Ministry result

WATCH deplores the lack of young women in the ministry

The Church is “clearly failing” to encourage young women to train for ministry, as the majority of places in training schools are filled by young men, campaign group Women and the Church (WATCH) has warned.

His annual data analysis suggested a serious culture shift was needed, he said.

Women were more likely to enter formation later in life, after age 40, and changes in funding for Church formation grants to prioritize younger ordinands meant that older candidates would only get funding for part-time training. The majority of female ordinands (58%) were between the ages of 40 and 59, while the majority of males (53%) were under 40.

“At the moment the Church of England is clearly failing in its aim of encouraging young women to train for ordained ministry,” the report said. “It also means that in many residential training institutions the majority of ordinands will be male, and so these ordinands are being trained in a context that continues to normalize clergy being male.”

Women were also a minority in the academic staff of training colleges, and only one college had a female headmaster, further normalizing male leadership.

WATCH Vice President Reverend Rosalind Rutherford said, “We need a culture shift, and we need to start with careful listening and deep thinking. Women’s voices are still not heard in many dioceses. If we don’t ask what the blockages are, we will never find the answers.

“The dioceses must have a strategy to increase the number and affirm the ministry of women.”

Many dioceses have not taken seriously the need to increase the number of young women entering ministry or women applying for paid positions, she said. She commended the Diocese of Europe for putting in place a strategy to increase the historically low number of female clergy.

Improvements in other areas for women have also leveled off, she said: The number of women appointed as diocesan bishops has not increased in the past two years.

Two dioceses, Carlisle and Rochester, had no women among their senior staff, and two of the largest dioceses, Leeds and London, had ratios of two women to 14 men and three women to 13 men, respectively.

There were only ten female deans at the end of last year, according to the report.

However, the proportion of female stipendiary priests continued to grow: 25 dioceses now had 30% more women in stipendiary parish positions, compared to ten dioceses in 2015.

Chichester remained the diocese with the lowest proportion of female stipendiary clergy, at 16%, while Ely had the highest, at 43%.

However, the picture was very mixed from one diocese to another. In the dioceses of Sheffield and Hereford, the proportion of female clergy has steadily declined in recent years. Other dioceses still had low numbers of women in paid positions, such as Exeter, where they were 17% in 2020, down from 19% in 2015.

Women continued to hold a high proportion of self-employed positions (SSM). Sheffield had almost as many female SSM clergy as paid female clergy, but five times as many male paid clergy as male SSM clergy.

At the General Synod, the proportion of women in the Houses of clergy and laity had hardly changed over the past five years: it now stood at 53% lay people and 33% clerics. In four dioceses, no ordained women were elected: Blackburn, Ely, Portsmouth and Winchester.

WATCH said it would carefully consider planned future reductions in clergy numbers due to growing financial challenges facing dioceses, to ensure women are not affected.