The Church of England is partnering with a Christian charity in Britain to recruit and ordain clergy for rural churches by inviting retired people from within their congregations to become priests.
Across Britain, thousands of churches no longer have a dedicated priest, resulting in some priests overseeing as many as 20 or more parishes.
Caleb Stream, a nonprofit organization named after the Biblical figure whose strong belief in God prepared him for new challenges at age 85, seeks to change this. It plans to ensure there is a priest for every church, providing closer relationships between communities and their vicars.
It is “revitalizing the church by preparing experienced leaders who are called to serve as self-supporting ordained ministers in their communities.
“Through a one-year pathway for ordained ministry in the Church of England, the Caleb Stream is designed specifically for mature and experienced lay leaders. It overlaps the formal selection process and training, preparing candidates for ordination and local deployment after 12 months.”
The organization hopes that as many as 8,000 members of the Church of England can be trained as priests after retirement. Individuals who have managerial experience or those who have served as churchwardens or lay ministers are particularly suitable candidates.
Anthony Goddard, 67, was the first Caleb Stream graduate. Ordained as a priest in June 2021, he was a curate at his parish in West Sussex who held corporate jobs for 20 years. “Most people at 60 have a lot of life experience, a lot of professional experience—possibly in leadership roles, and hopefully have a good track record of Christian ministry,” he says.
Among the clerics championing the Caleb Stream project is Nicky Gumbel, a 67-year-old minister on the verge of stepping down after 17 years as the vicar of the Holy Trinity Church in Brompton, West London.
According to Gumbel, nearly half a million Anglican churchgoers age 55 to 72 are religiously engaged. “They’ve been involved in church all their life, some are licensed lay ministers, lay chaplains, churchwardens, some are just dedicated church people,” he says.
The viability of the program is based on recruits being self-supporting and not needing a stipend. What’s more, being local residents, they will likely not require to be housed in a vicarage.
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