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5th August 2011
Reader Reckoning
Nigel Holmes raises some of the issues facing the Church of England today, with the emphasis on ministry and lay ministry in particular. What do you think? Respond on the Reader Forum.
The Church is waking up to the huge changes in ministry, paid and unpaid, ordained and lay, which are just around the corner.

The Ven. Bob Jackson’s analysis of adult worshippers published in March showed that northern dioceses have lost between 20 and 40% over the past 20 years. The average loss across the Church of England between 2001 and 2009 is 7%.

40% of stipendiary clergy are expected to retire within the next 10 years, so at present an unusually large proportion of parishes have incumbents in their final posts.

An online survey of clergy was launched in May by the Ministry Division. The website says, “It make sense for us as a church nationally both to identify what really makes an impact and what genuinely helps to sustain those of us in ministry for the long haul. This is especially true as our resources are ever more thinly stretched. We hope to measure the impact of different strategies and interventions so that we can really know what it is worth investing in and what adds real value.”

We already have a good idea of what Readers and non-stipendiary ministers (NSM) think. The former survey followed my Private Member’s Motion debated in the General Synod in February 2006. The latter published last April was the initiative of Teresa Morgan, an NSM who is Fellow of Oriel College, Oxford.

Time and money are running out for our Church. The average age of Readers as of NSMs and, indeed, our congregations is close to 65. By 2030 there will be far fewer ministers. We need to achieve numerical growth soon. We are living through a period of unprecedented social and spiritual change. The next ten years will be crucial to determining whether we remain the national church able to maintain the parochial system or diminish to little more than a sect. The way we use volunteers could well determine that outcome. Our Church hates taking risks. We need to be bold. The Church faces the demographic and financial cliff face.

The 150th anniversary of the re-introduction of Readers on Ascension Day, 1866, is only 5 years away. The prompt was the inability of the church to cope as the population doubled between 1801 and 1861. Yet we now have half the number of stipendiary clergy for a population more than 2½ times greater.

My prayer is that the Chairman of the CRC, the Rt. Revd. Robert Paterson, Bishop of Sodor and Man, and the next Director of Ministry who will be appointed soon, will harness the willing workforce so that all are fully stretched and feel valued. For once vested interests must not prevail. Bishop Paterson recognizes that voluntary ministry needs reshaping and, indeed, has floated the crossover concept of the ‘ordained Reader’. For one who for five years and more has been seeking informed deliberation leading to radical action, it was encouraging that last year he told the CRC AGM “it is our view that the discussion cannot be delayed any longer”. I hope his fellow bishops will back him.

abbreviated from an article by Nigel Holmes, Member of the General Synod 1985-2010, Chairman of the Editorial Committee, Central Readers’ Council, 1997-2007. The full text is contained within the attached pdf

"Nigel Holmes … highlighted the sad situation many Readers find themselves in. I was licensed in 1988 and have had mixed experience in different parishes, but at every meeting of local Readers the same things have been said by my fellows (male and female) about ‘marginalisation’, ‘being sidelined’, low morale and ‘being under-used’ (or not at all)."
"When, oh when, will someone ask the powers that be ‘What would Jesus do?’? I feel sure that he would not call us to offer ourselves for voluntary ministry requiring three years tough training in order to be treated so."
Christine Wain, Brockenhurst, Hampshire.

"Nigel Holmes ... raises important questions that are fundamental to the ministry of the Church. During my fairly long tenure in General Synod, as a Church Commissioner, my membership of two theological councils, Diocesan and Deanery Synods and my 53 years serving as a Reader, I have tried to communicate the nonsensical approach our Church has towards its Ministries, both ordained and lay."
"Ordination is not a part-time job or an excuse to enable celebration of the Eucharist."
"Why do we need the same number of Diocesan, Suffragan/Assistant Bishops and Archdeacons with supporting staff when the numbers of clergy have reduced by half over the past 20 years? How exciting for those called to the full-time ministry to be in true oversight of this new pastorate and no longer chasing from church to church and PCC to PCC?!"?
Timothy Royle, Bourton on the Water, Gloucestershire

"Nigel Holmes ...“hits a good many nails on the head.” So many things had a familiar ring. In my own diocese, for example, we have an Advisory Council for Ministry & Training. This comprises 10 people of whom nine are clerical members. This despite the fact that the number of Readers in the diocese is double that of clergy (three times, if other lay ministries are included)."
Michael Ayles, Sidcup, Kent

fuller texts of these responses are include within the pdf
Document PDF Document Attached
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