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is priesthood a career?

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?

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17 thoughts on “is priesthood a career?”

  1. Is a career a vocation or is a vocation a career. A professional is someone who professes their faith by what they do. A Vocation is a fancy Latin word meaning a calling. A priest has a calling to be a priest, and a plumber has a vocation to be a plumber.

    A career fair is a place where people can learn about vocations to help them discern which is the one God is calling them to.

    Here is a question for you. With poverty as high as it is, and with people in the inner city all too often choosing between working at McDonalds and living to be 70 but never really living, and life in the gangs and living to an iffy 25, why can we not recruit these kids before having to make that choice and bringing them into becoming Catholics, if not already, and then into priest formation, before they become teens?

  2. I sire hope the priesthood is a career! Otherwise I’ve wasted a good portion of the last couple of years. I personally thin any job van be a vocation, but if that is the case, why should the church not recruit for the priesthood. If we don’t many who may be called may not live out their vocation because it was never presented as an option.

  3. Sounds to me like your province needs better statistics. It would also be nice to see some balance between clericalism and lay ministry. No one needs ill-trained ministers of any order.

  4. Jonathan Streeter

    Most of the truly excellent priests I know are women. So I’m flabbergasted that you are only talking to boys (I’m old, so to me a 16 year-old is a boy, not a man).


    1. I don’t only talk to “boys”, Jonathan. On Monday my address will be to chapel in a boys’ school. I don’t know where you live, so I cannot imagine in your context where 650 young men would gather together to listen to someone speak about priesthood? We’ve had women priests for 33 years, and our bishop, and the warden of this school is a woman. That is all so taken for granted it didn’t occur to me that anyone would need that as a clarification to my primary point which had nothing at all to do with gender.

  5. Hi, I’m @juneha on twitter.
    I’m not Anglican, but I am an Assembly of God Pastor. I believe being a minister or priest is a calling/vocation. I didn’t choose to be a minister. God chose me. But, that said, I don’t think it’s a bad idea to let young people see what life in ministry is all about. Not sure about career fair, but it would be a way to get people thinking on whether or not God might be calling them.

  6. Well I think there is a small nuance that needs highlighting: whether you should have a booth to educate people about “it” – At all cost, we should, as many booths as possible. But the trick lies in what would be considered “a success”- informing is the success and can only be done by the faithful- “recruiting” is also a success but not done by man but by the Spirit. The booth therefore is only a catalyst- Catalyst as we know lower the activation energy but do not participate in the reaction- so should u have them: yes… But beware of how you define “success” because that can have adverse effects.

  7. I find it strange that your province does not keep statistics on these issues you raise, how else is it able to judge and to budget for future trends in those coming forward for Ministry.

    In the UK that path to Priesthood is different in each diocese, although Selection is done nationally via the Bishops Assessment Panel (BAP), candidates recommended for training are than referred back to their Diocese for the Bishop to make a judgment on the training need.

    Training for Stipendiary Ministry is normally via a Nationally Accredited college over 3 years, followed by Curacy and ultimately Priesthood. Continuing Ministry Education (CME) post college runs on throughout the Curacy and subsequent appointments as Priest in whatever sphere the Priest is called to serve.

    For Non-Stipendiary Ministry (which is a fast expanding reality_ people are coming forward for Ministry at all stages of life (I at age 60 have offered) and the path to BAP is similar to those who seek Stipendiary Ministry, but training is dependent upon the Diocese. In my Diocese, training is shared between two others and is located in a number of institutions across all three dioceses. Training is modular, over three years and includes formal residential elements, distance learning and work in Parishes via an attachment in each year.

    It can be different in other dioceses, and the Bishop is the final authority for what training each NS candidate requires or receives.

    I view the work of a Priest as a call from God in the form of a Vocation. For Stipendiary Ministers is takes the form of service in different appointments continuous over a lifetime or work – whether it can be described as a career, I am unsure.

    For Non-Stipendiary ministry, it is voluntary service given freely and is a pure vocation of service as no financial reward is sought or provided.

    There has been discussion on the relative merits of both forms of training and there can be an element of discrimination towards NS Ministers, whose training is different, but just as valid as those trained in Colleges. But this is tiny and NS Ministers are taking an ever greater role within the Church, some even being appointed as Rectors or Vicars of Churches or Benefices.

    I don’t see anywhere in the New Testament, when Jesus chose those who became his disciples, a need for a specific type of training – he called them and they followed him for three years, subsequently receiving the Gifts they needed from the Holy Spirit at Pentecost. Surely if God calls someone to Priesthood, his will ensure that they Gifts they need will be received in the same way, albeit over a period of training followed by their service as they grow and learn in Ministry.

