More young Anglicans taking up call to ministry

The Bishop of Sheffield with participants of the Church of England's new Ministry Experience Scheme

New Church of England statistics reveal that the number of young people seeking ordination is at its highest in two decades.

Young people now account for 23 per cent of all those entering training for the priesthood, with 113 people under the age of 30 being included in the listings at selection conferences and bishops' recommendation panels last year.

This is a substantial jump from where these numbers were in 2004, with only 71 under the age of 30 considering ordained ministry.

The improvement has been steady since 2007, when 14.8% of those in the selection listings were under 30. In 2008 that number jumped to 16.7%, then in 2010 it hit 21%, and in 2012 it reached 22.2%.

This is close to, if not above, an apt representation of the population. The 2011 census reported that those aged 15-29 make up 19.9% of the population of England and Wales, and those between 20-29 are 13.6% of the population.

Liz Boughton, the Church's National Adviser for Vocations said: "We are delighted with the number of young adults recommended for ordained ministry last year.

"It's great that a substantial number are having the confidence and support to hear and respond to God's call to the priesthood. We welcome young people and value the gifts, enthusiasm and insights that they bring."

Liz Clutterbuck, a 32-year-old final year student at St Mellitus Theological College, said age had been a big reason for the delay of several years between her deciding she wanted to become a vicar, and actually beginning the process of seeking ordination.

She said: "Was I too young? Could I really know what God's calling on my life was at an age where most people were still trying to figure out what life outside university looked like?  Would getting ordained mean that the doors to other possibilities and opportunities would be closed to me?

"In fact, the journey to ordination has so far proved to be not the closing of doors, but the beginning of a journey containing countless possibilities.

"That simple fact makes me all the more excited that I began the journey younger than many other ordinands.

"There have been times when I have been very conscious of my age - such as at my final selection conference, when I was the youngest female candidate by quite a long way - but on arriving at theological college, I was happy to discover plenty of other ordinands in their late 20s, early 30s.

"It's really valuable to be studying in an environment where there are lots of people your own age, but at the same time a large number of other students who are older and possess a whole range of different life and ministry experiences. The Church of England's future looks bright."

Hannah Alderson, a 27-year-old curate at Holy Trinity and St Hugh's in Durleigh, Somerset, believes more young people in ministry is one way to diversify the rank and file of Church of England clergy.

"People often say to me 'you look a bit young to be a vicar!' but I'm 27 now, and plenty of my peers at college were of a similar age - or younger. I think it's really important that clergy represent diversity - in gender, culture and ability/disability, as well as in age. I think younger and older ordinands bring something different, but just as rich, to ordained ministry."

Nathaniel Poole, a 19-year-old first year ordinand from Cranmer Hall in Durham, said that the overall demography of ordinands is much younger than might be expected.

"One of my fears concerning training was loneliness, however, despite being the youngest at Cranmer Hall there's plenty others very near my age, so there's a great deal of social activity on weekends and evenings. I already have lots of strong relationships among fellow ordinands and undergraduates of St John's College Durham.

"I wouldn't say that being young makes much difference. I would encourage any young person with a sense of vocation to ordained ministry to pursue discernment with their diocese."

Plans to improve training for ministry are continuing apace, with the Ministry Experience Scheme, which offers placements for ordinands under 30, being extended in the next academic year.

Currently, the only dioceses offering this kind of training are Newcastle, Sodor and Man, Peterborough and London.

This weekend will also see a special conference for young potential ordinands held at Bishopthorpe Palace in York. The Archbishop of York, Dr John Sentamu, will be there to deliver a keynote speech offering encouragement and advice to those considering ordination.

The Bishop of Sheffield, the Right Reverend Steven Croft, who is also Chair of Ministry Division said: "The Church of England has a fresh vision and commitment to see people in their teens and twenties exploring God's call to ministry."