Moving On

Have just read this sad post over on Andy’s blog. Andy has recently withdrawn from offering himself for ordained ministry, mostly on the grounds that having trained to be a Pioneer Minister there are actually no Pioneer curacies available.

And so, as my peers were finding curacies, and getting ready to start the next stage of their ministry, I wasn’t.

There were not many pioneer curacies around, and those that did exist had an awful lot of other stuff to do as well, stuff that I just don’t feel called to do, that others can do with significantly more sincerity, authenticity and passion. The sense was that the pioneering element was usually an add-on to the ‘actual’ job.

I have really tried hard to play the game with integrity. Some have seen my increasing sense of the kind of ministry I feel called to as a stubborn refusal to do “what everyone else had to do”. But the thought of spending 3-4 years dong a job that brought me little life began to suffocate me. There is a degree of salesmanship in any church ministry, and I just don’t believe in the product enough to sell it convincingly.

I know the product works for some, I have seen this evidence with my own eyes. I even have friends for whom it is the only product that helps them. I want them to thrive, and so I want them to have ready access to that product. I’m just not the man to maintain it for them. I have another, similar yet different, model to sell. I believe in it, it works for me, and I have seen it work for others. The problem is that the Church is just not ready to have the range of products necessary for my sales technique to work.

And so I have made the decision to not get ordained. For now. Most people I have told are supportive of my decision, some have expressed concern or doubt. I’m trusting God will lead me here. Ordained ministry is still a possibility, but for now it feels like the disadvantages outweigh the advantages. We shall see.

This echoes a lot of our pain over the past few years. Having offered myself time and time again for parish positions, and having no problem with demonstrating the necessary skills and experience for the position (in one case the only reason the other candidate was chosen was that she had a year’s more ordination then I did), I find myself with no church job. Of course the problem is very clear, just as it is Andy’s case – the Church of England on the whole wants parish priests and very little more. In comparison, I am that not so very little more.

In the last few weeks I have made the last of another round of applications for positions, both parishes and non-parish jobs. All have come to nothing. Unless something attractive comes up in the church press over the next few weeks I doubt I will apply for any more. Instead I am turning my eye towards secular posts which seem to be plentiful and which already I am getting a good initial response from.

If I end up in secular employment, that will have consequences for the other work I do. Firstly it means I will have much less time for this site. Ordained stipended ministry gives one time to read and reflect and dialogue in a number of areas. Part of the success of this site has been the time available to me to do the hard work of thinking, theologising, pastoring. responding and interacting in the area of sexual identity. That will stop when I have a full-time job outside the Church. I simply won’t have the resources to do the work I currently do, nor would I want to with another competing professional hat on.

Part of me is sad about that but part of me just accepts it as it is. I have lost count of the number of bishops and senior church leaders who have told me what a vital voice I am in the current debate in the Church of England. At the same time, not a single one of them has been willing to put any money where their theology is and this is possibly the most painful aspect of this whole experience, the many people who have said they wanted to do something to help and then have vanished never to be spoken to again.

At the end of the day, if I move away from stipendiary employment my voice will not only be lost, it will be hard to be reactivated again. I will lose the opportunity to engage with the issue in the media. I will lose the opportunity to work pastorally. I will lose the opportunity to interact and engage with others working in this field. You will lose me.

The effect on the Twurch of England will be less, but still noticeable. We will still be able to produce podcasts, but the interaction with Twurch members and others will slow right down. We had a number of project ideas for expanding the remit of the Twurch – there will be little time for those now.

