[Today] like every Sunday, Anglican vicar the Rev Graeme Buttery will celebrate a Eucharistic service in his parish church in Hartlepool. If he’s very lucky, the congregation might be nudging 40, in a church built to seat 800 ”“ and four of those present will be his wife Gillian and their three children. Afterwards, the family will go back to their 1980s breeze-block vicarage next door to the church, where the glass in the front door was recently kicked in by a would-be intruder. All the windows have bars on them after the wife of Buttery’s predecessor was attacked in her garden.
It’s not what you might call an idyllic parish. But is being its priest the dregs of life in the Church of England or the 21st-century Christian missionary frontier? That’s the question the Anglican church has been asking itself over the last few days, after a survey in the Church Times revealed that, while in London it takes around four-and-a-half months to fill a vacancy for a parish priest, with an average of three names on the final shortlist, in areas including the north-east many parishes are without a priest for two years or more, and shortlists are virtually unknown. Most priests, it turns out, simply don’t want to work in places like Hartlepool; St Cuthbert’s, another Anglican parish in the city, has just taken two-and-a-half years to appoint a new vicar. Of 75 names on the Lee List, a confidential list of clerical job-seekers, 54 were looking for a parish in the south-east.
The losers are parishes like that of St Cuthbert and another of Buttery’s neighbours, Holy Trinity with St Marks. As with St Cuthbert’s, it took two-and-a-half years to find a new priest for Holy Trinity after its last incumbent, the Rev Philip North, left in 2009; the Rev Roz Hall, its current vicar, was eventually appointed in 2011.
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