Do we have enough vicars?

roman-collarToday the Ministry Statistics for 2015 are released (soon to be posted on the C of E stats web page) and they tell us the stark reality of decline in clergy numbers. On Radio 4 this morning, Rose Hudson-Wilkins suggested that this wasn’t too worrying, since we can dispense with the model of the ‘white, male, clericalised’ pattern of ministry. What she failed to highlight is that there are no sustainable models of church growth which don’t involve stipendiary (set aside, financially provided for) leadership, and the NT itself sees leadership as a gift to the church which enables the ‘building up’ of the people of God. As a reflection of that, the Archbishops’ Council risk register sees a failure to ‘recruit’ sufficient ordinands as a major risk to the future of the Church.

There are some signs of encouragement in the figures, as highlighted by the comment of Julian Hubbard, Director of Ministry for the Archbishops’ Council (previously ‘Ministry Division’):

The overall picture confirms what is widely known about the challenges we face. While the number of stipendiary ordinations showed a welcome increase between 2012 and 2015, this is not sufficient to redress the gathering effect of clergy retirements predicted over the next ten years.

This can be seen most clearly in two diagrams in what I think is a very clear and helpful document. The first gives the overall age profile of stipendiary clergy each year from 2012 to 2015. What happens each year is that the curve moves to the right (since everyone gets a year older) but the gap that opens up from one year to the next might at points be closed by new ordinations.

Screen Shot 2016-06-02 at 07.35.23

There are two key things to note on this curve. The first is the plateau from around age 53 to 64 which represents that cohort arising from the disastrous decision to increase the age of those recommended for ministry during the late 1980s and early 1990s. In an ideal world, this area of the graph, and the region to the left of it, would be more level so that the curves in successive years matched one another. This region is the sign of the problem.

The second thing to note, though, is the left-hand tail, where the successive curves match one another. This region is the sign of hope: a greater focus on encouraging younger vocations has created a sustainable pattern at this end where the graphs match one another. The problem is that this on its own is not enough; in order to compensate for the future losses at the top end, the curve at the bottom end needs to be greater in successive years to make up for the loss at the older end of the graph.

The second helpful diagram splits this age profile into male and female stipendiary clergy.

Screen Shot 2016-06-02 at 07.35.36

What is fascinating to note here is that curve for female clergy has already reached stability; the problem is in the curve for the male clergy. This arises for two reasons. First, with the decision to ordain women around the same time as the increase in the age of ordinands, women were less affected by this. Secondly, there has been a significant rise in the number of young women ordinands. Contrary to the common assumption, if the curves are to both be balanced, it is young men ordinands we need to see growth in—unless, of course, the male-female proportions in clergy are going to change significantly. This has not been a noticeable trend in recent years; the proportion of stipendiary clergy who are women has increased from 24% in 2012 to 27% in 2015.

Peter Ould, who is a trained statistician as well as being ordained, has done some helpful additional analysis of what this all means for overall clergy numbers projected into the future. He writes:

Image 2I took the data from the Church of England and produced a quick demographic model of stipended clergy. The model looks at each year in the future, reduces the current number of clergy by natural wastage (clergy leaving stipended ministry for non retirement reasons) and retirement and then added in the new ordinands. Of course, some of those ordinands themselves will be retiring in the next twenty years, so that has to be factored in as well.

What does the model tell us? Despite the increase in recruitment in the past few years, if we continue attracting the same number of ordinands over the next twenty years we will still be almost 1,000 clergy down. If we factor in the statistically significant increase in younger ordinands for the next five years and then keep the number level, we just about manage to hold steady and this is assuming low levels of non-retirement “wastage”. The model makes some basic assumptions and doesn’t cover early retirements and other complexities, so the real numbers are likely to be much lower.

The full figures are below. It’s clear from the model that unless recruitment of younger stipended clergy increases the demographic time bomb that the clergy age profile is indicating will have a real impact on the ground. Clergy may well decide to draw their pension, but even in retirement they will be needed more and more to keep some Dioceses running.

2015 Stipended Clergy8098
2035 Stipends Assuming Current Recruitment and 0% Wastage7686-5.1%
2035 Stipends Assuming Current Recruitment and 0.5% Wastage7425-8.3%
2035 Stipends Assuming Current Recruitment and 1% Wastage7179-11.3%
2035 Stipends Assuming Growing Recruitment and 0.5% Wastage81811.0%
2035 Stipends Assuming Growing Recruitment and 1% Wastage7902-2.4%

Image 1

That might all look sobering enough (writes Ian Paul) But the devil (as they say) is in the detail. All these figures are aggregated across all dioceses in the Church of England—but of course clergy are not aggregated or easily mobile, but are distributed unevenly across the country. Hidden in the detailed reports is information about the age profiles for stipendiary clergy in different dioceses, and these differences are marked and alarming.