I don’t doubt some will celebrate my disappearing off the stage – that is to be expected. At some point however I need to feed my family and if the Church is not willing to help me do that as I offer myself to it then I will have to look elsewhere for a monthly pay cheque. In the meantime, I have been reflecting on the abject failure of the Church of England to have any form of joined up thinking about career paths for its clergy. There is no coherent strategy for progressing curates to their next post, and in most instances the hierarchy operates a laissez-faire approach which turns into utter disinterest in providing any security for its curates, often with young children to support – Common Tenure is meaningless on a fixed-term contract. New ordinands are encouraged to offer themselves for Pioneer ministry without any thinking through as to the number of pioneer posts available to them on completion of training. The list goes on. In any organisation of even a tenth of the workforce of the Church of England, simply personnel failures like this would be disastrous for the future success of the organisation. In the Church of England these failures seem to be pretty standard.

Unlike some, I have not railed publicly about my lack of success in finding a suitable post. I could tell you stories of extraordinarily poor pastoral care and others of great compassion. For example, the bishop who told me he had me specifically in mind for a particular position, only for me to see it advertised a few months later without any further contact. Perhaps once I am safely out of stipended ministry I might share some of those, not to name names but rather to illustrate how the Church of England simply fails so very often at the basics of HR, to point towards a better way of resourcing and prioritising our clergy and others.

Like Andy, I am a square peg seeking to fit into the limited offerings of inflexible round holes. Time to look elsewhere where the quadrilaterals are more appealing.

25 Comments on “Moving On

  1. Sorry to hear that, Peter. One hopes that some liberals were among those vital voices. Best wishes for the transition to secular employment.

  2. I'm genuinly sorry to read this.

    Just to satisfy my own curiosity, do you cite this blog on application forms?

    I just wonder sometimes if bloggers make folk feel nervous. As you'll know there are other bloggers who have cited similar problems.

    But of course, I'm only likely to read of these problems via bloggers, so there may not be a link.

      • There’s nothing unorthodox about anything I write about.

        Oh I know that very well Peter. And I wouldn't advocate hiding our online activity, as it's a valuable part of the ministry in my opinion.

        This is more a question of general perception of bloggers within the Anglican Church. I mean, there are some very vocal in their disputes with parishes / bishops etc. I wonder if this has had an impact.

            • Come now, I thought Fr.Madpriest was allegedly assured by alleged high heid yins (as we say in Scotland) that his treatment was for disability rather than blogging reasons? (Which doesn't make it any better of course!)

              Talking of Scotland, Peter, we have one minister covering SEC's Glasgow's 2 evangelical churches (in a diocese of over 80 High and Liberal ones!)if you fancy a trip up north o{];-)

  3. Prayers for you and your family Peter.

    I had this difficulty following my Curacy, I think because I was divorced. Some Dioceses reveal this information to short-listing panels, but not the circumstances (suffice to say if I was RC I would in all probability have received an annulment.) Some Dioceses do not reveal this information. Guess which posts I got interviews for? There was one particular (local to me at the time) post that I believe this was a problem with.

    Pioneer ministry is a problem. At a recent Church Planters meeting it was acknowledged that some new plants were leaving the CofE as soon as the (funded by the CofE) Pioneer moved on. I suspect that CofE identity is so tied up in the parish system that as soon as we step outside it that identity is lost. I am an Anglican, not NFI, not Roman Catholic, not Methodist because I believe Reformed Catholicism to be true (or at least the Carolinian wing!)Perhaps the first question any Pioneer should be asked is 'Why are you and Anglican'?

    Having said all of that I have a huge respect for George Lings and what the Church Army are working through in terms of mission and ministry and planting. I will re-visit that blog and suggest someone needs to talk to them.

  4. Peter,

    I am very sorry to hear this – your gifts are so obvious from this blog that it would not have occurred to me that you would have any difficulty in finding a post. How very depressing the reality is. What makes it worse is that we are facing such a serious demographic time bomb in the church at large. We can ill afford to lose priests of your ability who have – potentially – another 30 years or so of active ministry when in my group of parishes on the edge of Brighton, for example, of the four stipendiary priests three are over sixty and the other in his mid fifties.

    As you say – it is an HR situation far on the other side of lunacy. I do hope you find something that will keep you working inside the C of E.


