Thinking Anglicans

Opinion – 24 September 2016

Richard Coles Daily Mail Holy cassocks! From 80s pop sensation to church vicar, Richard Coles recounts his more surprising moments as an irreverent rocking reverend

Bosco Peters My Submission on Same-Sex Couples

Andrew Goddard Fulcrum What does “full inclusion” mean?

Revd Nick Bundock shares his church’s journey to being an Inclusive Church, born out of tragic circumstances: Diocese of Manchester Inclusive Church.

Ian Paul asks Do we need more vicars? with reference to these reports on vocations.


  • Froghole says:

    I am most interested by the perceptive remarks made by Ian Paul (and by David Keen in a separate analysis linked in Dr Paul’s blogpost), including that much of the ‘gap’ can be plugged by dissolving the mandatory retirement age, and noting the relatively high rate of attrition amongst younger clergy.

    As to Peter Ould’s intriguing suggestion that a one-year extension to the current age limit would have a radical beneficial impact, I note Section 2 of the Ecclesiastical Offices (Age Limit) Measure 1975:

    “Where Her Majesty considers that there are special circumstances which make it desirable that a person holding the office of archbishop should continue in that office after the date on which he would otherwise retire in accordance with the foregoing section, She may authorise the continuance in office of that person after that date for such period, not exceeding one year, as She may in her discretion determine.”

    Why not extend that principle to all beneficed clergy?

    I suppose that the dioceses would resist, as it would mean another year of accruals, which they can probably ill-afford. Indeed, reading between the lines of some of the comments to Dr Paul’s post, the dioceses might (almost deliberately) be encouraging older clergy to drop out, take up chaplaincies in prisons/hospitals/education, etc., and leaving benefices in interregnum for long periods, because it staunches the growth of their pension liabilities. This problem might be resolved by getting the Commissioners to pick up at least some of the burden of post-1998 accruals. Of course, this is most unlikely to happen: the dioceses ostensibly seem content to live from hand to mouth by jacking up parish shares or subsiding into insolvency (in which case the Commissioners will surely come to the rescue…?), whilst the Commissioners seem content to turn Nelson’s eye to the plight of the dioceses.

    As to the high rate of attrition (the 30% or so who drop out of ministry altogether), I suspect this is a mixture of a loss of faith/vocation, or panic amongst those in early middle age who realise that if they do not switch career quickly they will probably die in penury. Attrition amongst the older middle aged might often be attributable to their receiving substantial inheritances from elderly relatives who have accrued considerable capital gains since the 1960s, so they can afford to quit the perceived ‘grind’ of parochial ministry.

  • Richard Ashby says:

    Thank you so much Mr Goddard, for your clear exposition of the meaning of the words ‘full inclusion’. I am so glad to know that I can have a full part in the ministry and leadership of the Church, being single. Its a bit of a shame that my lesbian friends, with whom I celebrated their 25th anniversary together the other week end, will be excluded by your definition, but then what are a few victims on the way of getting things right with God?

    ‘When I use a word’, Humpty Dumpty said in a rather scornful tone, ‘it means just what I choose it to mean – neither more nor less’.

  • Nick’s account is incredibly sad and also deeply moving. Erasure is not neutrality ‘to keep the peace’, it is avoiding people’s lives and their value and needs. This account is unbearably sad, because this young woman (with all her life and potential ahead of her) seemed to have nowhere to turn to in the Church that would offer her support and understanding from the point of view of people who lived and affirmed both lesbian sexuality and Christian discipleship. It brings tears to my eyes. Our Church has to do better. Our churches have to dare to be better than this, and become gay-friendly and gay-affirming communities, celebrating everybody’s lives, regardless of gender, orientation, or other diversity. It is clear from Nick’s honest account that the way the tragedy touched his church, and brought about change of heart, in no way replaced or erased the unbearable loss of this young woman and her lonely desolation, and sense of alienation, even from God.

    May God bless her, and be with her, in the radiant beauty of everything she is, in all eternity. May she know love, acceptance, and dear inclusion in the household of God for ever and ever.

