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Perhaps I’m the last person to raise the issue of retirement. I am now seventy-one, fighting cancer and a broken leg has me wheel chair bound. In a year’s time the church decrees that I retire. Now despite my infirmities, I am not ready for retirement. Perhaps I should be eager to rest on what ever laurels I have and take up bee keeping or some bucolic activity. I don’t play golf, can’t afford to take cruises and I’m still a priest. Like Queen Elizabeth, and she is eighty-five, my priesthood wasn’t a temporary assignment. It’s not a job.

Not too many years ago bishops and priests only retired when infirmity made functioning impossible. No one claimed thirty years on the books as an excuse to lay down the plow. Many of the clergy who cared for me when a child were well past “three score years and ten”. Then following secular examples it was swiftly decided that quitting time was 72. After all how could an old person effectively do the job, relate to children, and how did one rid oneself of clergy past their prime?

No one guessed that economic circumstances would create a pastoral world in which more and more parishes could no longer afford a younger full-time parson. Yet here we are now facing that reality. So hurried schemes are adopted to ordain locally ordained or mutual ministry clergy while a large pool of retired clergy remain “on the shelf” capable of pastoral ministry, with pensions to underwrite them who could soldier on effectively in small parishes. Ageism is a prejudice!

I am glad to note that a number of dioceses are re-visiting this issue. I am surely not the only priest who would gladly take pastoral responsibility?

Selling off rectories has deepened the problem. Once parishes had a vicarage which a “retired” priest could inhabit in return for pastoral duties. Yet parishes could rent property for use by such priests who believe that ordination is for keeps and not something one discards at a canonical age. The very idea that ordination is a job is insidious.

Our church should take this problem and its solutions up intentionally and not piecemeal. “Retired” clergy should be recruited and enabled and encouraged to continue in their vocations. Annual licensing or variations on that theme might preclude clergy hanging on when no longer capable of weekly duties. Older clergy bring to the church a wealth of pastoral experience and honed preaching techniques.

I am not against locally ordained ministries. Indeed I participate in their training.

It is also true that many dioceses can no longer staff diocesan offices. Retired clergy might well assist a bishop in those areas which are now staffed positions, or unfilled staff positions such as deployment and recruitment. In our computer age, such tasks can easily be performed from “home”.  Clergy mentoring is an area seasoned priests can effectively perform.

As we live older and productive lives it is high time the church took advantage of this growing pool of older clergy.

One Response

  1. Welcome to my world Tony, albeit I am overseas and financed by SSI and CPG as well as our supporters. Life is good.
    Sorry though about the disabilities and afflictions.
    I agree whole heartedly with your comments. Some of the rules were from a time of clergy abundance and were in fact a myth. My old mentor +Alex Stewart wrote a report that blew the myth out of the water but of course it was ignored. Now we face it for two reasons. +Alex never expected the second which was the massive shrinkage of TEC. He only looked at the demographics of the ages of clergy. Having said that he was forced out of his retirement role of assisting the PB when ++Jack Allen was replaced by ++ Ed – the rest is history and then the new writing appeared on the wall. I am off subject! Sorry.

    Meanwhile I am more fulfilled in ministry now in active retirement than ever before. God has a wonderful sense of humor and back then it was a career of sorts, now it is ministry for the joy of it.

    Get well – Ian+

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