Is it time to scrap the ‘curacy’?

For many years (how many?) the Church of England has had a standard pattern for ordination training, that starts with two or three years residential (or now, three years part-time course-based or two or three years contextual training), followed by a three- or four-year curacy. This is so standard that initial training is always considered to be in two parts, and has commonly been referred to as ‘IME 1 to 3’ and ‘IME 4 to 7’ giving a nominal seven-year period of initial training (for those under 32 when starting training) but often in practice 2 +3 years, a total of five. The crucial issue for this initial training is that the ordinand and then curate is, technically, on probation; although curates do have Common Tenure, this is time-limited under Regulation 29, and if the time period expires without finding another appointment, they are out of a job and out of their home. [Correction to previous comment.]

This pattern was standard when ordinands were almost uniformly in their 20s (and male) and unmarried. But why have we retained this pattern when the timing of training has changed and the situation of most ordinands is completely different? There are seven good reasons for scrapping the ‘curacy’ as the standard training route.

1. It originated in a different era

The pattern that we currently have originated in a era where just about every aspect of the practical organisation of ministry was different. When curates were young single men, then following a pattern of one—or quite often two—curacies, without any family ties to consider, was not unreasonable. It was not uncommon that the first curacy was expected to involve a specialist ministry, very often working with young people, a role that many entering ordination have already done in a lay capacity prior to entering ordination training. And in the days where most things ran on patronage (so, to be an incumbent, you needed to seek the patronage of the person who was the patron of the parish, a far cry from application and interview processes), it was probably no bad thing to run curacies in the same way. But neither mobility, ministry specialism, or patronage function in the same way today.

2. It demands a double uprooting.

When I completed my initial training, I embarked on PhD research. Others in same cohort were ordained and did their research whilst completing NSM curacies, but my diocesan bishop wouldn’t entertain that, so my ordination was delayed by three years. Then I met Maggie, and we married; she was already a partner in a GP practice, and it made no sense for her to move, knowing that we would likely have to move again in three or four years’ time. Therefore I looked for a curacy in the area she worked—which meant delaying ordination by yet another year as the see was vacant.

This kind of thing is a serious consideration for the majority who are entering training, not as single women or men, but married with families. I think one of the appeals of context-based training is that those entering training can avoid the first uprooting to begin initial training, knowing that they will have to uproot again at the end of the complete period of initial training—possibly already having moved more than once in relation to previous study and employment. (I have moved house 13 times in my adult life.) This particularly disadvantages married women, who consistently enter training later than married men because of their commitment to parenting.

3. The approach runs the serious risk of infantalising the newly ordained

The idea of being in a secure probationary period for five, six or seven years, with reduced autonomy and accountability, might well be appropriate for someone ordained in the early or mid twenties. But for someone in his or her thirties or forties, who might have run a business or a school, or held a senior position in an organisation, or raised a family? It can often be part of a pattern where those who are ordained simply don’t take seriously the maturity and responsibility of the laity, and undervalue the skills and expertise that they bring.

The head of a theological college once told me what a big job it was to head up this institution—and I find it hard to take them seriously, when someone I knew who had just entered training had, in a previous life, been given £150m and sent to South America to recruit a team and build a factory. How was running a college of 50 students a ‘big’ job compared with that? In some ways, leading a church is a ‘big’ job, in that you are at times dealing with questions of life and death, and the emotional demand in moving from one situation to another is considerable. You are giving yourself, not just your time or your skills. But at another level, we need to recognise the real responsibility that lay members of our congregations exercise, and the maturity that older ordinands bring to the task of ministry.

4. It creates insecurity

Clergy are increasingly concerned about their own security, in the face of division in the Church over key issues, if they are in dioceses where their bishop takes a different view, and where there is financial pressure to reduce numbers so that ministry is less secure than it was previously. (These are all the kinds of concerns that many people in ‘secular’ employment face from day to day.) But if you add to that the reality that, having given up secure employment and possibly moving house and home, you are dependent for two or three years on the favourable report from your tutor, and then dependent for another three or four years on the favourable report of your training incumbent, with whom you might have differences of view (assuming you are growing in your own understanding of ministry!) then you are being subject to a prolonged period of institutional and personal insecurity.

This is particular pertinent given the current situation of the Church. In order to reverse the decline in attendance, one of the major elements of the current narrative is that we are looking for ordained leaders who are willing to be pioneering, who will step out courageously and take risks, who will be entrepreneurial and innovative. That stands in some serious tension with the insecurity that the ‘curacy’ system creates.

5. There is an imbalance and concentration of power

Because curates’ Common Tenure is strictly time limited (under Regulation 29, and are in effect appointed by the incumbent, then if the incumbent leaves the curate has no long term security of tenure. (I am not aware, for example, that the PCC has a formal role in appointment—but I am open to correction here.) But even when this does not happen, the dependence of the curate on the commendation of the training incumbent before being signed off creates a serious imbalance of power which does not foster healthy relationships.

A highly competent friend of mine was completing research during his curacy. But the training incumbent appeared to feel threatened by his competence, and against the evidence refused to sign him off as having completed the necessary training after three years. This means he had to move—and in the end went to another diocese—in order to complete initial training, having already had ten years of ministry and church planting experience as a lay leader prior to ordination. Another highly competent friend had to move curacy after one year, since the relationship with the incumbent was difficult—despite being someone with years of lay ministry and leadership experience. The curacy system allows this kind of absurd situation to arise, largely because of the unhealthy concentration of power in the training incumbent.

6. It leads to breakdown of relationships

I am not sure that any one is monitoring the extent to which there is a breakdown of relationship between curates and their training incumbents, and I am fairly certain that no-one is monitoring how many curates drop out of ministry and never go on to be incumbents. But anecdotal evidence suggests that we should be. One young curate told me how many of her friends have dropped out, disillusioned with ministry that has not lived up to the possibilities that were talked about earlier in the training process. And in the past, people have told me that they think around 50% of curate/TI relationships have run into serious difficulties.

