Statistics for 2012 show that the number of young people (under 30s) accepted for training for the Church of England ministry last year was 113, 22% of the total. This is the highest number in the past twenty years and is exactly the same as the statistics for the Diocese of Lichfield.
Says the Revd David Newsome, the Diocesan Director of Ordinands:
There is now a full recognition that ministers need to reflect diversity of Body of Christ our church communities with people of all ages. The American theologian [name?] said that without young ministers, the church loses cultural fluency. Former Archbishop Rowan Williams phrased it Without young clergy, how can we speak the language of a new generation?
Matt Harbage is 27 and in his first year of training to be a priest at Westcott House in Cambridge:
I was at secondary school and attended a Baptist church when I first thought about calling and ministry. I finished my degree at York and came to work at Keele Universitys chaplaincy team. I talked a lot to the chaplain there, and he saw something that made him want to connect me with the DDO. Through many meetings, we explored my budding sense of calling and desire to contribute to and support the church for over 10 months before I was recommended for training. There was some recognition that the church reflects its leaders, and keen to engage younger people in the church. I wonder if theres a certain cynicism that age brings I still believe we can radically transform the world and transform the church in the here and now.
I spent a year with a church in Liverpool and got to meet many Anglican priests in different contexts and church traditions. That really shaped my Anglican identity and reinforced my sense of calling.
It reflects a change from the received church wisdom that used to discourage those who lacked a degree and life experience.
Young clergy have their own experience to bring, which will be different to older clergy, but we will need both says Revd Newsome. At the moment Ive got someone whos just twenty and not been to university who is applying to become a priest. But he is bright, gifted and better read than many ordinands of any age! There is a sense in which age and maturity depends on the individual you can have immature sixty-year-olds!
The church desperately needs the kind of passion and commitment that younger candidates can bring. Its a very exciting, and extraordinary thing that young people are wanting to commit themselves to the church in uncertain times.
The Diocese of Lichfields Young Vocations team exists to encourage all who may be considering Christian vocations as priests or in other areas. It is led by the Revd David Newsome (email@example.com) and Revd Kate Lomax (firstname.lastname@example.org) who is the specialist Young Vocations adviser. Young people considering working in the church or related organisations are encouraged to contact their vicar, youth leader or one of the above. The Diocese of Lichfield also has its own young vocations website, www.itmightbegod.org and Facebook group.
The Church of England also has http://CallWaiting.org.uk, a national website for those thinking about ordained ministry, and released a podcast today talking to participants in a recent young vocations conference in Cambridge.