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Last Updated: Saturday, 30 July 2005, 07:07 GMT 08:07 UK
The busy life of a parish priest
By Anna Browning
BBC News

Pupil's picture of Father Martin Lee
A local pupil's painting of Reverend Martin Lee
As the Church of England seeks to attract younger people to the ministry, one priest tells how he copes with the day-to-day running of his parish.

His ministry is spread across three churches, despite a six-year high last year in the number of men and women who decided to join the Church of England clergy.

For the Reverend Martin Lee life is busy.

He oversees three Somerset parishes - Brent Knoll, East Brent and Lympsham.

In many ways they are thriving - they are wealthy villages, with a combined population of 3,500. His congregations range in size from about 55 to 75.

But he is responsible for three parishes, when 20 years ago it would have been just one.

Costly spire

And like other rural communities, many young people are being forced to leave, priced out of the property market.

As a result villagers tend to be retired or "established", or wealthy Londoners buying second homes.

The three villages, all a stone's throw from the M5, also attract commuters who work in nearby Bristol or Taunton.

Father Lee
Part of the beauty of the Church of England is that it endeavours to be accessible to people
Father Martin Lee

More often than not, they work long hours and so do not always have the time to take part in church life, says Father Lee.

Even so, he has plenty to do.

He sits on the board of governors for three schools and on the diocesan board of education.

On top of that, there are morning prayers, evening prayers, three Sunday services, funerals, weddings, baptisms, church fetes, and day-to-day pastoral care.

There is also the small matter of raising the 36,000 a year "diocesan share" due to the Diocese of Bath and Wells, the larger Church regional area of which his parishes are a part.

Only recently a massive fundraising mission in the community raised 200,000 to save East Brent's church - St Mary in the Virgin - after the dangerous state of its unusual 14th century spire left its future in doubt.

"The parish council spent a long time deciding whether to try and raise the funds or put the church in the hands of the Redundant Church Society," he said.

Vicar shortage

In the end they decided to try to save the church and the "tremendous" support from people showed they had made the right decision.

St Mary's Church, East Brent
The church spire at East Brent could have been the end for St Mary's
The 18-month appeal revealed how the area valued the church, even if residents did not necessarily attend Sunday service and donate to the weekly collection plate.

"They were hugely generous to us," said Father Lee.

"The village gave over 60,000 and the rest came in grants. That's an awful lot."

But, he says, in many ways the biggest threat to the Church of England is a shortage of priests.

Stuart Boyd, 54 - Father Lee's newly ordained curate, or assistant - agrees.

"One of the interesting things for me, for example on Sunday [his ordination] there were 13 people, but most of them would have been around my age."

Last year a total of 564 men and women were recommended to train as clergy in the Church of England, it says - an increase of more than 10 per cent compared to the 505 people recommended in 2003.

But the 50-plus age group accounted for much of that increase - from 150 in 2003 to 210 in 2004.

Young clergy

The church has launched a new initiative to get younger people interested in taking up vocations.

For example, clergy in their 20s will give presentations in parishes or university chaplaincies and careers fairs.

For Mr Boyd, also a civil servant at the Department of Work and Pensions, the vocation was not something he was "seeking out or pursuing".

"You know how sometimes you go into a supermarket and you know there's something else you had to get but you can't put your finger on it? That's how I felt.

God creates us in his image, but gives us free will
Father Lee

"I was something I worked through on my own and in prayer for a while and then the idea of ordination came up."

He continued: "Almost at every stage during the process I was expecting someone to say 'well actually we don't think it's quite the right thing'.

"But I kept knocking on doors and doors kept opening."

Reflecting on what makes a good priest, Father Lee said: "You have to have a strong sense of being called.

"It is power over people, and it is how you exercise it."

And, he said, part of the job was to reach out to all parts of the community.

"Part of the beauty of the Church of England is that it endeavours to be accessible to people.

"There are denominations that would be more restricting of people, whereas I think it is wonderful that the Church of England doesn't do that and that it is all-embracing.

"It rejoices in diverse ways and I think that's right and good.

"God creates us in his image, but gives us free will."


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