On Monday I will talk to over 650 young people about priesthood and how I got to be a priest.
Last Monday about 130 of these young men aged about 16 years old went to a careers expo. In the past the Anglican Diocese has had a stall there with an attractive brochure about priesthood and other full-time leadership in the church as a careers option. Not this year. Should it? Is priesthood, is full-time work in the church a career?
Where was the presence of the Anglican Church, the Roman Catholic Church, etc. at the careers expo? Yes about 17% of those running the booths at the expo will identify themselves as Anglican, about 14% will identify themselves as Roman Catholic – and I am a very strong advocate for seeing all careers as being expressions of baptismal ministry and mission, and vocations – so any way that can be reinforced is great. But Vision College was the only explicitly Christian organisation represented at the careers expo, with excellent-quality hand-outs. IMO: well done Vision College (attractive website, by the way).
“Young leaders” is one of the 3 priorities of our diocesan Strategic Plan 2009-12 (the other two being Christ-centred mission and faithful stewardship). How do young people explore vocations to priesthood, religious life, other leadership within the church? Should there be a section on the diocesan website where priesthood as a career is outlined, and the process involved? There is not. We have three different Religious Orders in our province, I can only find one with a website – it has a section on how to join. I happen to think that is appropriate and useful – but others may think differently?
Only yesterday was I reading, in a book by Thomas Merton, a commentary on a religious order’s constitution by Dom Lemasson against any human attempt to attract vocations – “God alone can make monks and [nuns], and that human expedients to increase the number of … vocations would only end in the ruin of the Order.” Some may argue the same for priesthood?
Older readers here in our province will remember there was a province-wide standard for ordination including examinations – akin to other careers. I do not know when the province formally abandoned both – anyone? But I know this is still the case in other provinces. There was a swing against clericalism, and an increasing of opportunities for lay study, training, and formation. Standards for priesthood were lost in the process, but the pendulum is swinging again. 25 years ago if one wanted to follow priesthood as a career there was an intense process and then three years at the national seminary, St John’s College. Basically everyone training at St John’s College was preparing for priesthood. Our province keeps no provincial statistics – so I have no idea of the study and training of ordinands currently. The best guess I have heard is that only 7-10% of current ordinands spend any time at all at St John’s. ie about 93% are trained and formed elsewhere. St John’s can take 60 students, currently, I understand 15 are there training for the priesthood – living there anywhere from a short period up to 3 years. Only one of those there is from the South Island.
Very many current excellent priests I know became priests after an earlier career in something else. The province has no idea statistically what proportion. Nor what the qualification spread is of currently clergy. Nor their age distribution. Nor the demographics of our worshipping communities and projected future needs for leadership. Is the approach to attracting people to priesthood after a first career to be different to attracting people directly from school? This may also be behind not having a presence at a careers expo targeting school students. Do we leave it all up to God? Or does God work through our careful planning?
The “world” still thinks of priesthood as a career. Interestingly it came up in the ordination of the new bishop of Auckland:
“It’s amazing to think that just over two years ago Ross was effectively a village vicar, albeit an outstanding one. Now he’s one of the most senior clergymen in New Zealand. Who ever said going into the Church was not a career path?”
[Using “going into the church” to mean “ordination” is, of course, part of the very clericalism that the church has moved on from. We enter the church through baptism, not ordination. Similarly I hope we see “vocation” as including being a good shopkeeper, mother, lawyer, barista…]
So my primary question is: is priesthood a career? Is it helpful to promote priesthood in similar ways to other careers, including information on the web, at careers expos, etc.? Or is priesthood something quite distinct from other careers and the process towards ordination becomes understood by individuals as they individually explore their inner sense of call?