Starting a lifelong exercise of ministry in the context of poor relationships with colleagues which includes conflicts around the exercise of power is surely not the best foundation.

7. Change could address the clergy shortage

The main driver for increasing vocations to ordained ministry by 50% before 2025 is the anticipated decline in the number of stipendiary clergy. This could all be addressed in one fell swoop if half of the 1500 or so currently in curacy were instead in their own parishes.


Most other denominations that I know of do not have this kind of two-stage initial training. We might think that it is superior—but it has many disadvantages. Moving quickly into leadership of a parish might not work for some, and so I would not advocate that the present pattern is simply discontinued. But for many older and more experienced ordinands entering ministry, there must be a better way. An obvious way to do this would be to link the parish receiving someone newly ordained with a local parish where there is an experienced incumbent, and have a pattern of close supervision for the first year or two, with tapered patterns of meeting and accountability over an agreed period. And Continued Ministerial Education (CME) should continue as before, and be seen as something taken seriously throughout ministry and not just in curacy.

I am aware that, on the ground, this kind of pattern is actually happening—some are moving quickly into church plants, and others are having shortened curacies before becoming incumbents. But it is still seen as a breach of the normal pathway, and I am not sure that that is healthy, as it suggests that some individuals can buck the system, whilst others are still penned into it. Why not be honest, and offer two possible paths of ministry development? Some might say that making this kind of judgement amongst the newly ordained is invidious. But surely this is just the kind of judgement we should be making between, say, the 24-year-old graduate and the 43-year-old former head teacher at the point of their ordination!

Is there a good reason why we should not consider making this change?


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48 thoughts on “Is it time to scrap the ‘curacy’?”

  1. A very good article, neatly summarising the issues. I would expand a point on marriage. When I was involved in interviewing potential incumbents, two of the four had ordained partners. Neither was prepared to act as curate for their partner, which creates a problem in a parish where the congregation expects the incumbent to be resident.

    Another point to make is that a curate is rarely promoted to incumbent, whereas promoting a deputy is common practice in other organisations.

  2. This is so helpful Ian. Thank you for raising these really important issues. I have recently completed my curacy and much of what you have written chimes with my experience. In a cohort of 7 in our diocese, 2 moved parishes part way through curacy and another 3 had very significant difficulties.

  3. Yes. For all the reasons you gave.

    Have designated “first posts” (ideally a team vicar under an experienced Rector) and make training the job of the whole deanery — a first-time p-i-c would then get a breadth of experience as well as practical help and advice.

    And/or put “curates” in as Assistants in posts where the incumbent is due to retire, with a view to succession planning: an extended handover. Yes, that would mean not interviewing (or, rather, making the selection of the curate the de facto process of appointing an incumbent elect, as it were — one would hope all clergy are among “the elect” ha ha.)

    Solves two problems: the craziness of curacies (which were great a hundred years ago when they were all single young men out of Oxbridge) and the shortage of vicars.

    Nice one Ian!

    • First post as a Team Vicar? That makes the assumption that Team Vicars less experienced or competent than “vicars”. That’s one of the things that used to put people off applying for TV posts… “Will I still be a curate?” Working in a team isn’t for the lone leader. None of us should be… but life is more variable than ideals.

      From memory the legislation is that to be a TV you need 5 (?) years prior ordination experience. Such roles can be specialised or still, effectively, vicars of one or more churches. The legislation also declares them to be of “incumbent status”. Oddly… I don’t think the time qualification applies to Team Rectors.

      I served about 20 years as a TR in two parishes… 11 years first incumbency… 4 in second (curate in charge) curacy… 3 years first curacy (Assistant for the Pedants )

      • “First post as a Team Vicar? That makes the assumption that Team Vicars less experienced or competent than “vicars”.”

        No, it means you are under a Team Rector. Therefore not as responsible. (Assuming the TV job is in the same parish then there’s none of the legalities that go with that.)

        “The legislation also declares them to be of “incumbent status”. Oddly… I don’t think the time qualification applies to Team Rectors.”

        Yes, for Common Tenure purposes.

        “I served about 20 years as a TR in two parishes”

        TR in the same parish as the Rector?

        “(curate in charge) curacy”

        No idea what that means. Don’t think it exists in law.

        “3 years first curacy (Assistant for the Pedants )”

        All non-incumbents (TV, p-i-c) are, technically, “Assistant Curates” even if the law declares them to be of “incumbent status” (the Vicar / Incumbent / Rector is the “Curate” if you want to be truly pedantic).

        • Unless one is bothered about being “the Incumbent” a Team Vicar can have a huge responsibility in various /different ways. How the team is set up and how the TR chooses to run it makes an enormous difference. Being free of some of the admin might be regarded as a freedom.

          My point was about skills and competence and that TV needed such at a decent level, it’s not a junior post and shouldn’t automatically be compared to a newly ordained curacy post… though sometimes it might indeed be suitable. . Not being the TR doesn’t change that one iota… Titles can be a distraction.

          “Common tenure” is today’s pattern… some us existed well before it.

          Team Rector in 2 (successive) parishes since it seems unclear… though I’m not sure either what your point is.

          “Curate in charge” did exist. I was one, thank you! Sometimes officially and sometimes a local arrangement. Same diocesan stipend as an Assistant Curate.

          It might surprise you but I do. know the assistant curate/assistant stuff but didn’t think it needed saying. It was clear to me when I served my title.

          • Yes that is all certainly true.

            (I’m a freehold Vicar, last of the breed. Not giving it up and when I do I think it will be to become as Assistant / Associate as I’d be reluctant to lose the rights but not the responsibilities. )

            Can you explain the curate in charge thing? Not sure what it means, practically.

