The Church of England has announced that, for the first time ever, the majority of those ordained into the ministry as deacons are women. A total of 570 deacons were ordained in 2019, with females making up just over a half (51%) of the new intake.
Deacons are the first of three orders of ordained ministry, with many being ordained as priests by the end of their first year of ministry. Data shows that women made up around 32 per cent of the 20,000 active clergy last year, with a growing number of senior posts such as bishops, archdeacons and cathedral deans being occupied by women.
Though the Church of England has made strides in training a larger proportion of women for the ministry, incumbent posts - such as those of rector or vicar - are still occupied predominantly by men. Indeed, just 25 per cent of incumbent roles are currently being taken up by women. The data also shows that the percentage of clergy from black, Asian or minority ethnic (BAME) backgrounds stood at 3.8 per cent, with 7.8 per cent of people entering training for ordained ministry last year being from a BAME background.
The Rt Revd Chris Goldsmith, director of ministry for the Church of England, said: “In recent years there has been an increasing diversity among our clergy, but we will not be content until those in public ministry truly reflect the whole church and the communities which they serve.”
He added: “The contribution of lay ministers to the mission and ministry of the church is hugely valued both in terms of sustaining the ongoing life of parishes and chaplaincies but also in the innovation and spiritual entrepreneurship increasingly characterising frontline expressions of the church as a Christian presence in every community.”
The Bishop of Derby, Libby Lane, who was installed as the first female bishop in the Church of England in 2015, said: “Women are now a widely visible presence among clergy in the Church of England – praise God. However there are still other under-represented groups whose vocations to ordination are being missed.
“I pray that the lessons learnt in encouraging women can make a difference for those who are not yet recognised, so Church of England clergy, at every level, better reflect the glorious diversity of our country.”
She added: “Last year marked 25 years since I was ordained a priest. For over a quarter of a century women and men together have been selected, trained, ordained and appointed to serve in the Church of England.
“I thank God for the privilege of my ministry, and for the thousands of women and men who have shared this calling in that time.”