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/ 24 June 2022

What is ordination?

The Revd Preb Dr Neil Evans explains the different types of ordination, and the journey of the candidates.

The Church of England continues the ancient tradition of the Christian Church of ordaining ministers into the three-fold orders of the Church: Deacons, Priests and Bishops. The ministry for each of these ‘orders’ is set out in the Ordinal, which is the form of words and actions used to ordain each order and can be found here. The Bishop ordains deacons, the Bishop together with the College of Priests ordains priests (or presbyters) and the Archbishop together with the College of Bishops ordains (or consecrates) bishops.

All three orders have their roots in scripture, with deacons being those who minister and care of the needs of the Church community, priests being the elders of the church and bishops being overseers. These roles have developed over the centuries, but the core understanding is clearly reflected in the ordinal. Although the role of deacon is a stand-alone ministry in the church, the vast majority of deacons will go on to be ordained priest, usually after a year in ministry. However, some will be selected and choose to remain as ‘distinctive deacons’ reflecting the ministry they carry out. Once ordained, priests also remain deacon, and bishops remain deacon and priest; this reflects the fact that all are called, fundamentally to serve.

The Church of England has a rigorous selection process for selecting those to be ordained into the church’s ministry. The selection process will normally take between a year and two years and is overseen by directors of ordinands (most of whom are experienced priests, and some experienced lay people). Candidates are prepared locally and their calling or vocation is explored by assessors and the director of ordinands, who will make recommendation to the bishop. Once the bishop has agreed, the candidate then proceeds to a two-stage national discernment process. The national panels make a final recommendation to the sponsoring bishop who will normally accept the recommendation. Those recommended (who are then terms ‘ordinands’) will then proceed to training in one of the Church of England’s Colleges (Theological Education Institutions); one such is our own St Mellitus College. Although sponsored by a particular diocese, those recommended may serve anywhere in the Church of England.

In London Diocese we are very fortunate to have a large number of candidates coming forward as candidates for ministry, with nearly double the number we will eventually be able to offer stipendiary (or paid) positions. We have always seen this as a blessing and gift for the whole Church of England as there are many dioceses who are not as fortunate as London. The ordinands reflect the full range of traditions within the Church of England. We encourage all ordinands, right from the start of the process, to consider ministering across the Church of England; practically we will end up ‘releasing’ a relatively large number to serve elsewhere in the country.

Some ordinands choose to serve as self-support ministers, and don’t receive a stipend. Usually they will continue in their ‘day job’ throughout their training and in their ministry. This is a vital and generous gift to the Church.

All ordained ministers, therefore, begin their ministry as a deacon and each is ordained to a ‘Title Post’; usually a parish, but some also to chaplaincies or other ministries. They will serve their first three years as a Curate, serving with a Training Incumbent. During their training curacy they will undergo post-ordination training supervised by a director of post-ordination training. Apart from those who remain as a distinctive deacon, curates will normally be ordained priest after a year on the recommendation of the POR director and Training Incumbent and with the agreement of the Bishop.

In London, most deacons are ordained at St Paul’s Cathedral together by the Diocesan Bishop, assisted by the Area and Suffragan Bishops. Priests are normally ordained in their Episcopal Areas, by their Area Bishop. The Bishops or Fulham and Maidstone also ordain some deacons and priests.

Neil Evans has been Director of Ministry at the Diocese of London for 16 years.

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