          • Oliver… Posting out of order as the reply option is exhausted…

            Curate in charge. My own (second) curacy post was CinC of a church plant. I was about the fourth or fifth minister there in 1980 for 4+years . We met in multi purpose hall. It had a catchment area set apart from (but within) that of the parish church. There was a church committee which ran the place. A few of these were on the PCC.

            The particular diocesan Bishop wasn’t keen on it and wouldn’t recognise it officially (which was then possible). I was licensed by the assistant Bishop in the bishop’s Chapel… Low key didn’t even come into it! We grew to about 220/240 on a Sunday morning. It has planted/renewed 3 or 4 other congregations over the years. I was given the responsibility for the Church in the way a Team Vicar might be today…

            Soon after I moved on it became a parish in its own right.

  4. I do not share your confidence about people of any age being ready to lead a church solo immediately after completing their college/course training, Ian—and that’s based on much experience of working with people straight out of college/course, as well as teaching such people during their college/course training. For many, their college/course training is a very difficult experience—often for good reasons of coming to terms with themselves—and they’re certainly not ready to be let loose on a church on their own immediately afterwards. In fact, my curacy was a wonderful experience, although I acknowledge the anecdotal evidence that others are not.

    • ‘I do not share your confidence about people of any age being ready to lead a church solo’. OK, depending on what you meant by that, I don’t think I said that!

      What I am observing here is that the idea that a 40-year-old who has had significant leadership responsibility needs the same post-college as a 24-year-old is just crazy—but that is more or less the system we now have.

      I am sure your curacy was great—done in your 20s I guess! But the average age of ordination is now in the mid-30s, and higher for many. So how can the same system be right?

      I think I also have a theological problem with ‘leading solo’, since Paul never does that and never appears to expect others to do so. Perhaps that is one of the root problems we are wrestling with…

    • Good question. I don’t think I know what the next step would be—but I guess carrying over the principle, I would suggest moving, under the right kind of supervision, into the next level of post earlier.

      • Some interesting thoughts here.

        Personally I really enjoyed and benefitted from curacy, IME 4-7 less so.

        Residential Theological college was the first time I’d left the area I’d grown up in & the 1st time doing a degree, despite being 30. And college blew my mind in many ways, I was a long way from being in a place to lead a church straight from college.

        I am so grateful for an amazing and secure TI who encouraged me, prayed with me, challenged me when required, trusted me, taught me and saw me as a partner in mission.

        For me my curacy was a vital part of my training with everything from getting to grips with liturgy, leading funerals and taking weddings being in the mix. Whether it could have been done in a better way is an interesting question. I’m now an associate in a v different type of church which almost feels like a 2nd curacy and I am v grateful for this.

        • I have found this a really helpful contribution to current dialogue, thank you. If I have read it correctly you are advocating a more mixed economy within IME2, something similar to the diverse approaches now potentially available within IME1 through the (surprisingly un-common) Common Awards and other pathways. To me that is obvious and logical on a number of fronts – not least because having accepted that providing a single initial training pathway doesn’t work because people are different and have different needs when they are training for ordination – it shouldn’t be too much of a leap for us to recognise that having added in a further layer of potential difference at IME1 stage there might now be an even greater need to tailor training at IME2.

          This seems to be where the discussion is headed currently, at least at theoretical level, with the recognition that actually you can’t ‘front-end’ all training into IME1/2 in a tick-box fashion and then ta-da have perfectly formed ministers. The later stages of ministerial formation (indeed even the whole CMD process) are being thought about more deeply, and there’s an acknowledgement of the need to understand and respond flexibly to learning needs created by the interaction across the trinity of what each person brings to their emerging ministry, the context of what each is going into, and what it is that God has called the minister to join in with doing/ making/ being in that place and at that time. As this clearly applies not just at point of curacy, or first incumbency, but throughout ministry – does discernment ever really end? – needs for workable approaches to ongoing learning and development are self-evident. The current discussions about what ministerial formation needs to look like will inevitably move into that wider point too, just as they will also need to pick ups the whole ordained/lay question.

          However, I suspect that the complexities of it mean that we will continue to debate these questions for some time yet, so i guess that in practical terms I alongside others will probably serve a bog-standard traditional 3 year curacy with bog-standard (if there is such a thing) IME2 training provided by my Diocese for the next few years. This may be more or less successful in training me how to do the things I need to do or to know the things I need to know -many thingswithin which I think can probably be measured, although there is a whole set of questions to be asked about whether and how we are going to go about measuring the stuff that we potentially can/should.

          But then there’s a whole lot of other issues around the ‘being’ part of ‘formation’ (as opposed to ‘education’?), another ballgame entirely, and probably not quite so amenable to empirical approaches. I feel it is right that we are seeing this changing language within these conversations and movement from ‘criteria’ towards ‘frameworks’ and the like for IME stages as for initial discernment. However, it is the ‘how’ that is the difficult bit, and one part of the challenge is going to be in framing approaches that can be both sufficiently responsive to diversity of previous training, experience and knowledge (both in and out of Church), and able to meet the oft-repeated desire from the ground for a level of ‘consistency’. That is going to be hard work, as the former requires an individualised and therefore relational approach, the latter perhaps suggests something more functional, that can be measured with boxes to be checked or otherwise. I don’t think all that curacy should hopefully try to prepare you for can necessarily be measured at all, and as others have alreafy highlighted at both ends of the spectrum there can be a TI-shaped relational risk in the equation.

          I suspect that working through this whole conundrum will also require a willingness to accept an increased porosity or fluidity of the boundaries that currently fence everything from historical geographical fiefdoms to preciously guarded financial pots to carefully dissected vocational categories that try to explain what it is to be one who tries to minister to God’s people. None of those is a small ask but all feed into the achievability or otherwise of the previous paragraph!