DioceseUnder 4040 – 5960+
Diocese of Bristol14%77%9%
Diocese of Southwark15%67%17%
Diocese of London22%60%18%
Diocese of Coventry15%66%18%
Diocese of Birmingham16%65%19%
Diocese of Oxford14%65%21%
Diocese of Salisbury11%68%21%
Diocese of Guildford14%64%22%
Diocese of Blackburn12%65%22%
Diocese of Liverpool14%63%23%
Diocese of Portsmouth8%68%23%
Diocese of Leicester10%66%23%
Diocese of Leeds11%64%24%
Diocese of Chelmsford15%61%24%
Diocese of St Albans18%57%24%
Diocese of Ely13%63%24%
Diocese of Chichester14%62%25%
Diocese of Southwell12%64%25%
Diocese of York14%61%25%
Diocese of Lichfield14%60%25%
Diocese of Derby10%64%26%
Diocese of Worcester9%65%26%
Diocese of Sheffield11%62%27%
Diocese of Durham11%62%27%
Diocese of Winchester6%66%28%
Diocese of Chester12%60%28%
Diocese of Gloucester11%60%28%
Diocese of Rochester13%58%29%
Diocese of Manchester9%61%29%
Diocese of Bath and Wells5%65%30%
Diocese of Carlisle9%61%30%
Diocese of Hereford8%61%31%
Diocese of St Edmundsbury and Ipswich4%65%31%
Diocese of Newcastle13%56%31%
Diocese of Lincoln12%56%32%
Diocese of Peterborough12%55%33%
Diocese of Exeter9%57%33%
Diocese of Norwich11%55%34%
Diocese of Truro10%49%40%
Diocese of Canterbury7%52%41%

(Detailed figures for Leeds, Wakefield, Sodor and Man and Europe were not available).

How the Diocese of Bristol have managed to have so few older clergy I have no idea! But it means that they will be largely protected from the impact of retirements. The same cannot be said for those at the bottom of the list, who will feel the decline of clergy numbers very painfully in the next ten years—or sooner. And, most interestingly, this list does not reveal a north/south divide as we might have expected.

In other words, clergy recruitment is in reality only half of the challenge. The other half is in clergy deployment. With the death of the Sheffield quota system for clergy numbers, this will most likely come down to an exercise in ecclesial marketing: which dioceses will clergy be drawn to in ministry?

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42 thoughts on “Do we have enough vicars?”

  1. I am curious about the omission from the figures for those of the Diocese of Sodor and Man, and to a lesser extent, for those of the Dipcese of Europe which could be argued to be a different case. Is it just that Sodor and Man is so small?

    • Thanks Chris. I have added a note that the information for four dioceses was not available at this level of detail. I think the dynamics of clergy numbers in Europe will be quite different.

  2. very interesting table, Peter, but do the figures for 60+ clergy include “retired” clergy, if so, the large number in Canterbury might just reflect that it is a nice place to retire to and not that a large number are about to retire.

    • Thanks Harry, good question. Peter’s was just the middle section; the final comments were mine. I have clarified that this is a table of stipendiary clergy, so no it does not include retired clergy.

  3. “Contrary to the common assumption, if the curves are to both be balanced, it is young men ordinands we need to see growth in.”
    By this, Ian, I think you mean balance from year to year. But there is still a large imbalance male/female. In 2015, of the under 30s ordained, 11 were female, 37 male.

    • Thanks Mark. I have slightly edited my comments to clarify this. It all depends on what you mean by ‘imbalance’. Although I have been a vocal supporter of women’s ordination, I disagree with Steve Holmes that this implies seeing 50/50 men and women. (See the three posts about this from January 2015).

      11 from 48 is 22%, which is not far off the overall proportion of clergy as a whole. For stipendiary ministry it was 24% in 2012 and 27% in 2015. I suspect it will continue to increase a little, but not reach 50% any time soon. There are some other significant numbers hidden in the stats though; the most interesting is the low proportion of women incumbents. I think there are reasons for that, but it does mean that women appointed as senior staff are often likely to be less experienced than comparable men.

