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Women lead the way

by Michael Ford last modified 26 Jun, 2020 10:35 PM

Women have become the majority of deacons ordained in the Church of England for the first time, and lay ministry within the church is burgeoning.

Women lead the way

Courtesy Gerry Lynch

Figures from 2019 show that across the country a total of 570 new deacons were ordained, with women making up just over half (51%) of the new intake.

Here in the Diocese of Salisbury we saw this in 2015, the first year we ordained more women than men. Since then, numbers have been fairly evenly balanced but this year 8 of the 13 new deacons will be women.

Most deacons are ordained to the priesthood after a year as a deacon. They nevertheless remain deacons too. Some exercise their calling by remaining as permanent deacons and not seeking ordination to the priesthood.

The Church of England Ministry Statistics for 2019 show that women made up around 32% of the 20,000 active clergy last year, with a growing proportion of senior posts such as Bishops, Archdeacons and Cathedral Deans occupied by women. In our Diocese, 9 out of 20 (45%) of our active clergy are female and 3 out of 8 (38%) of our senior clergy are women.

Here in our Diocese, 38% of our vicars and rectors are women, higher than the national figures across the country, where 25% of such posts are held by women.

The really good news is that, after a period of decline, nationally the number of stipendiary, or paid, clergy, now remains stable. This has come about as a result of increasing vocations to ordained ministry and changes in retirement patterns. There has been a concerted effort across dioceses and nationally to encourage vocations to all ministries and the success of this is evidenced here. In fact 2019 saw the joint highest number of ordinations since at least 1991.

The 2019 Ministry Statistics provide a valuable insight into the diverse and varied ministries being offered across Church of England parishes, chaplaincies and workplaces. Overall they tell a story of real progress resulting from intentional and concerted action both locally and nationally.

Bishop Nicholas said:

“The number of people preparing for ordained ministry nationally is encouraging. In this Diocese we have 29 training and their quality is impressive.

"Encouraging vocations to lay and ordained ministry is a responsibility for all of us. I am grateful to those in pray about it and sometimes prompt it by a well-judged Godly question or comment.

"This year’s ordinations are a challenge. Because of Covid-19 we are postponing them, hopefully until 26 September, when we expect there will be 8 to be ordained priest and 13 to be made deacon.

"As a stepping stone, those to be made deacon will be licensed online as lay workers on 28 June, the first time this has been done online in Salisbury Diocese."

The Rt Revd Chris Goldsmith, Director of Ministry for the Church of England, said:

"In recent years there has been an increasing diversity among our clergy, but we will not be content until those in public ministry truly reflect the whole church and the communities which they serve."

He added:

"The contribution of lay ministers to the mission and ministry of the church is hugely valued both in terms of sustaining the ongoing life of parishes and chaplaincies but also in the innovation and spiritual entrepreneurship increasingly characterising frontline expressions of the church as a Christian presence in every community."

Here in the Diocese of Salisbury, where one of our 3 key priorities is collaborative ministry, we have 204 Licensed Lay Ministers, which increases to 1,310 when we include all the people actively involved in a range of lay ministry.

We also support 40 chaplains who work out in the community, everywhere from prisons and hospitals to the gypsy and traveller community and have 413 retired or self-supporting ministers, serving our 436 parishes.

The national figures also reveal that, across the country, lay ministries are burgeoning.

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