The Church of England’s dioceses are recruiting ministerial candidates in their 50s and 60s, whereas 50 used to be the cut-off point for acceptance into training. Training systems are changing to accommodate this age group.

“If you’re in your late 50s or early 60s, the thought of going off to a college or even a course elsewhere in the country is just a bit too much, I think,” said the Rt. Rev. Timothy Dakin, Bishop of Winchester.

“You can stay in the diocese, in your local context, and we want to draw on your experience and your understanding, because we think you’re going to be a pretty effective person with all that background. We like people with experience.

“Sixty is the new 40,” Dakin added. “We’re living longer, we’ve got a lot of energy. I look at some of my episcopal colleagues and they’re still going like a bomb. They’re really hard-working, energetic people.”

Winchester’s new program allows aspirants to study at a distance instead of attending a residential college. Training can be part time or full time depending on circumstances. The number of people accepted for training has grown from 14 two years ago to 21 this year.

Bishop Dakin said older priests have skills based on their earlier careers and more extensive life experience. “Imagine having an assistant chief constable as a priest. He’s seen everything. He’s locally engaged, he knows Hampshire, he’s got a realism about what life is all to do with, he’s seen some really tough issues.”

The change comes as figures show that the number of people younger than 32 applying to become Anglican priests has risen by almost a third in the past two years.

John Martin

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