Ordination is the Church’s official recognition of a sense of calling to be a priest or a deacon. It gives someone the authority to do certain things in the name of God and the Church. It’s also a sacrament—an outward sign of the grace of God, given to the deacon or priest through the laying-on of hands by the bishop, to enable them to fulfil their calling.
People in ordained ministry point to the life of Christ crucified and risen, encouraging Christians to live more Christ-like lives. They also proclaim the gospel of Christ to people who are not Christians. They share in people’s life journeys, walking with them and sharing their joys and sorrows.
There is no formal career path for priests, but there are lots of opportunities, including for further education and training throughout your ministry. Some ordained people work full-time within the Church of England; others do it as part of their ongoing occupations.
However, it’s important to remember that there are other, non-ordained roles which are also essential in the life of the Church (such as evangelist; missionary; lay minister; and members of religious communities, such as monks, nuns, friars and sisters). Some of these are explained on our ‘Lay Ministry’ page.
There are stages in the process of being ordained, and there are different roles available afterwards. Read on to find out more.
A person who is accepted for ordination as a priest is first ordained as a deacon. The ministry of a deacon is that of servanthood, within the Church and the wider community. Usually after a year, a deacon is ordained as a priest; however, some people are called to remain life-long distinctive deacons.
The ministry of a priest is one of leadership and mission, helping all Christians to realise their potential as they witness to Christ. They help to build up the Church, through
- the celebration of the sacraments (including baptism and holy communion)
- pastoral care
Find out more about the job of a priest and what sort of people become priests.
Some priests are called to be bishops. They oversee the life of a diocese, confirm and ordain, and appoint parish priests. They are ‘consecrated’ in order to serve in this ministry.
Find out about Bishops in the Diocese of London.
Different jobs clergy can do…
A curate is in his or her first years of ordained life. They work with the incumbent at the church to which they have been appointed as they continue with their training ‘on the job’ (this is part of what is called initial ministerial education, or IME). A curacy normally lasts for four years.
A parish priest works mostly within the parish to which they are appointed. They’re also likely to act as chaplain to some local organisations (see below). A vicar or rector is called an incumbent, and will have overall responsibility for the life of the parish church and its mission to the community. Parish priests are supported by elected lay officers (such as churchwardens and PCC members), plus any other ordained colleagues. If you become a parish priest, you don’t have to stay doing it forever—you can move in and out of different roles, including chaplaincy, and administration within the diocese or the Archbishops’ Council.
Chaplains are ordained or lay people called to ministry in primarily secular (non-church) contexts; full- or part-time, paid or unpaid. They try to meet the spiritual needs of people living, working, studying, caring or being cared for. This may be in education (universities, colleges and schools), hospitals, hospices, prisons, the armed forces, or the workplace. Chaplains serve people in a variety of ways, including pastoral and spiritual support, preaching and teaching, worship and prayer, leading discussion, and exploratory groups and courses for Christians and those exploring prayer and spirituality. Most chaplaincies are ecumenical (multi-denominational) and/or multi-faith teams, usually working within the structures of the organisations in which they serve.
Ordained pioneer minister
Some ordained ministers feel called to ‘fresh expressions’ of church, working in pioneering ways which are complementary to traditional parish structures. The discernment and selection process for ordained pioneer ministers is the same as for all priests, but they need to have had experience of a fresh expression of church and be able to show good evidence of:
- visionary leadership ability
- a heart for mission and evangelism
- a commitment to the life and values of the Church of England
- a spiritual life that is vibrant enough to sustain you in your ministry.
Visit the Fresh Expressions website to find out more about Fresh Expressions, and find out more about ordained pioneer ministry.