Ministerial challenges

Editorial by Paul Badham

from Modern Believing, Vol 48:4 - Oct 2007

A key priority for the Church today should be to make proper use of its ministerial resources. Three of the articles in this edition document its failure to do so, particularly in relation to the ministry of women and the ministry of those working outside traditional structures.

David Voas’ article highlights the fact that the Church of England is rapidly becoming dependent on its women priests. Almost half of the newly ordained in the past five years are women and because the age structure of serving clergy is skewed to men in their fifties or sixties who will retire in the next decade, women will provide close to half the clerical labour force in the relatively near future. The Church cannot do without its women priests, yet the evidence suggests that they get a very poor deal at present. Few women are given posts of real responsibility. More than half will minister to Sunday congregations of fewer than 50 and no woman has been given responsibility for a thriving congregation of 300 or more. Most women are not even paid for their labour since 54 per cent are now ordained into non-stipendiary posts whereas two-thirds of men go into a paid ministry.

Kelvin Randall tracks the careers of the 340 stipendiary clergy who were ordained in England and Wales in 1994 and compares the career progression of male and female clergy over the following 11 years. He found that after 11 years 28 per cent of women and 11 per cent of men were no longer in stipendiary ministry. Of the women serving in parochial ministry only 43 per cent had achieved incumbent status compared with 63 per cent of the men. A large majority of women priests will still be serving as curates or team vicars 11 years after their ordination.

These two carefully documented sociological surveys make very challenging reading. It suggests that in the Church a level of discrimination against women exists which would be criminal in any other walk of life. However, women priests are not the only victims of current ecclesiastical structures. Neil Burgess notes that by today only 21 per cent of clergy enjoy the traditional protection of a tenured appointment and although church reports enthuse about the need for ‘fresh expressions of ministry’ those who seek to implement such ministries find themselves invisible to the Church’s leadership. He believes the centralisation of power and authority is one cause of a serious malaise among the clergy and is one of the factors which leads 28 per cent of stipendiary clergy to opt for early retirement.

Theological Challenges

Belief in the justice, forgiveness and mercy of God is integral to Christianity. In the past the integration of the three beliefs was sometimes associated with crude ideas of substitution atonement which became anathema to thoughtful Christians during the 19th century. In his article in this issue James Danaher suggests an alternative approach to the reconciliation of these key concepts.

The last two articles both focus on the question of faith and reason. Jonathan Clatworthy argues that it is entirely appropriate that as Anglicans we are committed to a search for truth while recognising that certainty will never be available to us. He argues that this naturally follows the Anglican insistence that authority rests on no single source but in a combination of Scripture, Tradition and Reason (and also of experience). However, once a plurality of sources is recognised it becomes inevitable that opinions will differ in how doctrines will be understood and accepted.

Timothy Bartel argues that intellectual humility is one the characteristics of the Anglican Communion and that this would be threatened by the implementation of the Covenant Design Group. He argues that the genius of Anglicanism is the way it has accepted diversity of opinion and development of understanding. He suggests that the history of the Roman Catholic magisterium cannot inspire confidence in the ability of a world-wide ecclesiastical tribunal to track the truth. His article is a powerful and philosophically able warning against the establishment of such a tribunal within Anglicanism.

Revd Prof Paul Badham is Emeritus Professor of Theology and Religious Studies at the University of Wales, Trinity Saint David (Lampeter Campus) and a Modern Church Vice-president.