Thursday, 21 January 2010

Why are so few women ordained young?

Why is it that so few women are ordained in their 20s?

OK, so the age of ordinands in the Church of England, both men and women, had been going up and up until recently. But there are still more young male ordinands than young female ordinands. And I suspect the pattern is similar in other denominations.

Few women are ordained in their 20s, and not that many in their 30s. The latest (2008) stats for the Church of England show that there are only 15 (women) parochial clergy under the age of 30 (13 of them curates), and only another 167 under the age of 40 (68 incumbent/incumbent status and 99 curates).

This has all sort of implications. The needs of women ordained in their 20s are different from those ordained later. And the dearth of women ordained at this age may partly account for the lack of women in senior posts or leading larger churches. Even if they come to ordination with leadership experience, clergy need a measure of experience within the Church before taking on a more demanding senior post.

I can understand both the issue and the concerns. I was ordained at age 37. It had taken me quite a while to even consider it (confidence was one issue). And then there were those who said that women could not be ordained (or could not be leaders) because the Bible said so; it took me quite a long time to get my head around that, especially in the light of so few resources from an egalitarian perspective.

I wonder what others think (and if you've accessed this through the CPAS website, and can't comment, you can email me direct, or find the blog independently, until we fix the problem!)...

If you're reading this thinking, 'I wonder if God is calling me to be ordained?' there are a variety of events which can help. If you're between the ages of 16-30 you may be interested in 'Step Forward', an event at Cranmer Hall, Durham on 6th February; Tom Wright, the Bishop of Durham is speaking and there will be various workshops during the day. If you can't get to Durham, CPAS run regular 'You and Ministry' weekends for anyone who is exploring vocation; I'm also available to give vocations advice to women.

We all have a part to play in encouraging younger women to think about ordination (or leadership in our own denomination): as role models, as mentors, by giving them opportunities to develop as leaders, or with a tap on the shoulder.


Kate Wharton said...

This is a fascinating topic & an interesting question. I'm 31 & have been an incumbent for 10 months. I was ordained at the age of 27 & may have been one of those 15 women in 2008 (though that was the year I turned 30!). I find that far more people make comments about my age than the fact I'm a woman - not necessarily negative comments, but they're certainly surprised (I often answer the vicarage door & can sense the person there is dying to ask 'is your dad in?')! But why is this - & is it going to change any time soon? Well yes I think it will - & I think part of it is to do with what you mentioned, about a lack of role models - as more women grow into senior leadership positions, I hope & pray that more young women will step forward to fulfil their calling at the time they're called, rather than waiting 10 years. I wonder what the 2018 survey will show???

Charles Read said...

Here's an enlightened shot in the dark!

It seems to me that many of the churches where there are healthy numbers of younger worshippers are often led by (male) clergy who are opposed to women in leadership or at least not too comfortable with it. Thus they encourage young men to consider ordination but not young women. By the time the women have either worked through the case for women in leadership or moved churches to a more supportive one, they are in their thirties and are into family and career - so delaying them offering for ordination till they are in their forties.

I once interviewed a young woman for a place at theological college and noticed from her application that she was from a church I knew well (and had friends in) - I mentioned this to break the ice at the interview and she looked very uneasy and asked me not to tell my friends in her church she was considering ordination as her vicar (and others there) would not be supportive - indeed she had gone straight to the DDO without telling her vicar what she was up to!

How sad is that? I advised her to move churches quick - and suggested she go to another church I knew near where she lived but where they would support her.

Anonymous said...

This is a very good question. As you say there aren't many young men either. I think that part of the problem might be lack of role models. I also wonder if young women are worried about how they might combine a vocation to ministry with one to family? I started training at the age of 33 and this was something that worried me a lot during the selection process. As far as I can see it isn't easy to find ways of working that are in between full time and very full on and part time and unpaid. This is an interesting book on how organisations can develop and retain women as they go through different life stages (from a secular perspective):

Lis Goddard said...

To follow up on some of the previous comments, I started the discernment process aged 25 and began training aged 29 but was unable to go through my local church (although they were fully aware of what I was doing) for similar reasons to those outlined by Charles. My husband was also training and it was hard to find a post which gave real space for both of our callings and our gifts. If we hadn't had a really supportive bishop who believed in developing women, even young ones with children, I think my story would be a very different one. Even now things are not straightforward, because a woman who has job-shared is viewed much more suspiciously than a man who has done the same.
Interestingly I think that the church is moving away from the possibility of the job-sharing model rather than looking at how it might work as a way of developing its younger women and enabling families to thrive. And therefore valuing the experiences gained through it rather as one does the experience gained through pre-ordination work.

Hannah Lewis said...

I'm another ordained young woman - nearly 40 now but was ordained at 26. As I'm Deaf as well that makes me one of 2 (young, female and Deaf) in the C of E! It is a fascinating topic though. I've taken a very much non standard path to my current incumbent status diocesan post (and a colleague of Kate Wharton who posted above) meeting the challenges of getting married, having a child and then divorcing and becoming a single mum all while working as a priest.
Anyway good to find your blog Rosie - I've only just become aware of it and the way CPAS work with encorouraging women leaders but will certainly be reading it in future.