Many Australian churches are led by people who have been given a special ordination to serve a particular local church. Most of these people have part-time appointments or are people who have retired from full-time employment but who have taken on the responsibility of leadership in a local church. Most of these people do not have the full training that is required of full-time clergy. A number of Anglican dioceses in Australia, for example, have ordained local ministers (see discussion in Hughes and Kunciunas 2009). In Uniting Churches, there is a similar appointment of people called ‘community ministers’ (who are not ‘ministers of the Word’). In Lutheran Churches, there are
‘PWATs’ (pastors with alternative training). There has been little research on these alternative forms of ordination and ministry. However, a book entitled Ordained Local Ministry in the Church of England (Bowden et al., 2011) begins to fill this gap in relation to the Church of England.
Drivers in the Development of Ordained Local Ministry
Over recent decades there has been a new appreciation that ministry and mission are responsibilities of the whole church and not just activities for paid clergy. All members of the church have a responsibility to share in God’s mission, to share in the work of pastoral care, and have involvement in worship. Simon, in Bowden et al. (2011) notes that in 1963, the World Conference on Faith and Order affirmed ‘All baptized Christians are called to respond to and participate in the ministry of Christ directed towards the world’ (p.9). Within this context, however, people have different skills and gifts and play different roles. The way ‘Local Ministry’ has developed in England is primarily team-based. People are ordained for a particular location and do not have the right to exercise ministry in other locations. They are also ordained to serve for a particular period of time: the ministry may be ‘taken up and laid down’ in ways which other forms of ordained ministry cannot (p.15).
While Ordained Local Ministry has a theological basis, in some places its development has been driven by the lack of availability of ordained clergy and of funds to pay for them. The cost of full-time ministers, their housing and other allowances has become too great for some congregations, including
many small rural churches (p.20). In some contexts, Local Ministers work in teams with the oversight of
a full-time priest or minister, perhaps conducting services and offering pastoral care in several local
churches in a parish.
The Impact on Churches of Ordained Local Ministry
Leslie Francis, one of the editors of the book, has conducted an empirical evaluation of ministry comparing the 20 dioceses in Britain where Ordained Local Ministry has been adopted and the
23 dioceses where it is not practised. He began by noting that the spread of the two groups of dioceses were similar. There were no significant differences in the size of the dioceses or the population density of the dioceses which had adopted Ordained Local Ministry and those that had not. Nor were there any major differences in the numbers of clergy in the two groups of dioceses (p.84). In other words, Ordained Local Ministry had not been adopted simply because there were insufficient clergy available.
Francis considered whether there were differences in these two groups of dioceses in their progress and performance between 1991 and 2003. He looked at a range of statistics which are gathered by the
dioceses including Sunday attendances, Easter and Christmas attendances, and the numbers of infant
baptisms and confirmations. Francis found that there had been declines in all these measures, but
the rate of decline was no different in those dioceses that had adopted Ordained Local Ministry and those dioceses that had not. He also found that there was no significant relationship between these statistics and the numbers of people in Ordained Local Ministry. Thus, using these rather crude measures, it would seem that Ordained Local Ministry had made little difference to the performance of churches and the levels of involvement of people in the churches of these dioceses: that it had not been detrimental, but neither had it had highly positive impacts (pp.87-88).
What Francis did find was that in the dioceses with Ordained Local Ministry, there had been a decline in the number of licensed Readers. In other words, the statistics suggested that, in some places, Ordained Local Ministry had become an alternative way of exercising ministry to that of the Reader
who are volunteers who have been selected, trained and licensed by a Bishop to preach, teach and lead worship (p.89).
Experiences of Ordained Local Ministers
The book contains a variety of stories of people who had become Ordained Local Ministers. For many people, the journey to such ordination was the consequence of a sense of call. Often there was an inner experience of a call, but also an affirmation from other members of a local church or from church leaders. These people reported that the training was often challenging and had stretched them in their thinking. However, they had experienced it as personal growth (see, for example, p.121).
Most Ordained Local Ministers worked with teams of lay people and found affirmation in the teams. On the other hand, some reported that clergy and other church leaders were not affirming of their
ministry. For example, one wrote ‘Ordained Local Ministry is not widely understood, even by our
diocesan bishop or the new archdeacons’ (p.122). Indeed, there has been some hostility from people
who have seen such ministry as a threat to the ordination and sometimes to the vocation of those
in full-time ministry. It was reported that, in some places, a significant theological difference had
emerged between Ordained Local Ministers and full-time clergy in their conception of ministry.
Ordained Local Ministers saw their mission to change ecclesiological culture so that the ‘priesthood
of all believers’ became a practical reality in parishes. Full-time ordained clergy stressed the variety of
‘spiritual gifting’ and the uniqueness of their own ministry (p.139).
The book reports that there is continuing discussion of the costs and benefits, the theological justifications and the advantages and challenges for ministry in local churches of having Ordained Local Ministry. There remains significant resistance to such ministry in many places. On the other hand, the book concluded that the debate and the experience of Ordained Local Ministry have led to a stronger expectation that the call to ministry will have its roots in the encouragement of a local congregation and that ministry is stronger when clergy work collaboratively with lay people (p.144).
Bowden, Andrew, Leslie Francis, Elizabeth Jordan and Oliver Simon, 2011, Ordained Local Ministry in the Church of England, London: Continuum International Publishing Group.
Hughes, P. and A. Kunciunas, 2009, ‘Models of Leadership and Organisation in Anglican Churches in Rural Australia’, Occasional Paper No.9, Christian Research Association.
The article was first published in Pointers: the Quarterly Bulletin of the Christian Research Association, Vol. 24, No.2, June 2014. pp.12-13.