FAQs: Ordained Local Ministry
Bishop Patrick Rooke explains the what, why and how of Ordained Local Ministry in the Church of Ireland.
At the General Synod in 2017, synod members endorsed the Commission on Ministry’s request that the House of Bishops ‘implement the selection and training for Ordained Local Ministry (OLM) with as little delay as possible’. (Book of Reports 2017, page 336)
Hence, in September 2018, twenty–six candidates from eight dioceses began training for OLM in the Church of Ireland; 12 from Northern Ireland and 14 from the Republic. A further ten candidates are expected to begin training this September.
What is OLM in the Church of Ireland?
First and foremost, it is an ordained ministry – OLMs are deacons and priests in the fullest sense of the word. A priest is a priest and an OLM is not in any way a second class ordained minister. They have a different role but their orders are second to none.
Secondly, it is a local ministry – limited to the parish/group of parishes, rural deanery or archdeaconry. However, ‘local’ may be defined in that context. Hence the selection is for a diocese by a diocese and ministry is subject to the bishop’s licence for a particular locality. Local is not a diminutive term – local ministry is about valuing the locality and empowering the local congregation.
Thirdly, it is a self–supporting ministry – transfer to any form of stipendiary or what is known as non–stipendiary ministry is not possible without attending a Selection Conference and completion of full ministerial training.
Fourthly, it is a supervised ministry – an OLM is always supervised by a stipendiary priest. He/she may have pastoral and liturgical oversight of a parish and be the go–to priest but an overseeing rector/rural dean/archdeacon should always be responsible for administration and chairs the select vestry.
Fifthly, it is a recognised ministry. It is a particular ministry recognised by the Church and for which training has been undertaken and ongoing support is required.
Sixthly, it is a collaborative or team or companion ministry. An OLM is always part of a team of clergy and lay people there to facilitate a ‘healthy church’. The OLM should always see that an essential part of his/her role is to support and work with the stipendiary priest.
Fewer people are coming to church, fewer people are signing up as members of the Church, fewer people are paying into church and fewer people are offering for full–time ministry in the Church. Consequently in both rural and urban parishes, north and south, traditional models are creaking and in some places are unsustainable and inadequate. There is less money, less people–power, less expertise. It won’t be too long, in the rural areas at least, until the majority of the clergy are likely to be volunteers. Hence the need for a cost–neutral, sensitive ministry to work with and alongside the traditional model. Yes, the purists will say that OLM is about vocation, not about filling gaps, and of course they are correct. But to deny it has nothing to do with filling gaps is, in our context, disingenuous at best and dishonest at worst.
Another element has been the reduction of the non–stipendiary ministry (NSM). Many NSMs have transferred to full–time stipendiary ministry. Whatever one may feel about the changes to training some 10 years ago, the overall effect of a single route of training for all (stipendiary and non–stipendiary) has resulted in far fewer offering for NSM. So here too is a gap to be filled.
At its best, OLM must be seen as missional rather than simply a ministry in maintaining what we’ve already got. It can be both. If it is allowed to become no more than a practical response to retrenchment, then it will be no more than a holding exercise. But if it is allowed to become missional, the possibilities are endless with local people again raising up one of their own to lead them in their Christian witness and service – a New Testament model indeed.
OLM must, first and foremost, be the realisation that there is a useful ministry to enable congregation members to act as ordained persons in their own particular community. Such congregation members can bring a whole new dimension to ministry, ordained and lay, in addition to or instead of stipendiary ministry.
How does it work?
The House of Bishops has drawn up a Protocol for Ordained Local Ministry in the Church of Ireland. This indicates the criteria, selection process, training, licensing and deployment of those who may be considered for this ministry. In terms of training, the bishops were of a mind that as selection (by a diocesan panel with two outside representatives) and deployment (essentially local and limited to a parish or locality within a diocese) are to be quite different from those for stipendiary and non–stipendiary ministry, so too the training should be different.
Thus the bishops chose to work in partnership with the Methodist Church in providing a new course of training for OLM in the Church of Ireland and for Stage 1 of non–residential training for ordained ministry and for local preacher ministry in the Methodist Church. An approach was made to the Open Learning Centre at Queen’s University in Belfast and agreement obtained to accredit twelve courses. These include subjects such as Theological Reflection, Biblical Studies, Worship & Preaching, Church History, Spirituality, Introduction to Christian Thought, Pastoral Theology & Skills, Ministry & Leadership and Teamwork & Self–understanding.
Each course represents 100 hours of study – 10 hours of ‘open’ teaching, generally via Moodle with the assistance of Dropbox, 10 hours of tutorials currently being delivered by 24 tutors in four hubs around the country in Belfast, Longford, Cashel and Claremorris, and 80 hours of self–study. Up to four exemptions are available for those with previous ‘recognised’ theological qualifications. Ordination will take place after one year for those who have completed five courses and have a minimum of two exemptions, and after two years for those who have completed a minimum of eight courses. Priesting will take place when the Certificate is gained – all twelve courses or the equivalent.