Any new province or jurisdiction will need to have a clear policy on the nurturing of vocations to its ministry
Ann Turner outlines the proposals of the FiF Working Party
The task we were given was to produce a select number of proposals for the fostering of vocations in the light of a possible new province. We chose six priorities, two immediate, two medium-term and two more general themes. If it reads a little as though it were devised by a committee, I suppose that’s because it was; these ideas were thoroughly worked over by a group of people with strong views and commitment.
A wider brief
To oversee and organize the formal discernment of vocations, we advocate the Roman model of a Director of Vocations in overall charge, with a Director of Ordinands under him.
The CofE’s structures for recruitment and selection of ministers reflect the way in which it has only recently moved to acknowledge a wider variety of ministries than those of the ordained. Some ministries are within the scope of diocesan recruitment, e.g. ordained ministry, including a permanent diaconate, and Reader ministry; others are not, strictly speaking, the responsibility of a diocese at all. The Church Army is responsible for its own recruitment and selection, as are other mission agencies. Religious communities are also independent.
The post of Diocesan Director of Ordinands (DDO) is well established, as may be that of Warden of Readers. More recently, some dioceses have begun appointing Vocations Advisors who may seek to act as a coordinating influence, reminding potential candidates of the variety of ways that their ministry might be expressed.
At present Vocations Advisors are generally appointed on a part-time basis and find themselves line-managed by a stipendiary DDO. The function of recruitment is too often left to the DDO, with the consequence that candidates have to pass through the hands of the DDO before being able to consider any non-ordained ministry. This inevitably generates a sense that the DDO is sifting out the best candidates for the ministry with which he/she is especially concerned, and passing the less promising candidates to others.
It would seem sensible for a Director of Vocations to occupy the senior role, line-managing colleagues whose task is to help candidates explore vocation to particular ministries within the Church of God, be they lay or ordained.
A similar attitude was urged upon all parish priests, that they should be open to a whole range of vocations for their laity – to encourage and enable the effective ministry of each member of the parish (and not merely steer a few towards ordination).
If this principle is accepted, then it is worth beginning now, with a recognized FiF Director of Vocations. This would show the rest of the church that we can do imaginative work, and it would set the patterns ready for the new jurisdiction. To show we are serious, the first appointment should not be a priest; and if possible, it should be someone who could join the existing Church House team of Selection Secretaries. A bit of plotting and planning will be necessary.
The women question
Are there to be women deacons in the new province?
The issue of women’s vocations is a serious one. However, FiF and the PEVs must initially face the more immediate issue of women deacons. We recognize that (a) most would rather not do so, and (b) opposition to and antagonism towards women deacons has increased within the constituency, not decreased, since 1992.
It may be that women deacons are not to be part of the new jurisdiction, but it is crucial that this issue is resolved openly and honestly, so that we can consider the wider question, ‘To what ministries will God call women in the new province?’
Dodging the issue of women deacons in order to keep the peace is most unwise: it plays into the hands of all those who suspect we are no more than a cover organization for misogyny. The issue is not about the existing women deacons (few in number) but the future integrity of those who foster vocations, and the coherence of their programme.
As a continuing part of the Church of England, it is important that we share many of the existing structures of Canterbury and York.
We recognize that this will raise real challenges, when it is precisely over the nature of the sacred ministry that the split will have occurred. However, part of the purpose of any new jurisdiction is to remain within the CofE and not to set up the structures for a continuing church; if that had been the intention, we could have done it years ago. We should not, therefore, re-create what already exists; this would only waste time, energy and money.
We should continue to use, work with and hopefully contribute to Ministry Division for much of the necessary regulation, discernment, and so on. We would send our candidates to at least some of the same theological colleges and courses, relying on our own (scaled-down) version of the Archbishops’ Inspections to ensure they provide what we required.
The most difficult task in such shared arrangements will be the sustaining of our own enquirers and candidates over a number of years in a possibly hostile environment: we will clearly have to provide some of our own teaching and formation over and above the shared provision. The advantage is that we would not have to create entirely separate structures, and that we could have an influence upon the rest of the CofE.
This has important evangelistic implications. Recognizing that we will not get all our vocations to the priesthood from within our own constituency alone, we will be relying on, and tested by, our ability to persuade others in the two existing provinces, who are as yet unaware of our convictions. This has already occurred, and by God’s grace will continue to do so.
The religious life
We must take the religious life more seriously than we have done in the recent past.
We are keen to establish the importance of the religious life within any new province, and therefore the serious consideration of the religious life at every stage of fostering and discerning vocations. Despite the fact that such vocations are more specific (to a particular community) than, say, the priesthood, they should be encouraged as a matter of course. Some of this work will fall to RooT (Religious of orthodox Tradition), but much of it must also be shared by those with direct responsibility for vocations.
The Catholic wing often pays lip service to the religious communities, but they are rarely in the forefront of thinking or planning, in teaching material about the faith, or in the presentation of options
to the laity seeking some sort of deeper commitment within the Church.
The religious life needs to be accepted (at least in our constituency) as a natural, vital and esteemed part of the Church, as it is among Roman Catholics and Orthodox. In thinking of the future, we need to be sure that DDOs and selection committees naturally look out for vocations to the religious life, just as much as to the priesthood, and should present such a vocation as a positive option for lay men and women.
Traditional Christian vocation will increasingly become at odds with the culture and thought patterns of the wider Church of England of which we shall be part.
The search for and fostering of vocations is in all cases a call to increased holiness, whether it is to be in the ordained ministry, lay ministry, the religious life or more particular callings. In each case, we must acknowledge just how counter-cultural such a calling will be. Elements traditionally regarded as fundamental to a dedicated life are no longer always regarded as such even within the CofE, let alone elsewhere: the lifetime commitment; the 24/7 availability; the being, rather than merely doing; the call to serve rather than to a job or career.
In all this, we face the lack of support, or even of a shared understanding, from the rest of the church or wider society, which has become increasingly short-term, un-committing and functional in its understanding of life and work. Vocation will be to an increasingly counter-cultural way of life, conforming more closely to the apostolic example. We really cannot envisage vocation in the new province being confused with a career.
This is a subtle and challenging point (and one that caused considerable discussion in our group), for all our ministers will also have to be collaborative in their style and loyal to their bishop and colleagues. As slaves of Christ, they will be rebels to the world.
Clerical role models
Apart from parish priests, we must recognize that we will have few role models for potential ordinands.
Outside of our own parishes, whole areas of ministry will no longer be open to clergy or religious of our persuasion. NHS chaplaincies in particular, but also HM Forces, prisons and, perhaps most importantly of all, university chaplaincies, will inevitably be reserved for clergy of the majority, liberal CofE.
These traditional role models will no longer work for us in fostering vocations, especially to young people and especially to the priesthood. There is little we can do about something that is beyond our control, but we need to recognize the serious challenge this poses. [This point was made more fully by one of our number in New Directions May 2007.]
Vocations, at least to the priesthood among young men, are surprisingly strong in our constituency despite the current uncertainties. It is well worth doing serious work on this subject. We are already in a stronger position than we often suppose: such work would, by the grace of God, be well rewarded.