Reflecting on Retirement: A New Lease of Life?

Added about 2 years ago by Leslie J. Francis

GUEST BLOG: What does ‘retirement’ mean for clergy who have made a life-long commitment to their vocation? Leslie J. Francis explores the motivation and inspiration behind the book A New Lease of Life?.

I was ordained deacon in 1973, already with firm commitments both to rural ministry and to academic enquiry. During those 47 years since ordination I have seen radical changes in the shape of Anglican ministry and in the religious landscape of English society. Not least among those changes has been the introduction in 1976 of the seventieth birthday as the ‘retirement’ for Church of England clergy.

Serving as a curate in a rural part of Suffolk between 1973 and 1977 I met two priests in my deanery who made quite an impression on me. Not far away I met Fr Waskett, who had moved to that living as a young man in 1929. He took that living with the intention of being there for life. When rumour of the clergy retirement legislation reached Fr Waskett’s ears, he took me for a walk round his parish, named the occupants of every house and said that, being over seventy already, the legislation would have little impact on him. Whenever possible I would join Fr Waskett for the evening office in his incense-filled church, especially during the winter months when he would light a second oil lamp especially to welcome me. Fr Waskett died in office, a much loved local figure. Within that same rural deanery there was a second priest, who had been inducted into his living in his mid-sixties and now was also beyond ‘retirement’ age. Like Fr Waskett, he too lived in an old-style parsonage that resourced the local community.

Such reflections are not entirely nostalgic indulgence. With the introduction of the pension fund, an important shift had taken place in the identity of the parish priest, in the connection with the notions of ‘living’, ‘stipend’, and ‘estate’, including housing and including the symbolic rootedness within local community alongside others whose property, living, and lifestyle was embedded in such traditional ways.

Reaching the ‘age of retirement’ myself, I was pleased to be invited by my long-standing friend Canon Tony Neal to reflect with him on how Anglican clergy of our generation are now experiencing and interpreting retirement. As Tony’s chapter in our book shows, his own ‘retirement’ has offered rich and varied experiences, including undertaking and completing a research degree, and subsequent return to parish ministry with commitment to mentoring a new generation of priests.

I have yet to write my chapter on the experience of retirement. At the age of seventy I was retired after fifteen years of self-supporting ministry within the parish of Llanedwen on Anglesey, a delightful little church served by Henry, Marquis of Anglesey, as churchwarden from 1946 to 2013, rooted in the tradition of 1662 and illuminated only by candles.

Listening to the reflections of the colleagues who have so generously contributed their narrative to our book, we have wanted to celebrate the new lease of life that retirement can bring to Anglican clergy. But we also decided to place a firm question mark after those words in the title for our book A New Lease of Life?. As Bishop David Walker points out in his concluding reflective chapter in the book, there are still some weighty questions being raised by Anglican clergy regarding ways in which retirement make them see themselves and regarding the ways in which the Church and the world see them.

For some of these clergy, retirement focuses the distinction between priestly vocation and current roles within church (as vicar, rural dean, etc.). Retiring from the role has inevitable implications for expression of vocation. The loss of the role is something that faces most people on retirement and it is interesting how some Christian lay people ‘compensate’ for such loss of role by investing more heavily in local church life. For retired clergy this may be neither so easy (for them) or so welcome (by the church). For clergy shaped in different church traditions, the life-long commitments expressed in ordination may be fractured in different ways by retirement from the role, and for some presiding at the altar is central in this commitment.

For Tony and for me, our hope in publishing this book is to invite the Church to continue to think seriously about what ‘retirement’ means for clergy today and to do so both theologically and empirically, by continuing to explore the rich and varied sources of the Anglican way of doing theology and by continuing to listen to the voices of retired clergy and to the voices of those who set the boundaries for and expectations on retired clergy.

Leslie J. Francis is Professor of Religions and Psychology at the University of Warwick and author of numerous books on theology, psychology and ministry.

There are now more retired Church of England clergy than those in active stipendiary ministry, but what does retirement actually look like? In A New Lease of Life?, fourteen retired clergy reflect on the challenges and opportunities of this new stage of life.

Photo: Emyr Parri

Please note: Sacristy Press does not necessarily share or endorse the views of the guest contributors to this blog.

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