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Working-class clergy feel ‘marginalised and misunderstood’ by the Church of England

by Kelly Valencia

The Church of England’s “deeply embedded culture of elitism” can leave working-class clergy feeling “marginalised, ignored and unsupported”, according to a new study.

The report is part of the Living Ministry, a ten-year programme into how clergy can flourish in ministry, with research into the wellbeing of disabled clergy planned for 2024.

Commissioned by the Church of England and carried out by York St John and Bournemouth universities, the report found a lack of practical and emotional support for clergy who come from working-class backgrounds.

The report highlighted instances where clergy “had ‘naturally’ changed their habits and their lifestyle in ways that accord with a middle-class environment,” with some feeling they had to change their accents as often their “strong regional accent” would be misread as “thick”.

Some others shared feeling “type-cast for roles in areas with high levels of poverty and social housing and unable to train in the church’s residential colleges due to lack of financial means”.

The research interviewed 50 ordained ministers and concluded a clear need to “critically examine how the Church’s systems and culture support privilege and reproduce class (and other) inequalities”.

Dr Liz Graveling, who oversees the Living Ministry programme, told Premier she anticipates the report spark conversation about cultural and institutional changes to support clergy from all classes.

“My hope for this report is it will amplify that conversation. And people will engage with it and start to think a bit more and actively engage with it and think, ‘Okay, what do we do about this? And how can we transform ourselves so that we represent working class as well as middle or upper middle class?’.

Rev Canon Nick McKee, director for Ministry, said: “This report is a valuable contribution to the ongoing work in the Church of England to become much more diverse and representative of the communities we seek to serve. I am really grateful to those who have shared their stories.

“Working class clergy are a precious gift to the church in its mission to spread the message of the Good News of Jesus Christ to all people.”

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