It hardly seems possible that, in a few weeks, I will be celebrating fifty years since ordination to the priesthood – and so will Tony Mortimer! We left Salisbury Theological College on the same day, went our separate ways for 35 years and in 2006 found ourselves washed up on the beach here in Exmouth in retirement!
But during fifty years, I have seen so much change that has deeply affected the CofE and our ministry to the world around us. For example, the ministry connected with births, marriages and deaths [which the Church obligingly refers to as ‘Occasional Offices’] has become exactly that – more occasional! During my time as Rector of Bletchley, these services were a huge part of our ministry. In an average year, I and my colleagues would conduct 60-70 baptisms, 80-90 weddings and 160-180 funerals. We were serving a population which increased from 18 to 25 thousand in my time as Rector.
Although I know Bletchley Church still has a significant ‘occasional office’ ministry, it is small compared to years ago. That would seem to be the pattern across the whole CofE. To me, occasional office ministry has always been a vitally important aspect of the ministry of a parish church as, through them, we connect with large numbers of non-church people. For example, we calculated that, in an average year at Bletchley in these services, we ministered to around 18,000 people, the vast majority of whom would have been non-church. So, where are things now?
The Church publishes detailed statistics of the numbers of such services. Let’s take a look at those applying to the 20 years from 2000 to 2019. This ignores the understandably lean years of the pandemic.
|Baptisms: adults and children||161,210||86,200|
|Funerals: churches and crematoria||232,560||114,200|
From this, it seems our ‘occasional office’ ministry has just about halved in 20 years. What about other statistics that show us the changing face of the Church of England? How has the parish system fared in these 20 years?
In 2000, there were 13,033 parishes: in 2019 that number was 12,366 – not a huge decrease, so the parish system would seem to holding up.
However, when we turn to the stipendiary clergy serving these parishes, the numbers give a very different picture. In 2000, these parishes were served by 9,538 parish priests. In 2019, that number was 6,981, a decrease of almost 27%. These numbers do not include curates, self-supporting ministers, lay readers or retired clergy: it is simply those in post who are paid to be parish priests, running churches.
But we get a very different picture when we look at the number of senior staff in these two sample years. By senior staff, I mean archbishops, diocesan bishops, suffragan and assistant bishops, archdeacons and cathedral deans. In 2000, there 253 people holding such offices. In 2019, that number was 273, an increase of almost 8%.
These figures reinforce what many in the CofE are saying– that our church is becoming more managerially focussed rather than pastoral. Alongside this increase in senior staff levels, in scanning the Church Times’ appointments columns, I have also noticed in recent years that there are now Assistant Archdeacons and Assistant Rural Deans as official appointments. I served for almost ten years as an Area Dean in the Diocese of Oxford [Area Deans are the same as Rural Deans – it’s just that some dioceses use this term rather than rural]. I did not have the luxury of an assistant; I just got on with it!
Now there will be many reasons why these numbers have changed, one of which will be a reduction in income in all dioceses as fewer people are now regularly linked with any church. But it would seem that, despite this loss of income, we have still borne the cost of more senior staff to make us more managerial than pastoral.
What does this say about our Church, and how do you react to this changing face of the Church of England?
All these figures come from ‘Church of England Summary of Statistics’ updated to 13/04/22.