As this edition of “Contact” goes to bed David Fergus will be contemplating his last service at Kirk Hallam before his retirement. I am sure that I speak for all St. Mary’s folk in wishing him and his family a peaceful and relaxing retirement – although I am sure David will keep busy as a Priest. David was, as you all know, Assistant Curate here (2002 – 2006) and is fondly remembered.
The Parish where Stella and I married (St. Andrew with St. Osmund’s, Derby) also lost its Vicar (ill health, early retirement) in November last year and these two retirements are part of a growing trend in the C. of E.: Our Clergy are retiring quicker than we can replace them.
I trained at Lincoln Theological College and Nottingham University from 1979 to 1982. Many of the people I trained with are now retired or are approaching that time very soon. I should add that I was one of the youngest there during my time. And our own Deanery now has several Clergy vacancies.
The Church relies far more heavily nowadays on what many dioceses call ”Self Supporting Ministers” (SSM’s) which is a polite way of saying that we get them on the cheap! Not to mention the stalwart band of Readers and many other groups who support ministry but are not paid. Many of these groups are also experiencing declining numbers. There was something called The Tiller Report (Ven. John Tiller, onetime Archdeacon of Hereford but now retired) in the mid-eighties which looked at this problem and it is one that has not really gone away.
We have choices: We can wring our hands and say: What are we going to do? Everything is crumbling and changing. Or we can look at the possibilities and embrace the challenges. The shape of Christian Ministry has never been a “given”; it has shifted and changed down the centuries. We only have Priests (Presbyter or Elder) because the early church ran out of Bishops (Overseer). Readers go back even further: Some say they are related to the Readers in first century Jewish Synagogues. Yet the church only allowed women to become Readers because not enough men could be found during the time of the First World War. My point being that the shape of ministry has been a mixture of happenstance, pragmatism and, we hope, the will of God. Very little of it was planned from what we might call first principles.
What we need to do is to think and pray about what kind of ministry the Church needs today and for the future – and what can be realistically afforded.
The word “vocation” is often linked with “to the Priesthood” but vocations come in all shapes and sizes and do not necessarily begin and end with what we call the Threefold Order of Ministry. The church and its ministry may well look very different in the future from how it looks today. Let us hope and pray that, along with happenstance and pragmatism, the will of God features strongly in there as well. Perhaps Ministry in all its forms is a topic for Lenten discussion?