          So do I think that I will have been sufficiently prepared after my 3 last years of part time training and the next 3 in curacy? Honestly at this stage only God knows, and only time will tell…

          But really thought-provoking stuff. Again, thank you.

    • I appreciate this question, being a DD myself. I know a number of DDs who have simply been discarded at the end of their curacies – highly competent, mature people.

    • Curacies also assume that all priests will be looking for parish ministry at the end of their curacy. What about those who feel strongly called to chaplaincy? I’d love to see curacies opened up to include the possibility of serving a curacy as part of a chaplaincy team. Parish ministry isn’t the be all and end all of the priesthood.

  5. This is an interesting debate: however I have seen a number of people moving into incumbencies who have “crashed” within 2 to 3 years through lack of experience of dealing with difficult people, and have not had the close support to recognise their own shortcomings nor how to deal with scenarios that they had never envisaged. Some ( but I think a minority) training incumbents are very poor, and a lack of discernment on the part of bishops or their staff responsible for placing curates is a shortcoming. A good training incumbent, secure in themselves and in Christ can be a huge boon to someone newly ordained – I served 2 curacies in very different scenarios – a rural group followed by a big lively town church – with 2 very different incumbents, whose wisdom as well as shortcomings taught me a huge amount. Breakdowns in relationships show a lack of proper discerning at the start… having a clear brief and some humility on both sides helps a lot. But don’t push curates into incumbencies without some very careful, wise training and ongoing reflection – too many are being pushed into parishes with less than 3 years’ experience; being married to a former DDO and pre-ordination and post-ordination trainer, I could tell stories of poor management, but also of superb, successful training processes over many years. I’ve had 8 curates or equivalent plus input into three more over the last 30 years, with a degree of success ( mind you one would have to ask them!) and there is a place for good practical instruction of the real coal-face ministry on the job, with support, supervision and encouragement – whether in the “traditional” way or developing different styles – but I have had conversations with people in “pioneer” ministries and the issues are no different now than 30 years ago- people, people, people – how to lead, how to confront, correct, challenge, affirm, comfort, encourage…but lack of proper supervision remains an issue. I learned early on that one has to create one’s own support mechanisms and relationships because the structural ones are more often than not lacking.

  6. In my experience, the PCC has no input into the choice of curate*. It seems to be decided between incumbent and bishop. However, the PCC does have responsibility. Although the diocese pays the curate’s stipend, in this neck of the woods the parish pays for the accommodation. In London and other places, this is not an insignificant cost. It is also something which the shift from fresh-faced single, young Oxbridge men has changed. A house for a married man or woman with three children can be expensive.

    One thing with the current set up is that a parish can sometimes have a curate and sometimes not. The placement is as much to suit the training needs of the curate as it is the needs of the parish (if my understanding is correct). Using those coming out of initial training to fill more regular posts is a different scenario. Whereas curates are, in some sense, optional in the ministry setting, a regular post has more need to be filled for the ministry in that place. The financial and accommodation models would differ as well.

    (*The pedant in me would point out that it is the incumbent in the parish who is the Curate, being the one who has the cure of souls in the parish. Those in training are properly ‘assistant curates’ and are ‘serving their title’, whatever that means.)

  7. Really interesting questions here. Certainly I agree there needs to be some variation on how curacies are managed. Having just finished mine I’ve seen a large portion of my cohort having issues with TI’s and often being treated very unfairly, and colleagues treated as you say with disrespect with previous knowledge or expertise ignored or even belittled – at college as well as during curacy. I’d definitely like to se the responsibility for final report and sign off taken away from TIs. However scrapping curacy altogether seems also too narrow. You yourself have noted in the past when people moan about the things they didn’t learn at college, that that is what curacy is for – I had worked for the church for 5 years before getting ordained but there was still a lot I didn’t know how to do practically – occasionally offices, managing PCCS, faculties etc – plenty more – all that I have learned about in place during curacy – all of this would be hard to teach in IME 1-3.

    One of the biggest issues I think, is the lack of flexibility in curacy training, so you all do the same (though in Chichester you can choose what qualification level), so there is not much space for recognising past achievements or expertise, nor space to allow further development of calling, eg: to chaplaincy. Common Awards as I understand it brought in a more structured approach so that once someone is trained (post IME4-7) you know exactly what they are trained in, but it may also have encouraged a much narrower approach.

    Insecurity is a key area as you highlight – and especially so for younger mums who are still fighting with maternity leave provision in many dioceses, some finding they are still the first one in their diocese to take it. Taking mat leave during curacy can add to the pressure on the relationship with the TI and in terms of what next, length of curacy, the need to go back full time after etc. This is still a relatively new discourse in the CofE and one that continues to be problematic.

    One thing that I’d love to see highlighted more is a good balanced model of working. So many curates seem to go into posts with TIs who work far too many hours which then sets a model for them which it is very hard to fight against as a newbie ordained minister.

    Rather than scrapping them, I’d like to see some work done on how we might revitalise the process to make it more diverse where needed and perhaps more relevant to the variety of candidates coming through.

  8. This is a fascinating article, and resonates on many levels.

    Let’s imagine I am a test case, and you will see why the current system doesn’t really work, and why it perhaps feels strange to someone in my position. I hope this will be helpful and generate some discussion for your commentators.

    I am 31, male, married, with two children (8 and 6, but expecting a 3rd!) who are both in the local school. I own my own home, and live close to my family and friends. If I’m brutally honest, I don’t want to move.

    I am also now in my 5th year of full-time ministry in Baptist Churches. I was at the first for nearly 4 years, and have been at the second for nearly a full year. My job title is something like “Children , Youth and Families Worker”, and was similar before, but this is frankly church-speak for “we’re not quite sure where the boundaries are, but your job is basically ‘growth’!” This isn’t a bad thing of course, I love what I do,.

