Plenty of Anglican parishes are in need of ministers. Getting ordained may seem ordinary compared to church planting or mission work, but in an environment of denominational decline, will we raise up the clergy we need just to sustain ministry in existing parishes? Marc Dale has been busy rising to the challenge, and he shares his experience with us here.
Marc is Rector of St Alban’s Highgate, WA and Chair of EFAC WA.
What does the future look like where you are, in terms of people offering themselves to be prepared for Anglican ordination? In my home diocese, there are a growing number of parishes who could be open to evangelical ministry, but we are very short of ordained evangelicals.
In various dioceses around the country there are great opportunities for fresh gospel ministry in parishes, but will there be the people to meet those needs?
We trust God to raise up workers for his vineyard and to grow his church, and we trust the Holy Spirit to awaken people’s hearts to the possibility of serving in ordained ministry. There are also two critical things that local churches and their leaders must do. The first is to be always on the lookout for people whose character, gifts and gospel enthusiasm mark them out as people who should prayerfully consider full-time ministry. This means encouraging them early on and sowing seeds and painting pictures. They will need opportunities to try their hand at leadership and ministry. Then the question will be: What kind of ministry? If it is going to be pastoral ministry in an Anglican church, then getting ordained will give them the greatest scope—particularly in terms of fresh gospel ministry.
The second thing we must be willing to do is support, nurture and equip those evangelicals who are accepted into whatever formation program our diocese has for its ordinands. When I went through formation the process in my diocese was brutal in general and especially so for evangelicals. It was a gruelling experience for both me and my family. We survived, but that was in large measure due to the support of our home church and, for me particularly, the friendship and encouragement a couple evangelical clergy who invested in me with their time, counsel and prayers.
So, it’s been a real delight to have the chance, now that I’m working as a rector, to invest in the next generation. In the case of two young men that meant creating a ministry opportunity in my parish where they could get some practical experience and insight to equip them for the kind of ministry we do. It also established a relationship outside of the training and formation system and outside college where they could safely talk through issues and questions. It also gave them space to ‘practice’ free from assessment and away from the gaze of those who would make formal decisions about whether they would be ordained or not. I know that they appreciated the occasional opportunity to debrief and let off steam that I had found so critical for my wellbeing.
There was a great payoff for our church too. We didn’t just benefit from their ministry. The whole church joined them on the journey.
I can’t overstate how great an encouragement this was to our small, struggling fellowship. From a parish of just over sixty members two were ordained in the space of four years. I should say, though, that there is both joy and sorrow. One of these men, Paul, was ordained deacon and then priest and is faithfully serving Christ in an Anglican church. The other broke our hearts when, after being ordained a deacon, he ‘crossed the Tiber’ and became a Roman Catholic. We continue to pray that he’ll come to his senses.
There is of course a cost, in time and energy, that comes with taking on a ministry apprentice like this. Listening, mentoring and teaching take time and its quite different from hiring an assistant minister who can potentially double the amount of ministry that happens in your church. They are learning and gaining experience and every now and then there will be some mopping up to be done. Our church was investing in the wider church’s future and in the mission of God’s kingdom. At a very practical level, our church was contributing to the ‘jobreadiness’ of one more evangelical minister who, we prayed, would be a blessing to other churches.
It’s worth noting that, in some dioceses, those in charge may not thank you for your efforts and wisdom is needed in navigating those relationships and making sure that you don’t create the impression that you’re working against or undermining the formal training and formation processes. We were up-front with the diocese about what we were doing and careful to assure them that the ordinands were positively engaged with the diocesan processes.
One of the happiest occasions in my ministry thus far was attending Paul’s ordination to the priesthood last year. God willing, he will have a long ministry ahead of him. I think it has been a good investment.