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On May 1, 2022, The Sunday Times reported that the Church of England hopes to recruit retiree pew-sitters to the priesthood in an initiative called Caleb, a fast-track route to ordination (emphases mine):

Retired City workers, head teachers and police officers are being fast-tracked into the clergy to bring a “lifetime of work experience” to rural churches and share the load with over-stretched vicars.

It is hoped that up to 8,000 Church of England worshippers in their late fifties, sixties or seventies, particularly those with managerial experience from their careers and a track record of serving as church wardens or lay ministers, could be tempted to train as priests to serve in their local parish after retirement.

The scheme is called Caleb for the faithful Israelite, who, with Joshua, arrived in the Promised Land at the ripe old age of 85.

Learn Religions has an excellent biography, complete with Bible verses, about this faithful servant, who was one of 12 men sent to scout the Promised Land before the Israelites’ arrival. Ten of the 12 spies said that the people — descendants of the Nephilim from Genesis — were too large and their fortresses too formidable to be conquered:

Moses sent spies, one from each of the twelve tribes of Israel, into Canaan to scout the territory. Among them were Joshua and Caleb. All the spies agreed on the richness of the land, but ten of them said Israel could not conquer it because its inhabitants were too powerful and their cities were like fortresses. Only Caleb and Joshua dared to contradict them.

Then Caleb silenced the people before Moses and said, “We should go up and take possession of the land, for we can certainly do it.” (Numbers 13:30, NIV)

God was so angry at the Israelites for their lack of faith in him that he forced them to wander in the desert 40 years until that entire generation had died–all except Joshua and Caleb.

Upon conquering the territory:

Joshua, the new leader, gave Caleb the territory around Hebron, belonging to the Anakites. These giants, descendants of the Nephilim, had terrified the original spies but proved no match for God’s people.

Caleb and his descendants prospered.

More information about him follows. It is thought he was born a pagan and an Egyptian slave:

Caleb’s name means “raging with canine madness.” Some Bible scholars think Caleb or his tribe came from a pagan people who were assimilated into the Jewish nation. He represented the tribe of Judah, from which came Jesus Christ, Savior of the world.

Caleb was physically strong, vigorous to old age, and ingenious in dealing with trouble. Most importantly, he followed God with his whole heart.

Caleb knew that when God gave him a task to do, God would supply him with all he needed to complete that missionCaleb spoke up for truth, even when he was in the minorityOften, to stand up for truth we must stand alone.

We can learn from Caleb that our own weakness brings an inpouring of God’s strength. Caleb teaches us to be loyal to God and to expect him to be loyal to us in return.

Returning to The Sunday Times article, the C of E article hopes not to have to pay for the Caleb priests’ housing or upkeep:

They will be “self-supporting” priests, who are not paid a stipend and do not need a vicarage as they already live locally.

The Revd Nicky Gumbel, founder of the Alpha course and vicar of Holy Trinity Brompton (HTB) in London, is going to retire at the age of 67. He is championing the ‘Caleb stream’, which is run by the HTB Church Revitalisation Trust. Note that he is retiring at the age where he expects others to become ordained:

Speaking to The Times for his farewell interview and before the Global Alpha Leadership Conference this week, he said there were about half a million Anglican churchgoers aged between 55 and 72. With life expectancy now in the eighties, many want to pursue a new passion in retirement.

“They’ve been involved in church all their life, some are licensed lay ministers, lay chaplains, church wardens, some are just dedicated church people,” he said. How hard would it be to find 8,000 who would give 25 years for free after they’ve left life in the City or police force?”

Hmm.

The article explains how the Caleb scheme contrasts with conventional ordination:

Those who feel called to the priesthood discuss it with their priest before embarking on a series of interviews. The usual selection process can last for up to two years, ending with a bishop recommending them for ordination. They then spend two or three years at theological college before being ordained as a deacon and then a priest.

Under the Caleb scheme, candidates can start a one-year training course immediately with the local bishop’s blessing and have interviews as they train. Gumbel aims to sign up more theological colleges.

Quite a few Anglican priests have already had a career in the secular world before ordination. Our small parish has had several over the past 30 years.

The Times gives us a profile of the first Caleb priest:

The Rev Anthony Goddard, 67, is the first Caleb graduate. He was ordained last June and is a curate at his parish in West Sussex. He spent 20 years working for ICI and four years as a partner at Accenture.

“Most people at around 60 have a lot of life experience, a lot of professional experience quite possibly in leadership roles, and hopefully have a good track record of Christian ministry,” he said. “I spent 25 years in business and then 13 as head and [lay] chaplain of an independent school and was always actively involved in the church …”

A married couple also enrolled themselves and will be taking up assignments this year:

Andy Green spent 30 years as a police constable while his wife, Caroline, worked as a dressmaker and GP practice manager. They will be 69 and 65 years old when they enter Worcester Cathedral in July to be ordained by a bishop to embark on new lives in the priesthood.

The pair will return to serve as deacons and then priests at their home church of St Egwin’s near Evesham in Worcestershire. “It’ll be the first time in about 50 years that St Egwin’s will have had its own ordained minister at the church,” Andy said, adding that older worshippers could bring a “lifetime of work experience” to the priesthood.

The Caleb scheme is a departure from the C of E’s earlier post-pandemic plan to close local churches and have regional ‘hub’ churches for traditional in-person worship. I have no idea if that is still a plan or if the Caleb scheme has replaced it.

In any event, Anglican churches have needed more clergy for decades now:

Thousands of churches no longer have their own dedicated vicar. Some priests have 20 or more parishes under their care, reliant on teams of assistant priests, retired clergy and lay parishioners to hold services across large areas.

Those large areas are called benefices. The article has an alarming graph showing how many benefices have four or more churches with too few priests to assign to them.

It is hoped that new, second-career priests would save those churches:

Critics have said that restoring a system of “one-priest-per-church” would boost congregations by forming closer bonds between communities and their vicars. The new “Caleb” scheme aims to find new priests for parishes from within their congregations.

The article has another graph breaking down the age and sex of ordinands into the C of E. Younger ordinands tend to be men. However, after the age of 40, women predominate, especially after the age of 55.

I do not know if the Caleb scheme will work, but I hope it does. The C of E needs something. A return to the Thirty-Nine Articles of Religion would be a start. So would more biblical preaching, rather than a focus on identity politics and climate change.

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