We are proud at St C’s to see two women priests (Tracy Charnock, former curate and Penny King, former parish assistant) with a Chrysostom’s connection featured on a Church of England website seeking to attract clergy to the north. In today’s edition of ‘The Times’ the story is taken up. Here is the article from The Times (28 Feb 15)
The Church of England has launched a campaign to attract young vicars to take up long-unfilled posts in the north
When Penny King told her university friends in Canterbury that she was moving to Manchester, they were horrified. “They said ‘you’ll get shot! You’ll get mugged! It’s depressing. It’s all grey and the weather’s awful’. ”
The perception that life is “grim up north” has greatly damaged the Church of England’s attempts to fill posts in the north, where some jobs for vicars, in both inner cities and rural outposts, have remained unfilled for some time.
King, a 28-year-old Church of England curate at St Elisabeth’s, Reddish, Machester, has become one of the poster girls for a CoE campaign to attract a young generation of male and female vicars to fill posts in deprived areas where Christian pastoral work is often most needed. She has no regrets about her move: “Manchester is no more dangerous than anywhere else,” she says. “I feel safer here living on my own as my neighbours look out for me. I’ve been welcomed with open arms.”
Her story appears on the website for Clergy North West, a campaign aimed at combating a hidden crisis in the Church of England. It is a disastrous equation: most Anglican priests hail from the south, yet the church in the north struggles to recruit. Church statistics from 2012 show that while there are 5,734 full-time priests in the Province of Canterbury (which includes the South, South East, South West and the Midlands, only 2,064 priests are in the church’s northern province, York (which includes the northern counties). Unfilled posts in the Province of York will soon amount to nearly 70.
The evidence, certainly, is far from anecdotal. Research produced by the journalist Madeleine Davies for The Church Times revealed that an empty parish in the Diocese of London will typically lie vacant for 4.6 months and have a shortlist of three potential candidates. In York, the wait for a new priest can be up to a year, with a shortlist of two, while in Durham, “we have had vacancies for two years, two years plus because nobody applies,” says the Right Rev Mark Bryant, Bishop of Jarrow. Why? “On a bad day I think people [priests] want to play safe. On a very bad day I wonder if people want life too comfy and easy,” he says.
There are seven vacancies in his diocese, Durham; two or three are long-term. The jobs on offer, Bryant admits, are “not for wimps”. Poverty is often starkly apparent and churchgoing low (though increasing numbers come to non-Sunday activities such as Messy Church). Often after 4pm when the teachers leave, the vicar is the only professional left in the community. “It’s gritty, it’s tough but we are in good heart,” says Bryant.
London-born Dr Crispin Pailing recently took up a post as the rector of Liverpool and vicar of St Nicholas church, and loves the city’s “vibrancy”, “visual grandeur”, “cosmopolitanism” and “aspiration”. “From a London perspective, the diversity of the north isn’t always acknowledged,” he says. “There is a stereotype of flat caps and whippets.”
The north has long been linked to progress, agrees the Rev George Lane, chaplain to Manchester city airport. He should know: his wife, Libby, is the first woman Bishop in the country. “She was educated at the school that all the Pankhurst girls [daughters of the suffragette Emmeline] went to,” he says with pride, extolling in the next breath Manchester’s “edgy” buzz.
Lane (born in Bristol) is one of the six Southern priests now based in the north interviewed on the Clergy North West website. Its aim is to break down common myths about the north, says the Right Rev Paul Bayes, Bishop of Liverpool. He explains: “There are stereotypes which can deter people from even wanting to look here.” Later this year the Clergy North West campaign — which is co-sponsored by the Dioceses of Blackburn, Liverpool and Manchester — will be visiting London on a recruitment drive. “When people come north and meet the people and see the countryside there is no need to sell it further,” says Bayes. “The purpose of the campaign is just to get them on the train.”
One stereotype however, does hold true. The north is poorer than the south. The divide is growing, according to a 2015 report by the think-tank, the Centre for Cities based on a survey of the 64 largest cities in the UK. The net result is poverty of opportunity, says the Ven Peter Townley, Archdeacon of Pontefract, now part of the fledgling diocese of West Yorkshire and the Dales. “I was brought up in a council estate in North Manchester and there was a sense you’d move on,” he says. “Many of us did and went to university. Now it is far more difficult. There is far more sense of being trapped than before. The Church has got to be part of the solution. People in forgotten communities need to feel they have a value.” He adds: “In these areas — where the reward is the warmth and the welcome — we do want our very best people to serve. ”
So what stops them? Rachel Mann, a poet from South Worcestershire who is now based in Manchester, blames books. “The Church has no literary DNA north of Birmingham,” she says, referring to the English novel.
With the odd notable exception, such as The Vicar of Wakefield, CoE clergymen are often depicted, she argues, as creatures of the south, of upper/middle class origin. “For me the only really interesting literary representation of clergy that takes place in a place like Manchester is Mrs Gaskell’s — and she comes from a non-conformist setting,” she adds. Has television improved matters? Rev, the television comedy, is set in East London. For a northern vicar, Mann suggests Rev Timms, the priest in Cumbria-set Postman Pat.
On a more serious note, when seeking work, clergy, as well as discerning spiritually, usually consider practical questions, such as “the job of a spouse, education of children, the nearness of relatives” says Lee. The days when bishops dispatched priests to a given parish are largely over, he adds.
Yet for those who brave the move north, the rewards are rich, says King: “In the south, people are always rushing, and when you get on the tube, you have your head down,” she adds. In contrast, in Manchester, “you get on a bus, and you’ll hear someone’s life story.”