    But there is question of perception in this: Frequently, as my life and ministry takes me around the town and into people houses and workplaces the common assumption from people is that I am a minister/vicar/priest (of some sort), and I when I explain I’m not I sometimes struggle in response to accurately define what I do in a way that will make sense to them. I once joked with some parents at a toddler group that I was “professional christian” and we all had a good laugh. In practical terms I preach semi-regularly, I lead bible studies, I have led communion, I create material for youth and children’s resources, do schools work in multiple schools in my capacity as a church worker, run events and work in the community; including things that would broadly fall under the ‘fresh expressions/pioneer’ umbrella. I spoke at the 1st Festival of theology, and enjoyed my time there very much.

    So, when Anglicans ask me what I do, I tell them I am a curate, even though no such position exists in the Baptist church.

    So to be clear I am not ‘ordained’, or ‘accredited’ to use the Baptist union’s parlance, in any technical sense and the process by which I would be is somewhat unclear. Likely it would involve some sort of stint at a theological college, which I don’t mind at all, but even this is debatable as like every major denomination it seems apparent that the old systems need review.

    Nor am I even clear that my future lies within the Baptist family, and I have seriously entertained the prospect, in prayer and discussion with others, of ministry in the Anglican church. I was raised in an evangelical ‘New Frontiers’ church.

    So let’s say God did call me to ministry within the Anglican family. What would that process look like?

    Do I need 5-7 years of vocational training and placement?

    Am I being deceitful when I describe myself as a curate?

    • Interesting, Mat. I’m struck by some of the difference in ‘practical ecclesiology’ between Anglican & Baptist churches – both explicit and maybe underlying assumptions . Speaking as a vicar of 3 churches, 1 of which is an Anglican-Baptist LEP, I have a deep appreciation of Baptist practice but in many ways there’s no easy way to square the circle between some of the different practices & values.

      In an Anglican church the link between communion and ordination is an especially big thing. Many churches have ‘occasional preachers’ who are QBE, but if you weren’t ordained you wouldn’t be leading communion (unless your church was *very* low, and rather rebellious). Equally if you were a curate (ie an ordained trainee) it wouldn’t be taken for granted at all nowadays that you’d be leading the children & families ministry at the church. Unless people have a clear call to chaplaincy or a ‘second seat’ ministry you’re there to get an all-round training with a view to overall church leadership. That training may well involve leading some ministries, but not necessarily the youngsters.

      Part of this is that across Anglican churches there is a degree of standard expectations and practice that comes from the ‘institutional’ part of the church, where hundreds of people are ordained yearly and there are national guidelines etc. In Baptist churches although there is the BU there seems a lot more autonomy/ locality about what happens, and lay presidency is not an issue. But also there’s a difference in the understanding of ordination – what it means, who does it etc – is really quite different between Anglican and Baptists traditions.

      One of the criteria for selection Anglican priesthood is a degree of understanding about and comfort with Anglican answers to some of the questions you are raising, and certainly some of that would almost certainly come through being part of an Anglican church for some time, and wrestling with a rather different way of looking at things. One standard question is ‘What is priesthood about?’ in some respects I think the pathways to Anglican ordination are clearer

      I was at college (Trinity, Bristol) with plenty of people from different church backgrounds – a typical story might be through getting a youth worker job at a C of E church and 4 years later they found themselves rather shocked to be at a vicar factory! Our Anglican formation group sometimes turned into group therapy as people came to terms with how Anglicans dealt with some issues – eg weddings, baptisms, the way things are governed etc – which were quite different to how independent churches might handle it.

      I can’t answer all your questions, but to answer your final question, I would have thought ‘Associate minister with responsibility for ……’ would be a slightly better description to my Anglican ears. It comes closer to your actual responsibilities without necessarily saying anything about the ordination side of things, of implying that you’re ‘in training’.

    • “So let’s say God did call me to ministry within the Anglican family. What would that process look like?

      Do I need 5-7 years of vocational training and placement?”

      I’ve been out of the country for the last 5 years, not ordained although I have several family members who are, lots of friends who are and went through the process myself. I ended up deciding not to pursue it for a whole raft of reasons.

      So I could be wrong. Also it seems that different dioceses do things in radically different ways so it would also depend on your bishop.

      I *think* the process for you would probably be something like:

      – Contact the DDO yourself and they’d likely advise that you can’t stop going to your Baptist church because you are on staff, but you need to start going to a CofE church as well for 6-12 months.
      – Then, if the vicar agrees, you can start to see the DDO
      – I’d be shocked if the DDO process was less than a year. More likely 2-3.
      – You would probably have to be attending and actively helping in at least 2, maybe three different Anglican churches suggested by the DDO for 3-8 months each. Almost certainly a middle of the road parish, an anglo-catholic parish, and if neither of those were highly liberal, then a liberal parish too. This might be cut down if the anglican church you initially went to in step 1 was chosen by the DDO.

      After that you need to convince the DDO you should go ahead for selection. Generally:
      – You have to be convinced that God is calling you specifically to full time stipendiary ministry in the CofE
      – But you can’t want it TOO much
      – You have to have *good* reasons for jumping from Baptist to Anglican. Not career reasons. Not because it’s the best boat to fish from.
      – You have to convince them that you can’t fulfill God’s call on you life as laity in the CofE, or in non-stipendiary ministry. In your case probably convince them you can’t do it by doing what you currently are or by becoming a Baptist minister.

      When the DDO is convinced, they recommend to the Bishop who usually will put you forward for a BAP- a panel away for a few days.

      By this point you should have discussed/been told what kind of training they’ll give you:
      – Maybe 2/3 years residential college. Some diocese only offer this to under 30s.
      – St Melitus style training, where you would be expected to either keep your job as it’s ministry related or get a placement if you can find one with an Anglican church, and go to london X times a month for training. 3 years
      – Non residential. I get the impression that it’s 3-5 years, P/T, largely distance training, meeting up with others X times a month while keeping your job.

