy feel they are in a post which is not the 'best fit'.

"Discernment, selection, training and lifelong learning" are all very well. Indeed, they would seem to be strengths. But what about retention and deployment?

Posted by Liam Beadle at Thursday, 24 May 2018 at 8:36am BST

"The House considered the Church’s current involvement with children and young people and committed to prioritising their needs more effectively in the future."

Did I miss a stop on the train and wake up in 1961? Have they considered opening an espresso bar and having a skiffle night?

The moment you start talking about "they" or "their needs", you're othering: you're identifying an outgroup, who are by implication not as clever or as wise as you, for whom you intend to put on a show in order to patronisingly present them the message you think they want to hear. "Children and young people?" Seriously?

Look at the language. What does it even _mean_? The group that the CofE is failing to communicate with is "most of the country" and "almost everyone under fifty". It's not about triangulating groups you think of as homogenous ("young people"? What, all of them?), it's about having a coherent, consistent message which resonates. You can't just identify groups and tell them a tailored story, while telling other groups the precise opposite. It isn't 1961.

Posted by Interested Observer at Thursday, 24 May 2018 at 10:12am BST

"more clergy leave stipendiary ministry than retire from it".
If that be the case serious questions need to be asked as to why this might be the case. I write has one who has stuck it out for 41 years having been ordained at the age of 25.

Posted by Father David at Thursday, 24 May 2018 at 11:08am BST

Following on from Liams comment, there were some detailed stats released in late 2016 on ordiations, retirements, and movements in and out of ordained ministry. On average we ordain 290 a year, 280 per year retire or die, and 300 per year leave ordained ministry to do something else

Of the something elses, 2500 ordained clergy are in chaplaincies or other non-parochial roles. Considering that our training model is based entirely on parish ministry, that's a fairly major problem with the system.

100 other clergy per year leave prior to retirement, and the CofE has no idea where they go or what they are doing. So for every 3 people we ordain, 1 drops out completely. In the report which triggered the new push towards younger ordinands, there was no attempt made to wrestle with this issue, or to understand why (see for more details & links)

Linda Woodhead found a few years back that the majority of clergy think the CofE is 'bad' or 'quite bad' at identifying and developing their gifts and initiatives ( Liam is spot on, what about retention and deployment? And support, whilst we're at it. Some of us clergy who are in posts which are a good fit, still feel like we're left to sink or swim, and that nobody would notice until we went beyond the point of collapse.

Posted by David Keen at Thursday, 24 May 2018 at 2:44pm BST

"The House explored the future of ministry considering diverse aspects including discernment, selection, training and lifelong learning. The ongoing imperative to attract candidates from a wide variety of backgrounds remains clear."

Hmm...they conveniently forgot to add 'as long as they are heterosexual and if not, will promise never to have sex or get married' usual the House of Bishops seem to white wash out inconvenient truths about the absurdity of their situation.

Posted by Jayne Ozanne at Thursday, 24 May 2018 at 2:58pm BST

"The House explored the future of ministry considering diverse aspects including discernment, selection, training and lifelong learning. The ongoing imperative to attract candidates from a wide variety of backgrounds remains clear."

My attention also drifted towards this statement, with questions over retention / deployment and the implications of increased diversity of candidates' backgrounds. For example, while there is a lot of talk of attracting 'young women' into ministry, this isn't matched by a commitment to support younger women. They still face challenges and barriers associated with others' assumptions when it comes to issues related to home / family life and deployment. This is exacerbated when it comes to younger women from less financially secure backgrounds where taking a year out to do a ministry placement, for example, is a significant risk when they don't have the financial means and/or family support network to fall back on if they need it.

It will be interesting to see whether the degree of flexibility to adapt to an increased diversity of candidates will affect retention of clergy.

Of course, this is difficult to explore when there is a lack of evidence. (I've not been able to find good statistics for retention of clergy - and there doesn't seem to be any research into reasons for leaving.)

Posted by Anon at Thursday, 24 May 2018 at 3:22pm BST

Mr Beadle - wise words. I'm struck by the number of clergy who, not so long ago, I suspect enthused at a BAP about how much they wanted to "get alongside" people in parishes, and then within a few years find that they have been "called" to an office job in ministry or vocations departments and such like. Increasing specialisation in the church, as in my former work as a medical academic, does nobody any favours, not least because the specialists are at risk of becoming cut off from the realities of parish ministry - with all that can flow from that.