      • Having senior staff who do not have experience of being an incumbent is not a new problem and it has not been specific to women! The current environment will make it increasingly hard for *anyone* to move into a senior role without it though – and whilst we might applaud this, I do think there are always people who are called who do not fit into neat tick boxes.

        Yes, the key issue (in gender/women’s terms) is that we need to focus on the problem of why we haven’t got more women being incumbents. When we first looked at producing the Furlong Table, using the Stats, it was impossible to get details for incumbency and also for gender balance of training incumbents. I’m pleased to see that the stats are helping us to understand our deployment challenges in better detail.

        Personally I am not looking for 50/50 figures but for working towards representative figures. If the proportion of stipendiary women is 27% then I’m looking for a similar but not exact figure of women incumbents and senior staff etc.

        PS: I’m sure you are not suggesting the those women who have been appointed to senior roles are not experienced enough in comparison to their male peers (though your phrasing did worry me a little!).

        • Thanks Leah. Yes, I think I am suggesting that recent senior appointments of women might well not have as much experience as male candidates. Surely in the situation we are in this is inevitable—and the question is, why is this a problem?

          I suspect a lot of experience men do think it is a problem, if they feel they deserve ‘preferment’ (oh hideous term!). But surely it cannot be avoided?

          I also think there are very clear reasons why women do not end up as incumbents in the same proportion as men in relation to the proportion ordained. Part of that has to do with childcare; part has to do with the shape and demands of ministry, as has been articulated very clearly in some of the Facebook discussion.

          • On the whole, I don’t think we are appointing women with less experience. You can clearly point to male candidates who have more experience than female candidates but as long as the people being appointed have sufficient experience for the post they are being called to, why is that relevant? (I think we are agreeing here??)

            Any post is an individual appointment and in an individual appointment chemistry, calling AND competency are all being considered with experience being a small part of that.

            I believe that we (mostly) have the right senior leaders, who have the right gifts and experience for their roles and contexts AND are the people who are called by God. Therefore, I think it is very sad if there are men OR women playing comparison games.

            Maybe I am being naive or too trusting of the institution!

        • Incumbency experience is not necessarily essential for senior posts, but incumbency sympathy is. I’ve managed people in the past who have been better than me at doing a specific thing or who did something I didn’t have any experience of at all, but my role was not to tell them what to do but rather facilitate them to do the best at what they did.

          The real issue in the CofE is Diocesan staff who are more interested in facilitating their careers rather than the ministry of those they are responsible for. That includes all rungs of management up to the very top.

  4. “here are no sustainable models of church growth which don’t involve stipendiary (set aside, financially provided for) leadership”
    II wonder if that is true? What about the early church? What about China? What about the Moravian movement or Primitive Methodism?
    And what is proposed is not NO stipendiary leadership, but stipendiaries taking more of an oversight role – on average (and of course there will be massive variation) one stipendiary for every 100-120 or so regular churchgoers (I’m not a statistician but I think that’s about it), ensuring like Titus in Crete that there are groups of elders (whatever they are called in our contexts) in every church able to care for it and grow it.
    I’m not ready to panic yet!

  5. Are we certain there is no other model? I am increasingly interested in how Alcoholics Anonymous works. It is peer lead and life transforming – much that the Church should be. I wonder what can be learned from them

    • Mark, thanks for the question. I think the answer would need another blog post…or probably a book! But my observations in the first instance would be:

      1. Why do we want to ask this question? I don’t see our current situation as either fortuitous, or God speaking to us about declericalisation, but as simple cock-up. Someone in 1987 (or whenever) did not have manpower planning brain engaged.

      2. Where would we look for an answer?

      a. Is AA a good parallel? As a movement it has very different goals and ethos from a Christian church

      b. What is current and recent C of E experience? I think pretty uniformly that a lack of stipendiary leadership leads to numerical decline.

      c. What other historical examples might we consider? Andy Griffiths mentions other possible parallels, but I am not sure that they offer persuasive models for the contemporary C of E.

      d. How do we read the NT? It seems to me that in Acts 18 Luke is pointing us to the significance of Paul’s receiving a gift which means he stops tent making as an important new phase of effective ministry.

      e. What is our theology of ministry? In Ephesians 4 Paul appears to see different ministries as a gift to the body of Christ. That doesn’t immediately answer the question of stipendiary ministry, but it has something to contribute.

      • Hi Ian,

        I decided to read up about AA meetings. Apparently, the only requirement for membership is a desire to stop drinking. The AA meeting structure consists of the following elements.

