Today 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.
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.
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:
I 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 Clergy||8098|
|2035 Stipends Assuming Current Recruitment and 0% Wastage||7686||-5.1%|
|2035 Stipends Assuming Current Recruitment and 0.5% Wastage||7425||-8.3%|
|2035 Stipends Assuming Current Recruitment and 1% Wastage||7179||-11.3%|
|2035 Stipends Assuming Growing Recruitment and 0.5% Wastage||8181||1.0%|
|2035 Stipends Assuming Growing Recruitment and 1% Wastage||7902||-2.4%|
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.
|Diocese||Under 40||40 – 59||60+|
|Diocese of Bristol||14%||77%||9%|
|Diocese of Southwark||15%||67%||17%|
|Diocese of London||22%||60%||18%|
|Diocese of Coventry||15%||66%||18%|
|Diocese of Birmingham||16%||65%||19%|
|Diocese of Oxford||14%||65%||21%|
|Diocese of Salisbury||11%||68%||21%|
|Diocese of Guildford||14%||64%||22%|
|Diocese of Blackburn||12%||65%||22%|
|Diocese of Liverpool||14%||63%||23%|
|Diocese of Portsmouth||8%||68%||23%|
|Diocese of Leicester||10%||66%||23%|
|Diocese of Leeds||11%||64%||24%|
|Diocese of Chelmsford||15%||61%||24%|
|Diocese of St Albans||18%||57%||24%|
|Diocese of Ely||13%||63%||24%|
|Diocese of Chichester||14%||62%||25%|
|Diocese of Southwell||12%||64%||25%|
|Diocese of York||14%||61%||25%|
|Diocese of Lichfield||14%||60%||25%|
|Diocese of Derby||10%||64%||26%|
|Diocese of Worcester||9%||65%||26%|
|Diocese of Sheffield||11%||62%||27%|
|Diocese of Durham||11%||62%||27%|
|Diocese of Winchester||6%||66%||28%|
|Diocese of Chester||12%||60%||28%|
|Diocese of Gloucester||11%||60%||28%|
|Diocese of Rochester||13%||58%||29%|
|Diocese of Manchester||9%||61%||29%|
|Diocese of Bath and Wells||5%||65%||30%|
|Diocese of Carlisle||9%||61%||30%|
|Diocese of Hereford||8%||61%||31%|
|Diocese of St Edmundsbury and Ipswich||4%||65%||31%|
|Diocese of Newcastle||13%||56%||31%|
|Diocese of Lincoln||12%||56%||32%|
|Diocese of Peterborough||12%||55%||33%|
|Diocese of Exeter||9%||57%||33%|
|Diocese of Norwich||11%||55%||34%|
|Diocese of Truro||10%||49%||40%|
|Diocese of Canterbury||7%||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?
Follow me on Twitter @psephizo
Much of my work is done on a freelance basis. If you have valued this post, would you consider donating £1.20 a month to support the production of this blog?