      Then you go to the BAP and have to convince the selectors. The number of people I know from an Evangelical background who failed on the first go and passed on the second (with at least 3 years required before reapplying) is huge. Some, not all, are convinced that the sectors wanted to see if they would stick with the Anglican church after getting turned down initially.

      Then you wait until Sept. Unless it was a yes and you are going the residential route and the BAP was close to Sept. Then you have to move within a few months.

      Then training. 3-5 years

      Then curacy 4 years.

      So from now you are prob looking at the best part of a decade give or take a year or so!

  9. This is a very good & thought provoking article. I am of the generation when it was typical to do three years residential theological training followed by a curacy which lasted for 4 years (as you had to do 4 before you could be considered for Incumbency). I had previously worked as a lay assistant in a parish before ordination training & had done 2 years at London Bible College before that. Previously I had worked in a bank. Fortunately I had a very good curacy which gave me a good grounding in ministry, but none of this had adequately prepared me for the peculiarities of Rural multi-parish ministry, dealing with smaller congregations (than I was used to in my market town curacy), multiple church buildings, fewer resources & vast geographical areas. Rural ministry is a delight with some very committed people, and ‘small victories’ can have significant impact, but it still comes with its own challenges which in my view are not being adequately addressed at theological college. However imaginative & pioneering we may want to be its an area of concern which requires better consideration – especially as significant amounts of money/parish share are generated in the country (despite some of the urban/rural mythology you sometime hear).

    Perhaps there is a case for more rural curacies so that people may get proper experience of it or at least some sort of rural placement in training. It would be a shame if the trend was towards ministry solely being based in the town’s & cities. The Gospel & the love of Christ needs to be shared & presented to all.

  10. Thanks for this Ian. It is a dysfunctional system. TIs are often not wisely selected not trained for their role nor given ongoing CPD or support. The learning of curates needs to be more learner centred and demonstrate more adult learning principles. It needs to concentrate on integrating past with present and with needs for future ministry. Formation / quality time with God needs to be core and not something squeezed into the time after the essays have been done. The rate of curacy breakdown in not being tracked nationally or investigated. There are a number of common dysfunctional patterns. This needs to be investigated. For example starting IME 1 I have had a number of conversations with people who have been in situations where the TI has felt threatened by the curate and been very controlling. Lorraine Turner in her PhD on Bullying has some very interesting quotes on this. But it is not just the dysfunction of the TIC relationship. Dioceses very in the structures and systems they have for preventing and dealing with bullying / other dysfunctional models / struggling curates / TIs and often seem to exacerbate rather than help heal the broken and bruised curate. And then there is often no help for families who often don’t want to darken the door of a church again or the church left in the trauma of a meltdown in the TIC relationship.
    I could write so much more …. which is why I researched flourishing in curacy for my MA … and why it is an ongoing interest. What is currently happening needs analysis and evidence on which to base decisions and a complete review and revision. It needs to learn from other relevant professional training, and needs to be a model of good practice. It needs to be done nationally.

  11. First post as a Team Vicar? That makes the assumption that Team Vicars less experienced or competent than “vicars”. That’s one of the things that used to put people off applying for TV posts… “Will I still be a curate?” Working in a team isn’t for the lone leader. None of us should be… but life is more variable than ideals.

    From memory the legislation is that to be a TV you need 5 (?) years prior ordination experience. Such roles can be specialised or still, effectively, vicars of one or more churches. The legislation also declares them to be of “incumbent status”. Oddly… I don’t think the time qualification applies to Team Rectors.

    I served about 20 years as a TR in two parishes… 11 years first incumbency… 4 in second (curate in charge) curacy… 3 years first curacy (Assistant for the Pedants )

  12. “But for someone in his or her thirties or forties, who might have run a business or a school, or held a senior position in an organisation, or raised a family?”

    I tend to agree with Steve Walton (who did have an exceptional training incumbent). We cannot take it for granted that experience is always an easy transfer.

    Some dioceses can be starry eyed about those in senior secular positions being ordained. The current ABofC did a curacy in Nuneaton. I wonder if he thinks it should have been omitted? Perhaps a serious attempt at flexible solutions is needed.

    Most of the time we seem to be talking about poor training incumbents v let down curates… which undoubtedly happens). However sometimes maybe a curate should never have been ordained? A few (who knows how many?) struggle in a curacy (after a poor theological college report) and then it’s thought sensible to give them an incumbency… which intensifies their difficulties. Retirement on health grounds might follow. I think we might have let them down by ordaining them in the first place or by helping them out as soon as the issue is really understood. It might not be the only or main thing but maybe curacies should be some form of buffer still… probationary for everyone’s sake?

    I’d suggest that, on balance at least a curacy, is a helpful precursor for most. Certainly some oversight for every newly ordained person.

  13. Hi Ian, thanks for this post, thought provoking as always.

    I agree in principle with your argument for a two tier system. Phase 1 now includes residential and non-residential options, local, part time, 2 years, three years and occasionally, no years, etc etc.

    I would think the same could be done for part 2? Theological colleges could make a recommendation to receiving Bishops as to whether candidates needed curacy, and if so, for how long.

    That said, I’m not sure I agree that age is always, or even usually, the deciding factor. Personal and spiritual maturity, experience and personality all play their part in determining the ‘rate of progress’ for our formation. Personally, I would have missed a great deal by not having a curacy, even at my great age (started curacy at 51). I had lots of experience in all sorts of things, but relatively little of it was transferable.

    For some people, myself included, it’s a great confidence boost to get to flex ones ministry muscles with the oversight of clergy more experienced in leading a church. I can’t help wondering if pushing some ordinands of any age straight into incumbency might not break some who would make excellent priests, given the chance.

    So, I think my view would be adapt rather than scrap curacy.