        Opening, Introductions and Welcome

        Reading – from the ‘How it works’ chapter of the Big Book followed by a recital of the 12 Traditions

        Sharing – 3 – 5 minutes each for any person to share briefly from their experience, strength, and hope – ‘what it was like, what happened, and what it is like now’. This is so that they may solve their common problem and which might help others to recover.

        Closing – the Serenity Prayer

        The key differences are that the AA meeting lacks the need for a bureaucratic hierarchy, large budgets, prescriptive form and ritual and a class of professional administrators and policy interpreters which the CofE deploys in furtherance of its national objectives.

        It’s amazing that AA relies on little more than a mutual commitment among peers towards achieving a common goal. Yet, it accomplishes that goal of providing a safe and reassuring space for people to discover for themselves a proven path towards permanent sobriety.

        I’m not suggesting that stipendiary ministry should end. However, the CofE could learn something from the AA approach by devising more opportunities for developing participative lay leadership in a far simpler peer group format.

        The chief issue for the CofE is that many stipendiary clergy, as leaders, believe that to come up with the quick-fire right answers is well within their prerogative and skillset.

        Yet, given their signal failure to stem numerical decline over many years, one wonders whether clergy self-belief that roundly refuses to countenance successful (albeit unorthodox) secular alternatives may simply be thinly-veiled hubris.

        • David

          I think AA’s ‘Twelve Traditions’, especially the ‘long form’ of them (see link) contain some insights which may be transferable to the Church of England as an organisation – perhaps Evangelicals might struggle with No. 11 🙂 Although clearly not of the the complexity and size of the CofE, AA does, in fact, have a hierarchy of member, group, Intergroup, Region and General Service Office but the hierarchy is an inverted one and based on the principle of servant leadership. It also has an annual Conference, analagous to the CofE’s General Synod.

          Kind regards


          • PS My quip about Tradition 11 related to ‘attraction rather than promotion’ – not that evangelicals praise themselves!

        • I’ve long been interested by AA. Its aims are different but it is a voluntary organisation that is in the b business if life-changing, under the influence of a higher power — a part of what we’re about as a Church that needs to be strengthened. It’s ground I’d think we need to explore!

          • Hi Alan,

            Despite the striking organisational differences, the role of sponsors is the aspect of the AA approach which could be emulated by the Church.

            According to AA literature:
            A sponsor does everything possible, within the limits of personal experience and knowledge, to help the newcomer get sober and stay sober through the AA programme.

            They field any questions the new member may have about AA.

            Sponsorship gives the newcomer an understanding, sympathetic friend when one is needed most—it assures them that at least one person cares.

            A 2009 study thematically analysed sponsors’ responses in order to rank the most significant aspects of sponsorship.
            They were:
            1. Availability
            2. Non-judgmental
            3. Friendship
            4. Confidant
            5. Answer AA questions
            6. Offer hope
            7. Escort to meetings
            8. Help to achieve sobriety
            9. Identify risky behaviour (e,g, going to bars)

            What’s surprising is that, despite obvious parallels between this role with that of Lay Pastoral Assistants (LPA), there are no formal qualifications to become a sponsor.

            By comparison, as you are aware, here are the details of the CofE’s LPA authorisation process:
            1. Involvement in the life of parish for at least six months
            2. PCC and incumbent discern calling, select and approve candidates for Lay Pastoral Assistant role
            3. Completion of Confidential Declaration form and Enhanced DBS check (Adult & Child).
            4. Completion of LPA training course (e.g Bath & Wells course consists of 8 x 2.5 hours sessions)
            5. Incumbent discusses/agrees Ministry Specification containing aims of the LPA, parameters of work, accountability structures, amount of hours envisaged, expenses, insurances, and complaints and appeals procedures
            6. Incumbent co-signs the completed application form with applicant and sends with agreed Ministry Specification to the School of Formation.
            7. Letter of commendation from School of Formation notifies that requirements have been fulfilled
            8. Pastoral Assistant is commissioned (by Rural Dean) within normal service.
            9. Ongoing training and development, including Safeguarding Training Day.

            Most probably due to my IT background, what concerns me is the relatively higher amount of meetings and administrative overhead in authorising ministry.

            I’m all for proper ministry training and safeguarding, but, in this era of secure data encryption and on-line databases, why do most decisions still require exchanges of printed forms completed by hand and the postal circulation of interminably long reports from redundant sub-committees?

            Yes, I’m a bit harsh, but, perhaps, these archaic modes of communication account for much of the high administrative workload that is evidenced in the Experiences of Ministry Survey 2015.

