As someone going through the vocation/selection/ordination process, the letter is encouraging…kind of. Though what is said on paper and what is done in practice need to match up. Too often the Church says it wants more clergy, yet what it does about that remains an entirely different matter. And if someone is supported for ordination, it doesn’t necessarily mean that the process will be one that brings with it encouragement or support. In fact, I would say that getting parishes to nurture vocation is merely a starting point. The real work seems to be getting someone through selection and then to ordination.
But maybe I’m saying that because I’m in the process… somewhere.
Anyway. Here’s the letter:
My Dear Friends,
Someone told me the other day that if we are setting up ministry areas in the diocese, which are bigger than conventional parishes, we shall need fewer clergy, so that the call for people to offer themselves for ordained ministry is not so important as it once was. Nothing could be further from the truth. A large number of clergy will retire in the next few years and in any case, ministry areas are not necessarily about having fewer clergy, but about how we as clergy can complement one another’s gifts and ministries and work together more fruitfully with one another and our congregations. That makes it a more difficult task as well as a more exciting one.
We are looking for people who are not frightened of working in teams; people who will try and help deepen the faith of all Christians; people who can show the relevance of the Gospel to every aspect of daily living and people who are committed to growing the Church numerically, and making new Christians. In order to help make all this possible, we have in Llandaff Diocese, the Living Faith course and 7 Sacred Spaces on offer. The kind of people we are looking for are to be found all over the diocese, since God always provides us with the ministries we need but there is never one way of discovering them. Some people have felt that God has been calling them to ordained ministry from a very young age; others have been resisting such a call, believing that God could not possibly be calling them; whilst members of a local church sometimes can see gifts in others of which they themselves are unaware and slowly nudge them towards thinking about ordination.
I do not want to be misunderstood. You do not have to be ordained to serve God and His Church. Indeed, the ordained are always a minority compared to all who are baptised and we need people to serve God in all kinds of ways, but that does not mean that we do not need an ordained ministry. A couple of years ago, we hit a low point in the numbers of those coming forward for ordination. More recently, the situation has improved but we cannot afford to be complacent. When parishes need clergy, they write to me asking when I intend appointing someone, as if I have some secret supply which I am deliberately refusing to release. My question to every parish is, when did you last produce a candidate for ordained ministry and why is there a steady flow from some places and nothing from others? People will only come forward if they see signs of the transforming love of Jesus at work in our parishes. That is the place to start. What kind of community are we and what kind of worship do we offer and what gospel do we proclaim? How wide is our appeal across the age range and when did we last attract new members? The answers we give to these questions may help us discover why our particular parish has produced few if any people to be considered for ordination.
But God is able to make all things new and it is never too late to be changed by the gospel of Jesus. Being transformed ourselves, we will offer transformation to others and when that happens, we will discover that God has already given us the gifts and ministries we need and we will, therefore, begin to become aware of them.
Yours in God’s love,