There were four of us for the midweek Eucharist at St George's this morning. We celebrated the feast of Saints Peter and Paul a day early, giving thanks especially for the third anniversary of St George's Voluntary Curate Doreen Cage's priesting at this season. Given the changing demographics of expatriate Anglicans in many places around Europe, I think the future is likely to be somewhat different from the past. Reduced numbers in some places make it harder to reach the critical mass of financial support that the traditional Chaplaincy model of hiring a full time priest requires.
Recruiting a paid part timer is an option, but there may not be sufficient suitable candidates to meet the need. There has been healthy development in lay reader ministry over recent decades, and that's a positive sign, but over my lifetime, change in the shared spirituality of worshipping communities has led to churches becoming far more dependent on clergy for Eucharistic celebrations. Not all lay readers may feel called to offer themselves for ordination to perform sacramental functions, though some do. But the truth is, more ordained ministers and now needed for the exercise of leadership in worship at a local level, especially where the area covered by a chaplaincy team grows larger.
The priest ordained and commissioned just for local ministry usually in later life, doesn't expect to make a career of it or move on. They serve under authority and with local community support, meet chiefly the pastoral needs of a community and locality which is home to them, as part of its team of ordained and lay people leading worship and offering pastoral care. It cannot amount to a grand strategic plan. It's a variable response to developing circumstances. Importantly, this is Voluntary ministry, like that of the Licensed Lay Reader. It costs far less to sustain than a full time priest, or a paid administrative co-ordinator.
An expatriate chaplaincy enterprise still needs someone to represent it in the larger community of churches, to state authorities and in civil society, but this doesn't have to be a professional priest any more, especially in a modern Catholic country where many such functions are delegated by church authorities to lay men and women. This may take Anglicans more time to get used to than other church groups, as we've become so accustomed to being led, taught, represented and care for by a professional class of clergy. So this is a time for learning new ways organisation as church, that address the problems of dispersion and the continuing need for pastoral care and oversight, with a little lateral thinking. The role exercised by the professional cleric has already changed a lot over my working life. I've changed too, and have now spent a seventh of my ministerial career as a Voluntary Priest. How different my life might have been if I'd had the confidence and taken the initiative to pursue this path much earlier!