Posted by Stanley Monkhouse at Thursday, 24 May 2018 at 4:47pm BST

Safeguarding after the IICSA, plus children and young people, all in the light of Welby's recent decision over Matthew Ineson's complaint. I didn't know whether to laugh or cry. Do these bishops realise how completely ridiculous they look?

Posted by Mike Nolan at Thursday, 24 May 2018 at 5:36pm BST

Responding mainly to Stanley Monkhouse...

When I was first an ordinand in Manchester, the DDO was a parish priest who also taught a module in faculty of theology at the university (Mark and Galatians in Greek). Sadly I don’t think clergy have time for that sort of portfolio now. I find it hard to get clergy to teach modules for our training course. When I taught a doctrine module alongside being in parish ministry it was a real push on time but I did it because I felt called to it and it proved to be a vocational thing in that I moved into theological education full time.

When I did this my bishop told me college staff quickly lost touch with real Church. I told him, tongue in cheek, that I thought I might go to church occasionally in Durham. I have been involved in local church ministry in three different churches since then, essentially as an NSM. Most of my colleagues are in the same position.

Posted by Charles Read at Friday, 25 May 2018 at 12:54am BST

I suppose I should come clean with readers here. I’m “ExRevd” because of proceedings against me under CDM. I was suspended for four years. That was a decade ago.

I felt and still feel that most people I knew in the church wish never to hear from me again: maybe I accord myself too much importance, but I’m aware I caused deep hurt and dismay. I will always regret my behaviour, not just in disciplinary matters, but to be honest, because I was a bad priest. I’m quite certain that virtually everyone called to ordained ministry now or in the future is better suited to it and more worthy of it than I am. That is – I hope – a realistic self-assessment. Thinking about recruitment, I’m a fairly good example of what can go wrong when someone temperamentally unsuited gets through selection – the costs to other people and the church have been very high in my case, but clearly I’m not a one off. Hopefully methods of discernment are stronger now.

I’ve always been left wondering why the possibility of return was left open at the time of proceedings, only to be allowed to wither away. It became evident that nobody “in charge” wanted me back – quite fair enough – but could never bring themselves to spell this out. I had some pastoral support at the time, for a while an annual (slightly anodyne) letter from an Archbishop assuring me of prayers, a genuine but awkward welcome at the church of the parish I moved to. Being still technically ordained made it hard to get involved as a de facto lay person: how to explain for example, that, while I wanted to help I could not legally join the over-stretched PCC?

I’m not asking for sympathy or understanding which I don’t deserve. But maybe for advice: what finally to do with too many books, an ordination bible, a communion set, and many difficult feelings that, among other things, have caused me to visit this forum over the years? What to do with the phantom of a vocation, or for that matter my identity as a baptised person? How does one let go? Resign formally and hope for a fresh start? I’ve tried “going to church” many times, including with support from my local Rector. But it’s just been too hard.

What makes it hardest I guess is that sense of just disappearing. Thinking of retention as well as recruitment, the statistic that Liam Beadle alludes to about nobody being sure what has become of many ex-clergy does ring very true and I suspect I’m not alone in that either.

This anecdote is meant to add support to that point. Sorry I was sidetracked to talk about myself (still a great failing) I do not deserve sympathy (I do need prayers still). Maybe what I also needed was, when the time was right, to be told to report for duty for the kingdom (by which I mean to do anything anything, not ‘status’, definitely not).

I’m in no ways special, just trying to get on with life (which I have found difficult in practical and career terms). Those challenges I face are common to many people. I’m in no way a special lost sheep, and yes, if you decided at the outset of this story that the harm that rebounded on me was largely self-inflicted, you’re quite right.

I caused immense pain and should probably have told just to go away. Some of the wounds I inflicted damaged me and found myself lying by the path once I wandered off it. Some quite unlikely people came to help, including individuals (lay and ordained) in the church but also people very far from it. That reminds me of a story you’ll know well. In it, the Levites passed by, but at least they were already walking on the other side of the road.

Posted by ExRevd at Friday, 25 May 2018 at 1:51am BST

'I’ve tried “going to church” many times, including with support from my local Rector. But it’s just been too hard.'

Many LGBTI people have felt like that. We are told how awful we are; hear it often enough and it is easy to believe it. Easy to believe that God no longer wants us, that He is fed up with us. I came through the other side and realised that that the sense of rejection was something I was imagining. God never turned His back on me, never will turn His back on me. Job is an amazing book. Seriously underrated. I can promise you that God is still there for you and that nothing you did, nothing you think about yourself, has changed God's love for you. He *wants* you back.

"What to do with the phantom of a vocation, or for that matter my identity as a baptised person?"