  • Pam says:

    A song for Richard Coles: “Come a little bit closer, and you will see I was meant for you Rev and you were meant for me”. (With apologies to Jay and the Americans).

  • Nick Bundock’s touching story of Lizzie’s tragic suicide – because of her inability to reconcile the fact of being Gay with her Church affiliation – should stir all members of the Church of England to purge themselves of any lingering homophobic criticism of a class of people that has suffered historical marginalization for something they cannot control – their inbuilt sexual orientation.

    How wonderful that it is an Evangelical Church community that has set a standard of reform in its treatment of LGBTI people in its locality and congregation. The Gospel of Christ will not be thwarted by narrow-mindedness in the hearts and minds of Church members. Jesus, after all, did say: “They will know you are my disciples by your LOVE” – not your condemnation.

  • JCF says:

    Holy Lizzie Lowe, martyr to homophobic religion, pray for us that your number may CEASE!

  • cseitz says:

    I see the average TEC congregation is now 58 ASA. Total ASA is hovering around 550K in the entire USA. Average age of parishioner pushing 60.

    The Crusty Dean predicts 400K in 10-15 years but this seems unrealistic given the above. If the average age is upper 50s then in 10-15 years the decline would be massive, probably 300K or less total ASA. He doesn’t deny it is a crisis but I suspect it is far worse than he thinks for TEC as such. EDS just closed. GTS barely hanging on. 45 dioceses hovering around or way under 4K Sunday ASA.

    I do think TEC needs to embrace this reality and plan for it. What does it mean for a denomination to have under 1M total, and 300K ASA? How does one organize this when the dioceses that presently exist were part of a very different system. Can a denomination function with these figures?

  • David Keen says:

    Froghole – in the stats published this week, the 90-100 who drop out go to ‘unknown’ – the CofE just doesn’t know what happens to them. We don’t have the evidence to know whether people have left because of a faith crisis, mid-life crisis, or anything else.

    It’s not very scientific, but of the clergy I know who are no longer in active ministry, though still of working age, the vast majority have dropped out due to either a health issue, or some kind of inappropriate behaviour. Stress and lack of support is a major background factor in both. I’m all for an increasing focus on vocations, but it’s irresponsible and unfair to widen the entrance without paying attention to the volume of traffic at the exit. We could probably save a lot of money, and a lot of grief, with better support and oversight of existing clergy, and a more realistic job description.

  • Fr John E. Harris-White says:

    Following ‘Thinking Anglicans’, so many words written. Surely these cannot be equated to money, however well meaning the idea of giving to the poor etc. Words have consequences, and actions, for good or evil.

    Most of us seek to write words, that have a positive response. But there are times when words are written against bad ideas, and should be so.

    But a life taken before its due time reminds us all of the need to speak with due care, at all times.

    An old adige, ‘careless words costs lives’.

    May God have mercy, and grant peace to those who take their own lives.

  • Cynthia says:

    “I now realise, too late, that ignoring the topic of sexuality is by definition exclusive and very unsafe for people who are gay.”

    Finally, someone in the church of England expresses this truth. The suicide rate amongst LGBT teens is horrible. The exclusion, the rhetoric, the hate language, and the struggle within the church that keeps it from recognizing all children as children of God is not lost on sensitive teens.

    We had a similar situation in our extended church family at the beginning of the summer. It’s absolutely heartbreaking. Personally, I’ve lost patience with all the excuses for exclusion. Crushing the spirits of our LGBT teens, adults, gay clergy, etc., is not going to hold the Anglican communion together. And even if it did, at what price? It is too much to ask this 14-year-old girl and other children to carry the heavy burden of appeasing a conservative status quo.

  • ” Can a denomination function with these figures?”

    – cseitz –

    Perhaps, Christopher, you should put this question to your favourite Church – ACNA – and also, by inference, to AMiE, in their new push for credible relevance in the U.K.

  • Froghole says:

    David Keen – many thanks for your remarks (and I have today – 25 September – attended services at a number of parishes in your diocese, though not your deanery).

    I have to mention that I have encountered a number of clergy over a range of dioceses who are in their 50s and 60s and who are generally fed up (though there are possibly as many, if not more, who seem very content in their work).

