“Do you ever feel as though doctors and police officers are getting younger all the time? Well, soon, your local vicar could be a young person too, thanks to a new Church of England initiative…”
So began most of the 9 interviews I gave to local BBC radio stations yesterday morning. The first time I heard it, I had to restrain a giggle. Seriously? Were young vicars something to be feared? Were they seen to be a new thing? Where did BBC listeners think all the Bishops who’d been ordained in their 20′s some 30 years ago had been for the first part of their ministry?
Last week, the media team at Church House Westminster sent out a press release about a new internship programme for those aged 18-30 who are thinking about whether God is calling them into ministry. The BBC got interested in this – particular the ‘young’ element of it (and the fact that it was ‘unpaid’). They thought it would be a good idea to speak to someone training for ordination who had explored their calling while in their 20′s. This is where I fitted in – despite being the grand old age of 32, I was in my 20′s while I went through the selection process – and thus I found myself in a tiny studio at 6.30am on a Sunday morning, waiting to speak to 9 different radio presenters across the country.
It was fascinating. There really does seem to be a public perception that youth is a barrier to being an effective church leader. How can you be a vicar without plenty of life experience? Well, quite frankly, no two people of the same age have had the same amount of life experience. It’s much more important that those contemplating ordination are seen to have a level of maturity that enables them to understand where their life experience is lacking; seek opportunities to widen their experience; and to empathise with those they meet facing situations that they have no experience of. As a caveat though, that maturity is essential. If a 21 year old doesn’t seem to have it, they need to!
They wanted to know how congregations reacted to the sight of me, a ‘young’ person, at the front of the church leading a service or preaching a sermon. No one’s ever made a negative comment about my age, or suggested that I can’t possibly teach them anything in my sermon because they are 40 years older than me. Yes, my current church has a lot of young people in it, but it has plenty of older members too and I know they would say something if they felt there was an issue! In fact, the best thing about being young and being actively involved in services is that it inspires other people my age and younger to go and do likewise. To ask me about my own journey to ordination and seek advice about their own vocations. I did some calculations and realised that at my church, only three of our regular preachers are over the age of 40 (we have a group of around 11 or 12 that preach).
Are there even enough of this age group in the church to choose new vicars from? Despite what a former Archbishop said recently, yes!! [This is when my Missing Generation research becomes useful again.] Admittedly, the vast majority of 20s & 30s worship in the capital, but across the country, there are a lot of young people worshipping in Anglican churches and possibly contemplating ministry. Just last June, 80 young women exploring their call gathered in London for a vocations day – there is plenty of hope!
Ultimately, having spent some time talking to those involved in the creation of the internship scheme and reading about it, I think it’s a good idea. Many people who feel called into ministry don’t have an opportunity to test it out in a really practical way. Yes, some will work as lay people for churches, but few churches can afford to have such employees. Some might have grown up in clergy families and have a very good idea about the practicalities of life as a vicar. (That was my own experience.) Perhaps they will have the chance to preach the occasional sermon, but will they have time alongside a full-time job?
So the scheme enables people who want to, to take a year out from secular employment and spend a year engaged in practical ministry. They don’t receive a salary, but they are provided with accommodation, food, travel and a small allowance. Plus, they receive some theological education and mentoring, ensuring that their personal development is monitored and that they have people with whom to discuss their vocational thoughts. Currently, the scheme (officially known as the Church of England Ministry Experience Scheme – CEMES) is being piloted in four dioceses, with another 14 looking to take it up next year.
For the next week, if you’re so inclined, you can listen to me being questioned by a few of the BBC’s finest Sunday morning radio presenters. I’ve not provided links to all nine (partly because it would be tedious and repetitive; partly because some were very short), but it’ll give you a flavour…
BBC Cambridgeshire (2hrs 10mins) – I liked Cambridgeshire!
BBC Wiltshire (2hrs 54mins) – Wiltshire was also lovely. They also interviewed someone local after me, which thankfully backed up what I’d talked about & even mentioned pioneering things.
BBC Lancashire (2hrs 47mins) The toughest interview of the lot!
BBC Newcastle (1hr 40mins) – Where they seemed to think I was actually on the scheme, which was awkward – as was being disconnected right at the start of the interview! I was also asked if I was a good singer (!) and in typical British fashion, stumbled over my response in fear of sounding big-headed if I simply answered ‘yes’!
BBC Sussex & Surrey (2hrs 16mins) – where they surprised me an in-studio priest who disagreed the scheme. How nice of them!