With respect you are making a classic mistake. Your calling and vows were to serve. A servant doesn't tell his master what he (the servant) should do. If you pray and renew your vow of service and ask God to use you, 99% likely He will. It might not be clear immediately, and what you are asked to do might be something you would never have thought of yourself, but volunteer anew and you will probably be called. Your (sin of) pride has clearly been broken. Right now you are seeing the cup as half full. What you should try to understand is that someone who has been broken like that is *more* use to God. You are seeing yourself as somehow less. The Parable of the Prodigal Son teaches that God doesn't think in those terms.

Posted by Kate at Friday, 25 May 2018 at 11:28am BST

@ExRevd's honesty and openness is humbling, and reveals why he is, perhaps, hasty in his conclusion that the discernment process was, in his case, flawed. God knows, the Church of England needs far fewer squeaky-clean 'prefects' and many more priests of real humanity, who know the reality of wounding and being wounded. They proclaim and embody forgiveness much because they have been forgiven much. This is how we grow in wisdom. Unfortunately, because of other factors, we have become seriously risk-averse and are acting as if we are God.

Unfortunately, the Church is an institution in crisis, and deals with its profound insecurity by keeping (or attempting to keep) its external image untarnished whilst protecting its senior leaders who are responsible for misconduct. There is little space or generosity for redemption and rehabilitation. I have no idea what ExRevd's disciplinary matter was (and have no right to know - nor do any of us). Given the relatively light penalty imposed under CDM, it doesn't strike me that he poses a lasting danger to others. It may well be that the painful experience he has undergone will enable him to 'speak' far more effectively of the mercy and love of God than those who pray as the Pharisee in the temple. No-one reading this would ever accuse him (or is it her?) of seeking cheap grace.

The Donatist heresy is alive and well in Welby's Church of England: that the purity of the sacraments can only be assured by those who are themselves pure. I thought we'd kicked this one into the long grass in the 4th Century? Unfortunately, like the red-topped tabloids, our actions reveal that we don't really lay much store by forgiveness - either for ourselves or others.

RxRevd should know that ordination is for life. He remains a priest until called from this world. No-one can take that away. It is not all about 'function.' The great Oliver Tomkins, Bishop of Bristol in the 1970s, said long after he retired 'While I have breath a neighbour, I remain a priest.' There is no release from the promises once made in good faith. ExRevd may not be able to function publicly at present; but this does not mean that (in Hopkins' words) he cannot be 'in God's eye what in God's eye he is...'

Posted by David Richards at Friday, 25 May 2018 at 1:49pm BST

I do sympathise with Ex Revd.

My best advice to him would be to make a clean break and find another career doing something completely different.

Posted by Paul Waddington at Friday, 25 May 2018 at 5:25pm BST

'I write has one who has stuck it out for 41 years having been ordained at the age of 25.'

I salute you, Father David, as one old timer to another. On May 5th I passed forty years in full-time ministry (the first twelve and a half were in the Church Army, but I was always in parish ministry).

I've been lucky. My first parish was a disaster (but I did meet my wife there, so on the whole it had a good outcome!). Since then, I've had many good experiences, despite (or maybe because of) the fact that most of my parishes have been in isolated communities in northern Canada.

Posted by Tim Chesterton at Friday, 25 May 2018 at 8:45pm BST

Exrevd deserves praise for being honest and rare in this day and age .... the norm is to blame anybody but oneself these days for one's errors

Posted by scooper at Saturday, 26 May 2018 at 12:47pm BST

The CofE isn’t ‘somehow’ exempt from FOI, as though there were something dodgy going on. FOI only applies to statutory bodies, the public sector, and the CofE doesn’t fall into that category, so there has never been any question of FOI applying to it any more than there has been if FOI applying to, say, Oxfam or Sainsbury’s.

Posted by Olivia at Monday, 28 May 2018 at 10:43am BST

Olivia is right, but it should be pointed out that universities, for example, are self-governing and are independent charities, but they are still subject to Freedom of Information. The full list of organisations subject to FOI is available at
It's a long list and contains all sorts of different bodies.

If the Church of England was as keen on transparency as it sometimes says it is, there would be nothing to stop it opting in to FOI on a voluntary basis. Furthermore as the established church it is still, in principle, governed by parliament even if virtually all powers have been delegated.

Oxfam is regulated as a charity, and Sainsbury's is subject to its shareholders (and indeed to its customers---there is cut-throat competition in the retail food sector at the moment.)

Posted by Bernard Silverman at Monday, 28 May 2018 at 8:09pm BST
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