Nurturing Vocations in a Changing Landscape – A Conversation on Ministry
“Calling is the work of the Holy Spirit. We can only create the right atmosphere.”
Lay and ordained people from throughout the Church of Ireland gathered in the Church of Ireland Theological Institute (CITI) recently to examine how vocations could be nurtured in today’s changing landscape. Organised by the Commission on Ministry and the Central Director of Ordinands, Canon David Gillespie, the day–long conversation was facilitated by Philip McKinley.
Participants from every diocese, who ranged from university chaplains and lay ministers to clergy and bishops, looked at the strengths, weaknesses and challenges of the current pathways to ordination. They also came up with recommendations. Their deliberations will be included in a report which will be presented to the Commission on Ministry, the House of Bishops and CITI.
Welcoming participants, Canon Gillespie said that a conversation on vocations was timely with the introduction of Ordained Local Ministry. He hoped that the day would be the beginning of a more proactive approach to identifying and fostering vocations. “We traditionally waited for people to approach us but that is no longer appropriate for the times we are living in now,” he commented.
Setting the context for the conversation, Bishop Michael Burrows, chairperson of the Commission on Ministry, said that the Church was called to ensure the continuity of apostolic ministry. From time to time it had reflected on how best to create an atmosphere in which vocations may be better heard.
“We [the Commission on Ministry] felt it was time we facilitated a gathering of this sort not least because we are becoming aware of some of the lacunae in the contexts in which people appear to be called at the moment,” Bishop Burrows stated. “Calling is the work of the Holy Spirit. We can only create the right atmosphere.”
As an example, he said the commission was very conscious that the number of people presenting themselves for selection for training from rural Ireland had become very small in comparison with the past. Ordained Local Ministry may assist this but the Bishop said there had been unintended consequences of moving to the current MTh model. “We have noticed a dearth of vocations from the solid parishes of rural Ireland and equally a lack of people who see rural ministry as something to which they want to give their lives,” he explained. He added that there was also a need to reflect on the varieties of contexts from which people were called, looking at age, gender and so on.
Bishop Burrows pointed out that in the past, vocations were often nurtured by observation of another priest – be it in a parish in which the person grew up, a friend or someone who ministered at a time of pastoral need. However, he said looking back, he could not now have the conversations he had at the time when he was exploring his own vocations. He said that the reasonable and necessary elements of child protection could not and should not be rolled back but he wondered if the clergy of this generation had the space and capacity to mirror the “magnetic attractiveness” and integrity of the vocation to priesthood and ministry of the Gospel to the next generation.
Director of CITI, Canon Dr Maurice Elliott, introduced some statistical analysis and said that on average since 2009, 15 people were ordained each year. On average there were 15 curacies available each year within the Church of Ireland, he added. More men than women entered training each year and more people entered CITI from the Province of Armagh than from the Province of Dublin. He said that gender balance and geographical spread of entrants had shifted markedly over the past few years.
In a facilitated discussion, participants highlighted the strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and challenges of the current system and, based on those, came up with a number of recommendations which will be included in their forthcoming report.