Photo Credit: Diocese of Southwell & Nottingham
A record number of people are taking part in a Church of England scheme which provides a practical year in a parish to young people considering a call to ministry. The Ministry Experience Scheme is a nationwide initiative which developed from ad-hoc programmes run by individual parishes and dioceses. It offers young people, aged between 18 and 30, the opportunity to spend a year working in a parish alongside a vicar in what some have dubbed “apprentice vicar” posts.
In 2005, 47 young people took part in placements. This year, that figure has risen to 150. More than two thirds of dioceses in the Church of England are now taking part in the Ministry Experience Scheme.
“Young adults on the scheme are encouraged to explore their vocation – not just to ordained ministry – living and working in communities in both urban and rural areas,” the C of E said in a statement. “The placements offer theological teaching and skills training whilst immersing the participants within a local parish. Each scheme is unique to its community, giving the participants the opportunity to support their local communities through charitable, pastoral and community-based activities.”
Supported by the Allchurches Trust, the Scheme is attracting people from all walks of life. So far, it has an equal number of women and men taking part; and nearly one in 10 participants last year were from black, Asian minority ethnic minority backgrounds (BAME). The C of E is hoping to increase that figure to 15 per cent over the next two years.
The C of E says that its research shows that 46 per cent of those who took part in 2017 have since attended a Bishops’ Advisory Panel – a residential selection conference for people in the final stages of discernment for selection for ordained ministry in the Church of England. A further 21 per cent went on to work or train for lay ministry.
The scheme is becoming a key component of the Church of England’s drive, through the Renewal and Reform programme, to attract more young people and more women and people from ethnic minorities into both lay and ordained roles.
One current participant, 24-year-old Lauren Simpson, is undertaking a placement at Bestwood Park Church in the north of Nottingham. She is helping to run Messy church events, a fortnightly youth group, a youth worship band and other projects including a weekly lunch in the church hall.
“I am just over half-way through my placement, and I am being stretched and challenged more than ever before,” she said. “I have really been welcomed by the community, and I have had a chance to do a lot both inside and outside the church.
“This experience has given me an insight into the church in a way that otherwise would have not been possible.”
The Bishop of Burnley, Philip North, chairs the Scheme’s steering committee. He said: “I thank God for the success of the Ministry Experience Scheme and for the young adults across the country who are devoting a year of their lives to the service of others, including the work of parishes in both urban and rural areas, helping to witness to the Good News of the Gospel.
“The scheme provides a wonderful formation and a chance to take time to reflect on the future course of their lives. In Blackpool, we hope that work on urban deprived estates will be a transformative moment for both those taking part and for the parishes and communities they serve.”