Jeremy Fletcher's Blog

The Church of England’s Middle Aged Spread


I am MAS  – the C of E’s Middle Aged Spread – and  I am a “problem”.

The latest Ministry Statistics show a preponderance of clergy aged 55 – 61. Though ordinations are increasing, even the most optimistic of projections show the number of stipendiary clergy reducing over the next 20 years.

The statistics are here. People like Ian Paul and Peter Ould, here, and David Keen, here, have looked into them closely. Whether I am a problem because of a “disastrous decision” in the 1990s to ordain older people, or I am a problem because I was a younger ordinand in the 1980s, I am a problem, because I’m going to retire, and there’s a gap behind me.

If I don’t much like being depicted as a problem to be solved, because it saps my energy, how might MAS be included in the solution? Why not work with me in two areas: later retirement; and the ‘last post’?

A lovely graph in the 2012 statistics – Fig 12 here (but not developed in the 2015 figures) – showed the effect of delaying the average age of retirement by just one year. It was nearly the same as increasing ordinations by 25%. Doing both would make quite a difference, wouldn’t it?

The reality is that, full pension or not, I am likely to go for retirement earlier rather than later. If I’m an incumbent I am heading for burn out. David Keen has shown that 5000 stipendiaries are sustaining a ministry pattern once undertaken by at least 10,000. I am 55 – 61, and I don’t have the energy I once did.

So: sit me down and get me to look carefully at how you can get the best out of me for the next ten to fifteen years, not the next five.

Give me one of those whizzy health checks you give to Bishops and senior clergy as they are appointed. Give me active encouragement to invest all I can in my spiritual and physical well-being. Yes, I know that’s been the message drummed in to me from the beginning, but tailor it and target it for me. (I am numerous enough for this to be done economically too – discount for a bulk order).

The next post I’m looking for is likely to be my last. So offer models of ministry and growth which go beyond getting a hipster millennial to plant something – fab though that is. Recognise that I am likely to be turned down in favour of a younger model, unless posts are identified where age and mileage will be an advantage, not a problem. Manage the expectations of those writing job descriptions and doing interviews.

Update my software. I can be a decent mentor to these young things whizzing through the processes. Yes, they are young enough to be my offspring. Get me excited about how I can foster vocations and mentor younger generations. I can be taught new tricks too, and they might need a wise head (if I’ve learnt anything…).

When I retire, think carefully about how my ministry can be continued. There are more clergy with PTO – the majority retired – than stipendiaries at present. Is House for Duty the only option for the deployment of the retired? Are there other models of focussed ministry in the years from 65 – 80? Invest in your officers for retired clergy – the numbers are worth it.

I am MAS. I am large enough (in numbers!) to be treated as a “thing” and am worth investing in. I am not just a retirement problem to be anticipated, I am a resource which can make a difference now.

The 2025 statistics should make interesting.