  14. Ian, thank you for starting this conversation. For context I should say I coordinate the IME2 (training for new ministers including curates) for Chelmsford diocese; there are 107 curates and 40 new licensed ministers here at the moment. So I’m deeply implicated in the present system, and should probably be distrusted for that reason!

    My answer is YES…BUT, YES…BUT. AND.

    1. YES. Crackers go wrong, sometimes very wrong. Of those ordained 4 years ago, no fewer than 8 curacies went so wrong we had to move the curate. And although we’ve tried to do something about it – more training for TIs, exit interviews with curates, me being more involved in deciding who gets to be a TI – there are still some substandard situations. (Thankfully we haven’t had to move anyone ordained in the last couple of years).

    2. BUT I can’t think of a better way to start ministry than working with a good TI, someone who will invest in you, pray for you, encourage you, help you learn from your mistakes. Elijah did it, Paul did it, classic apprenticeship did it. 1:1 , 24-7 mentoring, supplemented by peer support, project-learning, e-learning and formal instruction? That’s life-giving!

    3.YES, for an incumbent path curate in a 3-year curacy there should be real leadership experience, both in existing congregations and in pioneering projects; not just doing the work of ministry but inspiring others to form teams to do the work of ministry. That’s why we’ve abolished the “Training Parish” in favour of the “Training MMU” (about half a deanery), with a plan, before the curacy even begins, about how this experience will be gained ((sometimes through covering vacancies).

    4. BUT this isn’t like being a Team Vicar. Team Vicars are incumbents – the buck stops with them. Curates in Charge are curates with TIs that love them, and a home base – where they spent most of their deacon year – to go back to and be cared for and safe and released.

    5. AND don’t forget that IME2 isn’t just about incumbent path curates. There are Distinctive Deacons, Pioneers, Ministers in Secular Employment, Associates of various kinds, and in this diocese Licensed Lay Ministers train alongside ordinands at St Mellitus and then have a similar thing to a curacy. Whatever reforms happen to curacy, they have to work for all these people.

    • I am sure it is Andy.
      Ian Hobbs writes-
      “From memory the legislation is that to be a TV you need 5 (?) years prior ordination experience. ”
      Which is priceless. What channel are you on?

      I am baffled as to what a ‘Distinctive Deacon’ is. We have deacons in Baptist churches. None of them are distinctive – unless they have red hair- in which case they are known as ‘Belisha Deacons’..

      • Nice. TV is Team Vicar. In theory all the ordained in Anglican settings are both deacons and priests; except distinctive or permanent deacons who aren’t priests, but have a particular role in relation to those outside the church, especially the poor; a role that is expressed by a particular role in worship. Sorry about all the anglican terminology. Thank you for not giving up on us.

        • ‘Thank you for not giving up on us.’

          Wouldn’t dream of it!
          Thanks for the explanation BTW.

          I have often thought that there is enough material on Ian’s blog to warrant him producing the ‘Grove Booklet’ of religious jokes.
          Ian?

      • Chris… “priceless” “what channel”?

        Pardon?

        I’m on the channel of saying what the “rules were or may still be. I’m not supporting them or attacking them.

        It’s in the context of valuing TVicars. What’s your problem with that?

        • Ian
          I have no problem at all with Team Vicars. I just think that the acronyms used here (to the uninitiated) are highly amusing.

  15. My curacy was brilliant and I would not have missed it for the world. It set me up for a life of ministry. I know other denominations envy our training pattern.
    When I worked fir a diocese, though, it was disconcerting to see Curate’s places in churches where it was inappropriate and a poor place to learn the job, mainly due to a poor incumbent. More care should be taken with where Curate’s are placed and then it will continue to have immense value.

  16. Other than learning how to say the “Mass” which had to be done exactly the same way as the training incumbent (and I changed this as soon as I became a Priest in Charge) I’d say the training I had during curacy was weak and often damaging. I’ve learnt far more since being the Priest in Charge of several parishes than I did as a curate in one parish with 3 other priests and a congregation of about 50. The TI wasn’t interested in reflecting together or theological discussion, often stating that there was no point in either. Throughout the formation of IME 1-7 any hint of previous experience was pushed aside and not made the most of, yet without it I would not be flourishing as I feel I am now doing two years into first incumbency. To get through 2 years residential training and 4 years curacy is a long stretch to suffer and endure. I’m not surprised that people give up in the process or become ill during the process. There are now many different ways of carrying out IME 1-3. A much more varied way of carrying out IME 4-7 is desperately needed. It needs to be based around the individual and not how it’s always been done. The CofE really needs to wake up to the damage of curacies that many people experience. Change is really needed.

  17. I think the growth of a third phase of initial ministerial education is worth pointing out as well – in some dioceses there’s a programme for new incumbents that is as intensive as curacy. In Chelmsford it’s a residential, plus 12 one-day sessions, plus a mentor, plus an action-learning set, over an 18-month period. These are things there simply isn’t time to cover during ime1 or ime2; but there’s also the principle that we learn best, like the 70, when we’re on the job.

    • Andy that is really interesting. Is it well received?

      I agree that these things should be done on the job, and learning should be continuous.

      But here’s the question: why is this decided just within one diocese? If this works, why is it not a national framework…?

  18. – How well received? Well, it’s mixed, to be honest. I would guess (but I’m making up the statistics like a campaigning politician!) that 80% of new incumbents appreciate the mentor, 70% appreciate the Action Learning Set (the one I was recently facilitating have even scheduled in a reunion in 12 months time) and 60% the sessions – some do find some of the sessions too time-consuming, and a bit too powerpoint-and-table-discussion, but most feel they need that input at this point.
    – Why no national programme? I’m the wrong person to ask. I know Sheffield have a programme a bit like this, because I’m going to be with them in the spring helping out. Some of the issue is that the amount of formal training during a curacy varies wildly from one diocese to another – Chelmsford has the fewest days a year face-to-face input during curacy, but compensates with a more extensive new-incumbents programme than most.