  5. I am sorry!

    However, you may well greatly enjoy the freedom outside of stipendiary ministry–and God willing, may well still find time to blog, though perhaps slightly differently.

    I know other curates looking for jobs, and am bewildered that the C of E does not appear to consider the availability of incumbencies before they accept people for ordination training.

    God bless, in whatever path you land up taking.

  6. I've been feeling called to pray for you and yours for the last week or so, Peter. I've not really known why now in particular, and I'm feeling particularly useless that I've nothing to offer as a result, but I can at least let you know that we're thinking about you.

    On the "poor planning by the CofE" line, I'd agree, but it's been a difficult time to plan for. I think it's related that at Diocesan Synod we've been told that the annual budget plans for a certain number of incumbents to move on and therefore money to be saved during the interregna (and earned from short-term lets of clergy housing) but there's been a dramatic decrease in this. I'd guess that a lack of incumbents moving means there's a lack of "associate minister"/second curacy/curacy positions becoming available too. All of which is a reason for some of the problems, perhaps, but not an excuse for the broken promises and poor pastoral care you describe. This church that I love breaks my heart over and over.

  7. I can empathize with you Peter. A few years ago at the height of the same sex blessing debate in my Canadian Diocese's General Synod, I said that if the motion passed and was implemented, I could not remain a priest in the Anglican Church of Canada. After the vote (in favour, but not yet implemented), that Bishop begged me outside not to leave "because we need you." When I then asked "why?" he was speechless because he had no response. Those who speak against the liberal flow are not wanted and such folk are happy to see us leave. My heart aches for the many in the pews who still have their heads buried in the sand on this and many other issues facing the church in this dark world of ours, who will no longer hear the voice of orthodoxy and sound teaching. What will become of them and their souls? I will continue to pray that the Lord presents the right placement for you, whether in ordained ministry or elsewhere (personnally preferring the former!!) Blessings to you, my brother.

  8. I'm very sorry to hear this, Peter, as your ministry on sexual identity is much needed in the confused environment of the UK. I remember reading that you had roots, like me, in the charismatic church (New Frontiers, was it?) Would that be an option? They're famously more flexible on bring people into employment as ministers. I hope that you can stay in your ministry in some form.

  9. I am also very sorry to hear this, Peter. I do think it may be a case that many churches (even those which share your views on sexuality) do run scared of someone so public and see you as a "step too far"? I hope it is not that and that you have just been unlucky and will find somewhere.

  10. How tremendously exciting and frightening at the same time! Here is an opportunity for you to model the early church's approach to leadership as you effectively become a Pioneer NSM within a secular organisation, gossiping the gospel with fellow workers (always assuming that is your aim; so many of us get diverted into "career paths" or distracted by desire for greater rewards and other worldly concerns) and founding a fellowship of believers at your new place of employment.

    As a trained priest, I hope you can make a much better job of doing this than many of us who have allowed the world to mould us (cf. Rom 12:1). Become a 21st century Paul; model for us a new form of church that doesn't need huge buildings or enormous assets. A church that meets in the workplace. Be a tentmaker!

  11. I have refrained from commenting here so far because I have been fuming and upset and did not feel able to give a calm and measured response. But I have decided that ‘calm and measured’ is not really my style anyhow, so hey.

    Anglo-Catholics have known for decades that there is very little space in the Church of England for the orthodox. Our clergy have been passed over for preferment for many years. Many of them having been got rid of (the most troublesome, anyhow) it is now the turn of evangelicals to be sidelined.

    You are not ticking the right boxes, Peter. You are unconvinced about the rightness of the ordination of women (oh dear me!) and you know from personal experience that ‘post-gayness’ is a distinct possibility – well, really. How can you possibly be expected to swear obedience to a bishop who ordains women left right and centre, and who possibly lives in a civil partnership? Or supports those clergy who do? And what’s more, you TALK about it on a blog! People are not supposed to know that it might not be right to ordain women, nor are they supposed to know that homosexuality is not innate. How can some bishops (possibly yours) get away with the things they do when you go public with this stuff?