    This dissatisfaction is perhaps not only due to a lack of recognition, as a perceived lack of support and the feeling that some clergy are regarded by diocesan authorities as eminently dispensable. In some dioceses the creation of very large multi-parish benefices (making the stipendiary team rector a de facto area dean) has run some conscientious clergy ragged: this model may be apt for people in their 30s and 40s, but for many older clergy it can be exhausting.

    Some older clergy have told me that they would retire earlier, but they cannot afford to do so, and some (if they have not purchased a house) regard the prospect of retirement, and being thrown into a very harsh housing market with a mixture of dread and dismay. Naturally, almost no lenders will advance mortgage credit to people in their 60s or 70s.

    They therefore aim to defer retirement (the evil day) for as long as possible, despite their exhaustion, and hope that they will get a house for duty position even if much of their enthusiasm and capacity for parochial ministry has long been spent (though I must qualify this by acknowledging the tremendous contribution of many house for duty clergy).

    This is why I suspect that many of the clergy who do drop out have the means to to do so (and I also think it possible that at least a few of those who retire early for health reasons have come into funds that will support their care).

    It is certainly important to discover why clergy leave parochial ministry before time. I also wonder whether the central authorities have any useful information about the plight of retired clergy who (lacking access to house for duty positions or special clergy accommodation – such as Bromley College, St Barnabas in Dormansland, etc.) have to make their own arrangements once they their parsonages, especially those lacking a second income from a spouse.

  • Cynthia says:

    One-third of us are thriving, Christopher. We tend to be urban, liberal, educated, and fiscally sound. We’re not going away. We have loads of children being raised in love, inclusive love. From where I stand, we’re looking good.

  • cseitz says:

    Ron Smith: Can you try to put on your thinking cap? I will give you that your stubbornness sets a high standard.

    ACI famously opposed ACNA in the day. It has worked hard with the GS and has not done so with that portion representing Gafcon.

    My ecclesial home is the CofE and TEC. What will happen in the former God will have to reveal. Will it end up where TEC has done? That is unlikely; TEC will likely eliminate its conservative element except for individuals here and there. Will it find a compromise in the form of “no ss marriage but pastoral response” and who will accept this?

    I do think what the CofE does will ripple into the wider communion either as a failed compromise proposal or as something more divided.

    Do try to keep your ACNA and Gafcon lenses less fogged.

  • Cseitz says:

    One third sounds about right. 250k ASA.

    How to organize this into a smaller number of dioceses will be the question. Probably need only half the present number if that. This was my point. How to face the challenge of a much smaller TEC.

  • Fr Andrew says:

    As the average age of TEC attenders has been brought up, is anybody aware of any longitudinal data with regard to age and church attendance, in the US or UK?

    Without denying the reality of church decline, I’m not sure of the validity of using the average age of parishioners (presumably this means congregants?) as a surrogate marker for numerical decline. I follow the reasoning: If average age now is 60, then in 5 years it will be 60 + 5 and in 20 years, 60 + 20, and in 50 years we fall off the cliff and everybody will be dead. But what if churchgoing is something, like classical music or Radio 4, that is much more likely to come upon people as they get older? I’d hazard a guess that for much of the preceding century the average age of regular churchgoers has been older than that of the general population, but I’m not sure of any evidence for that guess and would value any pointers to data.

    I very much doubt that any of the graphs of church decline which show a straight line are worth the paper they’re written on- it may be over even sooner, it may bottom out, who knows- and looking at average age now as a predictive marker seems to me to be even shakier.

  • Perry Butler says:

    Is it known how many clergy leave for other parts of the Communion? I know of one who has gone to SEC one to Wales and 4 to TEC…not all are simply giving up.

  • Cseitz says:

    The TEC data gurus look up to any evaluative challenge to me. They do excellent work.

  • MarkBrunson says:

    One of the things I love is hearing how our congregations are “aging and, thus, dying out” – because it means that what we offer is so compelling and so wonderfully true that true people in the midst of all those tossed by every turn of passion and desire, will stay true to us ’til death. When the last is gone, Christianity will be dead in all but name.

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