Tory MPs have urged the Church of England to “get on with” plans to drive up the percentage of ethnic minorities among its clergy members.
During questions to the church’s representative in the Commons, Caroline Spelman, on Thursday, three politicians from the Conservative Party appeared to approve of and encourage Church of England efforts to build a clergy which matches national demographics, with regards to ethnicity and sex.
“The Church of England is well on its way to reaching its target in 2020 when we hope to see 50 per cent of women in the priesthood,” Spelman responded, to a question about church efforts to increase the number of clergy vocations.
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Tory MP for Brecon and Radnorshire Chris Davies described the church’s progress towards meeting its gender parity target as “welcome news”, but he asked what steps the church is taking “to ensure the diversity of those being considered for ordination better reflects the country as a whole?”
“We should not overlook the need to draw more people from different ethnic backgrounds and the church has strategies looking to increase the number of black and ethnic minority ordinates, the numbers are currently only 3.3 per cent of clergy,” Spelman replied.
Commons Speaker John Bercow interjected to say he was “glad to hear there are such plans”, adding “they ought to get on with it”. While Parliamentary rules state that the Speaker is required to “remain politically impartial”, the Tory MP has controversially voiced his liberal opinions on a number of issues including U.S. President Donald Trump, and mass immigration.
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Kevin Foster, Conservative MP for Torbay, injected a more cautious note into the discussion on the agenda to “diversify” the Church’s clergy, asserting that “a vocation for the priesthood is fundamentally based on a call from God, and that that call never went only to white men of a certain age.
“Does [Spelman] agree that this work is about making people feel able to take up that call and not about setting a target to increase the number of calls that God makes?” he asked.
Spelman replied in the affirmative, adding that the Church of England “strives to make training programmes more accessible to women and to people from diverse backgrounds”.
Despite having introduced a scheme to fast-track non-white clergy into senior roles in 2015, and the following year appointing a national minority ethnic officer to drive up the number of candidates for ordination, the Church of England still attracts criticism over the preponderance of white men at its highest levels.