11/03/2013 15:15 GMT | Updated 12/03/2013 07:26 GMT

A Recession-Proof Career? Church Of England Sees Spike In Young Priests Amid High Youth Unemployment

It's a steady career, with job security, intellectual stimulation, leadership opportunities and a heavenly retirement plan, which could be the reason behind why the Church will recruit the highest number of young people into the clergy in 20 years.

The Church of England told HuffPost UK that new statistics for 2012 show that the number of under 30s who are to begin training for the Church is its highest in two decades, with 113 young people making up 22% of the intake.

Liz Boughton, National Adviser for Young Vocations, said the recession could be one of many contributing factors to the number of 20-somethings applying for the priesthood, at a younger age than they might otherwise have done.


The number of younger priests being recruited by the church is on the rise

She told HuffPost UK: "I would hope that in these turbulent economic times, people perhaps are starting to reassess what is really of value.

"With so many young people struggling to find a job after graduation, it may be that more young people are not delaying the calling.

"Many may have thought, 'I'll go and be a geologist or something for 10 years before I enter the church.' Now young people could find it appealing that they are joining an institution which they can be part of for life, that won't happen in many other jobs for most people.

"Internally we are encouraging this, saying to young people, if you feel the calling, why wait? We hope the people we recruit are idealistic as well as realistic, they need to have their feet on the ground."

Dr Stephen Ferns, the CofE’s Senior Selection Secretary, said the Church "needs to encourage more young vocations and more vocations from people from minority ethnic backgrounds so that our ordained ministry can better reflect and reach out to the communities that we serve.”

The Church is keen to be "proactive" in encouraging young people, its spokesman said, especially those from ethnic minorities, to start the priesthood early, and sponsored two conferences this month. The first was for those aged 15 to 19, interested in the priesthood, the second for those from an ethnic minority background.

In 2009 the Catholic Church in Ireland was forced to deny that a surge in student priests was "not due to the recession" - after it recruited the highest number in a decade.

One of the younger delegates at the conference, Amie, said the attitudes of the church were changing towards younger priests.

She said: "I’ve been very encouraged by this conference and that’s a real positive, because a few years ago it might not have been the same. Diocesan Directors of Ordinands are not saying, ‘Go away you’re 18 or 19. They are saying come and explore with me.’”

Dr Elizabeth Henry, the CofE's national Minority Ethnic Anglican Concerns Adviser, said: “In many locations, BME Anglicans keep the Church going but don’t always feel welcome to share in the leadership of the Church at local and national level. This was an occasion when the Church recognised them and their ministry within the Church.”

Matt Harbage, 27, is in his first year of training to be a priest at Westcott House in Cambridge: “I was at secondary school and attended a Baptist church when I first thought about calling and ministry.

"There was some recognition that the church reflects its leaders, and keen to engage younger people in the church. I wonder if there’s a certain cynicism that age brings – I still believe we can radically transform the world and transform the church in the here and now.”

The Church usually only accepts graduates, male and female, into the priesthood. But Boughton told HuffPost UK that they believe many will want to study for a degree at the same time as qualifying as a priest, after the new tuition fees are introduced.

"That's attractive to many young people, if they can avoid paying those fees" she said. "But it's not something we've seen happen yet, because the fees have not been introduced."

Many trainees have their education at residential theological colleges sponsored by a Bishop, and the course lasts two to three years, with those who qualify going on to serve as curates for around four years, before applying for their own parishes.

Housing is included, at the rectory attached to the church.

But although priests are assured of a better time in the afterlife than bankers, no-one ever got rich with a career in the Church. Salaries begin at around £17,000, rising to around £28,000 when a priest is put in charge of a larger parish.