What is the remit for this task group?

The way we encourage, prepare and form lay and ordained ministers is critical for the future mission of the Church of England.

This Task Group was asked to look at the resourcing of that ministerial education right across the Church.  We currently invest around £20 million per annum in initial education of ordained ministers.  That funding is pooled between dioceses.  Individual dioceses have their own budgets for lay education, for curate training, for continuing ministerial education.

Are we using those resources in the best possible way?  Are we recruiting and training the right numbers of clergy and lay ministers with the right gifts for the future?  Are we offering them the best possible formation and training to equip and support them in their ministry.

What vision informs your recommendations?

We have a vision of a growing church with a flourishing ministry.  Bishops and Dioceses have told us that they want to see all clergy equipped to work collaboratively, greater flexibility and deeper effectiveness in mission.

Dioceses have also told us that they want to hold the numbers of stipendiary clergy steady at around 8,000 over the next decade.  That’s vital to sustain ministry in parishes right across the land.

But because of the age profile of the clergy and retirements, the current predictions are that the number of stipendiary clergy will fall to around 6,500.

We need to take that gap between aspiration and reality seriously.  The whole Church needs to pray for vocations and the Church needs to take action to raise the number of candidates offering for ministry over the next ten years, we suggest by around 50%.

We need those candidates on the whole to be younger and more diverse.  We need to improve the quality of their training.  We need to give Dioceses more flexibility on the way in which they invest in candidates before and after ordination.

Increasing the number of candidates will mean increasing the total resource available and investing it in different ways.  We’ve set out twelve proposals for change and the publication of the papers for Synod marks the beginning of a process of consultation about the proposals before they are refined into formal recommendations.  We have more work still to do on developing lay ministry and on the detailed financial proposals.

How did you set about your task?

At the centre of our work was a major piece of work on the effectiveness of ministerial education.  The results of that research have already been published online and are available.

The research looks at every part of the education of the clergy: pre-ordination, initial ministerial education, the training people receive as curates and their ongoing training.

How would you hope that the Synod and the wider church will approach the recommendations?

I hope that Synod and the wider church will take this report very seriously.   We are at a moment of particular opportunity.

There will be a vigorous debate.  I hope that after that debate, the vision and direction of travel will be affirmed right across the Church.  I hope people will begin to pray now with a new urgency for vocations.  I hope that many people will help us refine and develop the proposals for action further in the coming months so that the final recommendations are as good as they can be.

+Steven Sheffield

The report on Resourcing Ministerial Education is available here.

A transcription of the video interview with the Bishop of Sheffield is available here.

The discussion forum on Simplification can be found on the Church of England website here.

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