A member of the (Anglican) Church of England's general synod who supports a greater role for women in the church has predicted that within 10 years half of all full-time clergy will be women, but says moves to consecrate female bishops is not keeping pace - writes Trevor Grundy.
The prognosis came from U.S-born Christina Rees, a writer, broadcaster and public speaker and chairperson of Watch (Women and the Church), started in 1996 as a forum for promoting women's ministry in the Church of England.
Speaking from her home near Cambridge, Rees told Ecumenical News International, "Half the clergy will be women by 2018 of that I'm certain, but right now we're in the ridiculous position of still deciding on what terms we're going to have women bishops. The organisation Forward in Faith [which opposes the ordination of women as bishops] is very active and denies that the general synod has the right to approve the consecration of women as bishops. If we don't move soon it will be a scandal."
Rees was speaking following the publication on the Web site of official Church Statistics for 2007 which show that women now represent nearly half of all Church of England ordinands.
In 2007, 552 new full-time and part-time clergy were ordained representing a 15 percent increase on the previous year and the highest number since 2000. Almost half, some 262, were women.
"This is to be expected considering the new status of women in all areas of life in the United Kingdom," Louis Henderson at the Church of England's communications office in London told ENI.
According to the Church of England's own projections, if present trends continue women will occupy nearly a quarter of all full-time posts by 2012.
The church statistics also show there has been a big increase in the number of people preparing for the priesthood. In 2007 the Church of England recommended 595 future clergy for ordination training. A total of 243 of them were under the age of 40.
But the fact more people are entering the Church of England fails to make life easier for the clergy because of a shortfall between new candidates for ordination and retiring clergy. Church sources suggest the shortfall is between 150 and 200 people a year.
There are 12 732 parishes in England, comprising 16 057 churches that are served by 7616 full time clergy. "There are parishes in some dioceses which pull together anything up to seven churches," Henderson said. "That is nothing new for the Church of England."
[With acknowledgements to ENI. Ecumenical News International is jointly sponsored by the World Council of Churches, the Lutheran World Federation, the World Alliance of Reformed Churches, and the Conference of European Churches.]