    • “Chelmsford has the fewest days a year face-to-face input during curacy, but compensates with a more extensive new-incumbents programme than most.”
      How does that work for curates going to other dioceses and first incumbents going to Chelmsford after a curacy elsewhere?

  19. Ian I think you are potentially assuming that all TI’s function in a universally similar pattern. There is a huge degree of variance in how curates are handled and deployed by TI’s and likewise high variance in nature of parish. In the same manner as you articulate there is a huge range of curate skill and experience being deployed. I am also not necessarily sure that experience in business for example necessarily automatically translates into parish ministry, or alternatively that those with that experience are necessarily immediately skilled in doing the translation and conceptualisation of that experience into a new setting. Might the issue not immediately lie with the two tier approach but rather its configuration. More care and time taken over the setting up of curacies and the training of TI’s may address much of the highly specific questions pertaining to experience and practice. Like wise supervision of TI’s is largely thin. In virtually all other roles involving some form of formational reflective practice there is some expectation that the practitioners will themselves be supervised. Is it possible that the two tier system is still useful and good, but regrettably poorly applied? Is the solution then to do something different, or to reform that which is?

  20. It’s well received by incoming incumbents. For those Chelmsford curates going elsewhere, I would stress that national criteria are met and vigorously assessed, so no one need fear their new Essex- or East London -trained Vicar hasn’t been properly trained. However, your comment does point out the oddness of not having a national system. One massive difference is that some dioceses insist on incumbent path curates doing a level 6 or 7 qualification during their curacy, while others (including Chelmsford) do not.

  21. This definitely rings a bell. I started training full-time at theological college age 28, with no significant leadership experience, and a relatively narrow experience of the CofE- I needed three years training, I needed a standard curacy, and these things made all the difference to me. I quite enjoyed the relative lack of responsibility in my curacy- I knew I’d have more than enough responsibility over the years ahead.

    That said, there were some men and women I trained alongside who had significant church/mission/leadership experience- for whom the kind of residential training I had, let alone curacy, was probably not what they needed. I’d 100% agree with thinking creatively through different options, or considering shorter curacies for some people, based near home, and treated as a place to sign off training objectives rather than the ‘formational’ element that I needed, but not everyone will.

  22. I have recently been invited to a URC service of ‘Ordination and Licencing’. The URC is apparently even shorter of clergy than the C of E, and thus has abandoned any practical training before taking on the responsibility of a church, or , in this case, two churches.

  23. “So let’s say God did call me to ministry within the Anglican family. What would that process look like?

    Do I need 5-7 years of vocational training and placement?”

    I’ve been out of the country for the last 5 years, not ordained although I have several family members who are, lots of friends who are and went through the process myself. I ended up deciding not to pursue it for a whole raft of reasons.

    So I could be wrong. Also it seems that different dioceses do things in radically different ways so it would also depend on your bishop.

    I *think* the process for you would probably be something like:

    – Contact the DDO yourself and they’d likely advise that you can’t stop going to your Baptist church because you are on staff, but you need to start going to a CofE church as well for 6-12 months.
    – Then, if the vicar agrees, you can start to see the DDO
    – I’d be shocked if the DDO process was less than a year. More likely 2-3.
    – You would probably have to be attending and actively helping in at least 2, maybe three different Anglican churches suggested by the DDO for 3-8 months each. Almost certainly a middle of the road parish, an anglo-catholic parish, and if neither of those were highly liberal, then a liberal parish too. This might be cut down if the anglican church you initially went to in step 1 was chosen by the DDO.

    After that you need to convince the DDO you should go ahead for selection. Generally:
    – You have to be convinced that God is calling you specifically to full time stipendiary ministry in the CofE
    – But you can’t want it TOO much
    – You have to have *good* reasons for jumping from Baptist to Anglican. Not career reasons. Not because it’s the best boat to fish from.
    – You have to convince them that you can’t fulfill God’s call on you life as laity in the CofE, or in non-stipendiary ministry. In your case probably convince them you can’t do it by doing what you currently are or by becoming a Baptist minister.

    When the DDO is convinced, they recommend to the Bishop who usually will put you forward for a BAP- a panel away for a few days.

    By this point you should have discussed/been told what kind of training they’ll give you:
    – Maybe 2/3 years residential college. Some diocese only offer this to under 30s.
    – St Melitus style training, where you would be expected to either keep your job as it’s ministry related or get a placement if you can find one with an Anglican church, and go to london X times a month for training. 3 years
    – Non residential. I get the impression that it’s 3-5 years, P/T, largely distance training, meeting up with others X times a month while keeping your job.

    Then you go to the BAP and have to convince the selectors. The number of people I know from an Evangelical background who failed on the first go and passed on the second (with at least 3 years required before reapplying) is huge. Some, not all, are convinced that the sectors wanted to see if they would stick with the Anglican church after getting turned down initially.

    Then you wait until Sept. Unless it was a yes and you are going the residential route and the BAP was close to Sept. Then you have to move within a few months.

    Then training. 3-5 years

    Then curacy 4 years.

    So from now you are prob looking at the best part of a decade give or take a year or so!

    • It would take a while to do step one (joining a CofE church in order to be ordained through the CofE) but I wonder if that was for the best? I’ve come across a couple of non-anglicans in my time who have decided they like the idea of being CofE vicars- and assume they can start training quickly. Is there something to be said for actually being a part of a church, properly, before volunteering oneself for Holy Orders within it? If I was a DDO/selector, I would be sceptical about sudden conversions to Anglicanism.

      For the rest of what you say- absolutely. it is quite lengthy. plenty of opportunities to minister throughout though- whatever kind of training you have. But yes, the road from initial call to incumbency could be around ten years if it was particularly slow. Some DDO’s are a lot quicker than others.

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