  6. Although the age breakdown is useful it doesn’t reflect years of service, future retirement ages or life stage. Age may just be a number, but culturally working life is stretching and shifting.

    Ordained at 29/30, now 40, I expect to retire at 70/71. I still have another 30 active years of stipendiary ministry ahead of me. We have just had our first baby, so in Church terms we are a ‘Young Family’. Having a baby definitely has a particular positive impact on ministry!

    Plenty of folks now living at home in their mid 20’s. Outside of the historic professions many people are not finding their life vocation until their 30’s. So whilst I am strongly in favour of young vocations (<25) we also need to be mindful of the 25-35 age range.

    • Thanks Edward. But there are some other factors to consider here.

      Research has shown that, in general, incumbents are most effective at bringing change and growth in their mid-40s, and that they are also most effective having been in post for 8 to 12 years.

      That means that we ought to aim that, most often, ministers ought to be appointed to first incumbencies around their mid-30s, which means entering curacy around 30, so entering training mid to late 20s.

      So I would still encourage the exploration of vocation in one’s 20s.

      • Well that is when I was called. Although I had a first sense of vocation at 13, had a prophetic word over me I would be a CofE Priest (in my NFI church) when I was 17 … of course I wasn’t an Anglican until my mid 20’s … but was ordained at 29, curacy, then Team Vicar (second curacy which I found essential), and /now/ in my first Incumbency. So that kind of tallies up – although I am rather suspicious of folks going from curacy straight to incumbency.

        But I am also aware that millennials have a different life timescale to those of us who are older.

        The 8-12 years thing is also very challenging. I have never lived in the same house for more than 4 years! The idea of being in a job that long seems very culturally alien to me. Now I may have a pioneer approach to ministry, but there is certainly a recruitment issue here too.

      • Hmmm… Much as I support the young vocations initiative (and I was a young ordinand once), I think we must be very wary of making it either / or. We should welcome the vocation (to ordained ministry in this context) of all who are called but the rhetoric in e.g. parts of Renewal and Reform seems to me to veer towards a disparaging of older candidates. I have taught many older candidates who were ordained in their 40s or 50s and are now incumbents leading churches into growth and appropriate change. I also meet a few younger ordinands who seem wedded to recreating a rather romantic version of church life past. Perhaps I should stop going to those colleges…

      • This still leaves room to experience the world beyond academia before training for some. Do you need to decide at around 16 to be a top rate theologian as for scientist. at the other end, if you are training for at least 10 years service, there is a cut off point at around 50?

        • A flexible approach to pathways of training would help. I taught two candidates in their 60s while I was on the staff at Cranmer Hal. They were both experienced Readers who had kept up their theological reading a bit and were going to be non-stipendiary. They were looking to offer perhaps 20 years of ordained ministry so I think the one year training they did was cost effective in that the Church never paid them a stipend. They were not looking to be incumbents (but might have perhaps led a church in a team). Their bishop (David Hope) did not bother with a BAP and prescribed that they come to us for one calendar year!

  7. Are Christian Brethern and related evangelicals an elephant in the room on 2 levels in this thread?
    1. Lay leadership, of a particular style.
    2. How many Brethern teenagers have eventually emerged as CoE priests?

    Through the 1990s, I must have met at least a dozen Incumbents in the 35-45 age range, usually in significant parishes, whose Anglican experience only started at university. After a few years of post graduate work, often teaching RE, they found dioceses happy to recommend them for ordination training, and a career in church leadership not open to them in their home tradition. I have no reason to doubt their faith, ability or competence, but I do wonder:
    1. How far they can have moved from solar scripture, to Scripture, Tradition and Reason?
    2. How many men(!) from such strong backgrounds are now in the higher reaches of the CoE?

    • Graham,

      I was a mid 20’s convert to Anglicanism from a strong Evangelical background. I have certainly moved theologically. If I didn’t accept the apostolic ministry of bishops and their succession I would be an utter hypocrite and my ministry would be a farce.

      There is always that suspicion that some people come into or stay in the CofE because they see it as ‘The Best Boat to Fish From’ and they are cuckoos in the nest, ultimately doing more harm than good.

      But 2B2F is not the language I am hearing in Missional Evangelical or Catholic Circles these days. There is a stronger message of commitment to the CofE and working across party boundaries.

  8. Can we come up with a better phrase than ‘natural wastage’ for the clergy who are no longer in frontline ministry. At one stage I probably wasn’t that far away from being part of that statistic. There’s no point inviting people in the front door if the back door is still wide open, and our support and structures for people who are struggling are pretty patchy. I know several good priests who are no longer in ordained ministry, or very nearly dropped out – we need to give much more attention to making the job possible, and to giving better support and accountability to parish clergy.

