The number of people entering training to become clergy in the Church of England is at the highest level for a decade, it was announced today. The boost is a response by the C of E to falling clergy numbers caused by the increasing age profile of its ordained ministers. The number of ordinands starting training this Autumn is 544 – up 14 per cent on last year, making the intake the highest figure for 10 years, according to statistics from the C of E’s ministry division.
More than half of the new ordinands – 274 – are women; up 19 per cent on last year and making the female ordinands the biggest intake for a decade since 275 women entered training in 2007. It is 16 years since the last time women made up the majority of new ordinands, when 243 entered training in 2001, compared to 238 men.
There has also been a rise in the number of younger ordinands, with the number under the age of 32 rising by nearly two fifths, accounting for 28 per cent of the total.
Alongside the figures for new ordinands, the C of E’s ministry division has published data showing that the number of women serving in ordained ministry rose to a record-high of 5,690 last year – up seven per cent since 2013. But despite the increase, women make up less than a third – 29 per cent – of the total number of active clergy.
Behind the new figures are a continued trend of reducing clergy numbers. The total number of active clergy fell by just over two per cent from 20,020 in 2013 to 19,550 in 2016. In the same period, the number of clergy in paid positions fell by four per cent from 8,120 to 7,790.
The decline in the number of clergy reflects the increasing age of Church of England clergy – with many reaching retirement age. The increases in the number of ordinands is part of the Church of England’s response to the age profile, which includes a programme to increase the number of candidates for ordination by 50 per cent by 2020 as part of its Renewal and Reform programme. The campaign is particularly seeking to increase the number of women, youthfulness and ethnic diversity of its ordination candidates.
The figures released today show that the number of clergy in paid positions from black and minority ethnic communities remained largely unchanged in 2016, at 3.5 per cent.
“The increase in numbers of those called to serve as clergy reflects a great deal of hard work, especially in the dioceses and local churches, but also the persistent and dedicated prayers of many in the churches both during the post-Easter prayer campaign for vocations and throughout the year,” the Church of England’s ministry director, the Ven Julian Hubbard, said.
“We are thankful for God’s generosity and goodness shown in the gifts we have been given,” he said. “We are mindful, however, that significant work still remains to be done to improve the age profile, gender and ethnicity of our clergy to better reflect the makeup of our congregations and the wider population. We continue to seek prayers and support for this to be achieved.”
The director of the Renewal and Reform programme, Mike Eastwood, commented: “The overwhelming majority of the work of Renewal and Reform is about encouraging and inspiring the church at parish and diocesan level in its work of evangelism, mission and fostering vocations to lay and ordained ministry and leadership.
“We hope that these figures published today will inspire us all and remind us of what still needs to be done towards fulfilling our goal of providing a hopeful future for the Church of England in which we can once again become a growing church for all people in all places.”