Whether or not ordained women have had a significant impact over the past decade, they will save the Church from sinking in the future, according to ESRC-sponsored research at the University of Manchester.
Dr David Voas, a senior researcher at the university’s School of Social Sciences said: “Nearly half of all priests ordained in recent years have been women. Close to a quarter of male parish priests are 60 or older, and their average age is 54. Without women, the pulpits would become as de-populated as the pews in the years to come.”
His comments are based on analysis of new statistics on women ministers from two sources: the Church of England itself, and the English Church Census 2005, conducted by the independent charity Christian Research, and substantially funded by the ESRC.
In a recent interview in the Catholic Herald, the Archbishop, Dr Rowan Williams, whilst emphasising that he still believed the Church of England had been right to create women priests, was quoted as saying: “I don’t think it has transformed or renewed the Church of England in spectacular ways. Equally, I don’t think it has corrupted or ruined the Church of England in spectacular ways.”
But according to Dr Voas, this apparent failure on the part of women clergy is not surprising. He said: “The Church is far from being an equal opportunity employer. The glass ceiling is shatterproof: women are not yet allowed to become bishops, and they are far more likely to be ‘second class’ clergy.
“Most of the men who became priests in 2005 went into paid, ‘stipendiary’ ministry, while most of the women are in voluntary posts – ‘non-stipendiary or ‘ordained local ministers’.” And Dr Voas points out that the Anglican Church is not alone in giving women the least desirable jobs.
He said: “Well over half of women ministers in all denominations serve in rural areas, with very few found in the flagship city centre churches. The larger the church, the more likely it is that a man will be put in charge.”
The English Church Census found no women at all leading churches in the largest category – those with 300 or more attending on a typical Sunday. “Holy Trinity Brompton – home of the Alpha course – is an example: it has eight clergy, all of them male.” Churches are traditional institutions, and tradition gives women a raw deal, according to Dr Voas.
“Old-fashioned Anglo-Catholics don’t want women to be priests, and so the plum jobs mostly go to men. At the other end of the theological spectrum, evangelicals tend to be patriarchal, so the growing ethnic minority and Pentecostal churches typically have male leaders. Women are left with the dregs. Their congregations are often small, rural, old or liberal: the kind of churches that need nursing care.”