    I think the only future in the C of E for clergy who want to hold on to their posts at any cost is to either go along with the status quo, or pretend to. Yes, there are many good and faithful priests, I know that, but there are also many who are not ‘fit for purpose’, who openly flout the promises they made at their ordination, or whose grasp of theology is tenuous to say the least. In this culture, why pay good money for a young full-time priest when they can get elderly women whose families have flown, or NSMs, on the cheap?

    Do I sound bitter? Well, I am. I don’t know what to say to you. I don’t know whether you should be glad or sorry. I just hope that God will guide you into the niche which I know He has for you where you can continue to serve faithfully. I would have hoped that that would be within the Church of England.

  12. Sorry to hear this news Peter. I thought you were already an incumbent at a church in Hertfordshire – Christchurch? If you give up this blog I for one will surely miss your interesting contribution to the conversations about the Church and the fact that you allow all comers to post. In this respect you and another smallblog, Christian eChurch blog have been the daring and open-minded exception, unlike other Christian websites who limit contributions to "safe" i.e. like minded bloggers who all face the same way. (I am thinking of The Christian Institute, Anglican Mainstream, Christian Voice and Christian Concern who seeming aren't prepared to allow the level of debate you do. And yet the quality has not degenerated (as I suspect they fear) from infestation from atheistic trolls. This must be wholly because of your qualities as a fair-minded but on-the-ball webmaster who has been prepared to take disagreement without getting narked – on the whole :-).

    I'd like to join the others in wishing you well in whatever vocation or career you find yourself. Let's hope that Evangelical millionaire comes along – at least one who will allow you to carry on without editorial interference!- or some bishop sees your qualities and offers you a position – maybe Dean of a Cathedral?

    • Dean of a Cathedral? Superb idea and I would jump at the chance. But of course I'm too young, too inexperienced, too orthodox, too willing to preach straight from the Word…

      I'm finding it curious that in the secular world I'm now looking at some job possibilities which I'm more than qualified for at double the salary of a Bishop. The last person who said that I wasn't willing to sacrifice for a church job ("Canon" Andrew Godsall of Exeter) just has no idea…

      • Come on Peter, didn't you blog once on how cathedrals, despite their impressive growth figures, should start featuring evangelical/charismatic worship songs? Aesthetic objections, assuming Bishops have them, to having squealing electric guitars and people bopping like nutters in nominally sacred Cathedrals is in no way an attack on your theological position! Similarly, although Glasgow's very fabulous Cathedral provost was appointed in his 30s, it doesn't seem altogether a bad thing that certain jobs expect lots of experience. In fact, the more prestigious the job (Presidential Candidate etc), the greater the cultural emphasis on them being a certain age, so arguably the fact that Deans and Provost are expected to be 40 and up indicates a laudably high regard for the position.

        Isn't the sacrifice, in part, meant to be in the *importance* of money in one's life? I certainly wouldn't accuse you of base motives, but I couldn't condemn an orthodox traditionalist characterising loadsamoney chat on one's earning potential as being not exactly the stuff of the Christ-like turning from materialism that the priesthood demands…

  13. Peter

    As we type my wife is holding a focus group meeting downstairs on the policy for worship in our large charismatic / con. evo. church. She works 50-60 hours a week as a teacher and then another 12 as a priest (NSM). It is perfectly possible to do a secular job and be a priestly beacon in the bible believing orthodox world (even with chromosomal challenges like my wife!).

    She has just had her appraisal and has glowing reports from all for the impact she has as a priest. Go for the secular job at £Bishop x 2, tithe the takings and help out as an evangelist at a nearby growing church. They always have jobs for folk as talented as you.

    If +Graham Kings and +Nick Baines can find time to blog, you can. Go for it!

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