    • David,

      The incumbents whom I’ve known are all too often focused on getting people in the front door.

      Perhaps, you’re right, There’s a specific ministry for minding the back door: serving the needs of those who are either on the verge of leaving or have left the church.

  9. Fascinating…a few additional thoughts….has anyone factored in the entry age of clergy and changing patterns in how long clergy remain in ministry? Why are we assuming a 25yr old priest will remain in ministry for 40 years? I know two brilliant priests leaving ministry this year after less than a decade – are the ‘wastage’ figures realistic? What research is being done into this? How attuned to the needs of young clergy are today’s parochial models of ministry where longer life experience seems essential….

  10. Regarding ‘natural wastage’ I am increasingly concerned that there is good chance this is already going up as the reality of lower numbers of clergy and resources presses clergy into more and more unmanageable levels of responsibility. Clergy recruitment is certainly part of the picture, but so is clergy retention by making bold decisions that are more honouring of the calling to the ministry

  11. With regard to wastage (natural or otherwise), I wonder whether enough consideration has been given Anglican clergy becoming Catholics. I understand that about 600 have done this in the last 25 years. This is 0.3% per annum. A small percentage, but it has an impact over a long period. The word seems to be that it is a phenomenon that will continue,

  12. I would like to see a comprehensive review of the process of helping people to explore their vocation, selection, training and post ordination placement. Is it still fit for purpose? Much of it was designed to manage the post war boom in vocations when significant loss of candidates pre-ordination was not a concern. In particular I question the relevance of diocesan boundaries pre-ordination i.e for exploring vocations and training clergy. I would be interested in your thoughts on this issue.

  13. Very interested by 3 phenomena around this

    (1) A substantial lost generation ordained in the 1990’s. I have heard anecdotal evidence about this but think we could do with understanding what has happened and why. How many of this generation have re-engaged in some forms of ministry? How many could?

    (2) understanding why people come out of ordained stipendiary ministry before retirement age — I don’t know of any good figures or qualitative analysis of this, and think we need to try harder.

    (3) Our assessment of the sect of bittier employment patterns and expectations in younger generations throughout the world of work. Again I don’t know of any work on this.

    I’d love to know of anyone that does and can refer me

    • Alan – in reply to 2)

      It would be good to think that the Church of England engaged in some kind of “exit interview” with this group – but I don’t believe it ever has. I found it disappointing to see Peter Ould referring to “natural wastage”. As one of the wasted, a) I don’t think of myself that way b) I don’t think that God calls and equips and then wastes and c) I don’t think the Church of England should be satisfied with dispensing with the ministry of some talented and experienced clergy too easily.

  14. Thanks to Ian for highlighting the Benedictine virtue of stabilitas in his comment about the evidence for most fruitful ministries being those that last from 8-12 in one place. A quick trawl through Crockfords will soon tell you that this is now the exception rather than the rule for many clergy. Staying in one place for that length of time is not, as far as I can tell, something that is valued and supported in the planning of most dioceses.

    If you decide that communities, in the sense of the places where people live, are not the way to organise any more – because people inhabit many different “communities” and the place they live is less important to them and so on, then you might think that this virtue has outlived its usefulness. But even in great metropolises people form strangely powerful attachments to the areas they dwell in, and often find themselves starting to volunteer or make friends or raise children in them. It has often been said that many great cities are, in some ways, a series of villages that flow into each other. If this is an inevitable part of living our lives, then I think that stabilitas from clergy can only help support and encourage the sustaining and development of community in whatever place it is.

    While there is great value in the energetic missional activity that pays particular attention to particular groups that gather around particular interests (mission to young people, old people, bikers, online gamers, the clubbing community and so forth) where stabilitas is demonstrated in the commitment of those involved to sustain there engagement and care for the group they are engaging with, it should not, in my estimation, be given such a disproportionate amount of attention and support that the benefits of those who engage in enduringly stable community ministry are ignored or under-valued.

    There is something very special about the kind of inter-generational ministry that you cannot have in a place unless you stay a decent length of time. Thee is a kind of credibility that can only come with years, and cannot be conjured up any other way.

    I would add to this that this kind of credibility also depends upon an in-depth engagement with the community in all its parts, so that people come to know you as one of their own, and are prepared to trust you with their joys and sorrows. And in that regard visiting and getting out and about is invaluable – but don’t get me started on that one….


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