(Guardian) Vicars needed: the Church of England's fight to fill its vacancies in the north

[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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Posted in * Anglican - Episcopal, * Christian Life / Church Life, Anglican Provinces, Church of England (CoE), Ministry of the Ordained, Parish Ministry

2 comments on “(Guardian) Vicars needed: the Church of England's fight to fill its vacancies in the north

  1. Terry Tee says:

    Before I comment, may I draw attention to the error that Pusey became a (Roman) Catholic. He did not. On to the meat of the article: the North is less attractive to clergy than the south, it says. Well, there is more to it than that. I doubt if the more prosperous parishes in the North are difficult to fill, places like Harrogate or southern Cheshire or Durham. What is really being talked about in this article is urban poverty, and here I come to something which has always perplexed me: the lower down in the social scale you go in England, the less interest there is in anything religious. The poorer an area, the less practice of Christian faith there will be. The Free Churches (Methodist, Presbyterian, Baptist) which used to be strong in working-class membership, have also lost most of their lower-income memebrship. This makes ministry in such areas incredibly hard and frustrating. Which pastor doesn’t want to see growth, or spiritual flourishing, or sustained outreach into the community? This is think is the nub of the problem. Compare and contrast the U. S., say, where urban African American areas will have substantial Christian communities, or Latino suburbs (Catholic and Pentecostal churches thriving). A partial parallel might be the rustbelt areas of eg Pennsylvania, but even here, the decline of working class membership would be nowhere near the English experience where in a poor urban area something like 1% of the population will be regularly attending a Church of English parish church. This shrinking away of its working-class roots in the Church of England has always perplexed me. Why did it happen? Is it irreversible? The social witness of the C of E from the 1850s to the 1950s was huge and impressive, its slum ministry awesome – see e.g. Basil Jellicoe. But it has vanished despite valiant witness by priests like the one mentioned, Graeme Buttery. It is this that makes such parishes hard to fill.

  2. Terry Tee says:

    Lest my comments on the 1% attendance in poorer urban areas sounded like hyperbole, since writing the above, I have looked up the most recent statistics for the Church of England. Take the northern diocese of Manchester, which is largely urban. The total population ie everybody, people of all faiths and none, is 2,067,000. The average Sunday attendance is a shade under 27,000. And remember that this includes leafy suburbs as well as inner city areas and working-class neighbourhoods.