    1. Ernest, like you, I too find the lack of statistics very surprising – especially since they would not take much effort to collate. Your last paragraph could be interpreted, however, as justifying such a lack: in the New Testament there appears to be no such “judging and to budgeting for future trends in those coming forward for Ministry”. You appear to be saying that stipendiary training is in Colleges and NSMs are trained elsewhere. That, I hope my post is clear, is not a distinction here. Only a small proportion of stipendiary clergy are trained at College.

  8. David |dah•veed|

    I have to agree with just about everything that has been said. I find it disconcerting though that the ACANZ&P does not at least have a minimum standard for the education and training of the professional ministers in her life. Whether someone is reading for orders in their diocese or attending a seminary such as the one at St John’s College, at least an established minimum as far as a general education as well as an established curriculum for the practical and theoretical study of theology.

    And I would think that the church would be looking to take advantage of every opportunity to get the word out; the internet, career days, job fairs, leaflets in the church foyer, posters in strategic locations, etc. Not so much as recruiting as inviting to explore.

    I felt a call to ministry. I have a four years MTh from a US seminary. In the end my vocation was not as a professional cleric, but as a practicing psychologist in human resources. Today I work in my own firm as a consultancy in human resources with my older sister, the lawyer, and our cousin, the accountant. But our Anglican faith forms our core principles and undergirds all we do. I would not do it differently as far as having gone to seminary if I had it to do over.

  9. I have recently been through a course of training for ordination. It requires me to develop certain skills in order to be a priest in the Anglican Church. My training will continue after my ordination. The selection process in the Church of England is rigorous as is the ongoing assessment. It requires me not only to develop certain skills but to have certain qualities of character and spiritual life. Qualities for particular work or responsibility are true of many occupations. I am already a accredited lay minister and work full time in the Church. I felt this calling as an 18 year old and I attended a weekend to explore the work of Church Army evangelists. I needed the information to find out if this was what I wanted to do and felt called to do. I went and did something else first for six years before formally exploring the call to be an evangelist with the Church Army. At the time I felt this to be a calling and still do. The information I was provided with at 18 was important as was the suggestion that I gain some life experience first. Providing information to young people who might consider being called to full time ministry allows them the possibility to think about what they might do with their life and whether they might do something else first. My calling came through someone coming to our Church and telling us about the work of Church Army. There are always opportunities for ministers to further develop their skills and even to develop skills in a particular area as for example Chaplains in Mental Health, or with Deaf People. In this sense it is also a career and whether you go for the ordained ministry or something else – you aim to be the best you can be in that line of work if that is your calling.

  10. Christian Cleveland (Facebook)

    I would not like to see priestly vocations promoted at a careers expo, because I think it only encourages people to see it primarily as a “job”, and I think that is not a healthy characterisation of priestly life.

    I am Catholic, so that influences my view. In the Catholic tradition, the ordained priesthood is quite different from having a vocation to be a plumber. It is different in function and in essence. It’s a sacred and perpetual (indelible) vocational state, not just a profession. Just as the common priesthood (or priesthood of all the baptised) is not their job, but their calling (which may inform their secular job). I feel it’s more about being than doing.

    I don’t think any person can discern a vocation to priesthood unless they have already had considerable Christian formation. It’s therefore from within the spheres of the Church that vocations should be prompted. The image of touting for vocations in a secular environment sends a confusing message in my opinion. But I guess it depends on how you see priesthood.

    Church and Religious Orders’ web sites should absolutely have information about vocations.

  11. I think we need to be absolutely clear that there are two things being discussed. First, theological education; second, ordained ministry. I believe it entirely appropriate and a very good idea for theological education to be promoted to those leaving school as one of the options a person might take. However, I share the reservations of many here about promoting ordained ministry as a career choice.

    Anglicans worldwide have benefited immensely from theologically trained laity from the Reformation and onward, and some of their works number amongst the very best Anglican publications. In addition, I believe a theological degree to be greatly more beneficial than one in classics or arts for most persons. The great danger however is that the theological degree syllabus gets moved away from teaching sound doctrine and starts to think of itself as the study of religion rather than the study of God as he has revealed himself to us.

  12. While the priesthood is not a “career” in the typical sense of the word, it is an option that must be considered as viable and important life path for young men ( and maybe some day women.. again!) to follow.
    The call is from God and the Spirit, no doubt, however if the family doesn’t even consider it as an option, how will the young person know that they have that road to consider?
    How often do families sit around the dinner table and tell stories about “how GREAT a lawyer Joe is” or “what a great Dentist Mike is” or “what a brave Firefighter Dan is”… what about the priesthood?
    and PLEASE, NOT the negative stereotypes of the saintly brother in “Saturday Night Feaver” ( am i giving my age away??!) where the mother crossed herself when ever she mentioned her priest sons name!! OYE!!

  13. In the Church of England it must be a career because the boss can make you redundant giving no other reason than they have to make financial cutbacks. Unfortunately it’s a career with only one employer which makes life difficult for those they have to let go.

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