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Are Liberals Winning? A Longitudinal Study of Clergy Churchmanship

In: Journal of Empirical Theology
Author: Kelvin Randall1
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  • 1 Glyndwr University Institute for Health Medical Sciences
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Abstract

Surveys indicate a growing liberal consensus within British churches as well as in British society. Is this because each succeeding generation is more liberal than the previous one. Or is it that individuals as they grow older become more liberal? In a longitudinal study of churchmanship among Anglican clergy in England and Wales, the results indicate that individual clergy, male and female, older and younger, are becoming less Conservative and more Liberal.

Abstract

Surveys indicate a growing liberal consensus within British churches as well as in British society. Is this because each succeeding generation is more liberal than the previous one. Or is it that individuals as they grow older become more liberal? In a longitudinal study of churchmanship among Anglican clergy in England and Wales, the results indicate that individual clergy, male and female, older and younger, are becoming less Conservative and more Liberal.

Introduction

In his book Inventing the Individual: The Origins of Western Liberalism (2015), Larry Siedentop argues that the Christian conception of God has given rise to the respect for individual conscience, rights and autonomy which underpin the liberal values of our civilisation. He sees the growth of those liberal values as challenged again by some of the fundamentalisms in our Western world.

The annual British Social Attitudes survey is carried out by Britain’s largest independent social research organisation, the National Centre for Social Research. It provides an indispensable guide to political and social issues in contemporary Britain, summarising and interpreting data from its most recent national survey, as well as drawing invaluable comparisons with the findings of previous years to provide a richer picture of changing British social values. The headlines from its 30th report in 2015 concerning the area of personal relationships and personal morality suggested that each generation is or is becoming more liberal than the previous one: “changing attitudes towards homosexuality have been driven by each successive generation having more liberal views than the last”; “in 1983 50% thought homosexuality was ‘always wrong’, rising to 64% by 1987. Now 22% take this view, while nearly half, 47%, think it is not wrong at all”; “although attitudes to parenthood have become more liberal, the most prevalent view is that marriage should precede parenthood.” (downloaded from www.bsa.natcen.ac.uk/latest-report/british-social-attitudes-30/personal-relationships/introduction.aspx)

If it is the case that each subsequent generation is more liberal than its predecessor, we should find that attitudes across society as a whole gradually change as older, less tolerant, generations die out and are replaced by generations with more liberal views. But in assessing whether or not this is the case we need to bear in mind that, on some issues, people’s views may simply change as they get older … If this is the case, the fact that a particular generation has a different view on an issue from an older one may simply reflect the life-cycle stage that that generation has reached and this will continue to shift as they get older.

Park, A. & Rhead, R. 2015

Is there a growing liberal consensus within the British churches as well as in British society? A YouGov survey of Anglican clergy was published in October 2014 (Woodhead 2014). The poll was designed by Professor Linda Woodhead of Lancaster University in connection with a series of debates on The Future of the Church of England. Respondents comprised 1,509 clergy aged 70 and under from the Anglican Churches in England, Wales, Scotland, and Ireland, selected on a random basis from Crockford’s Clerical Directory, with a response rate of around 30%. A question was asked, “On the spectrum of liberal to conservative, where would you place yourself?” The answers were “the liberal end of the spectrum” 43%, “somewhere in the middle” 32%, “the conservative end of the spectrum” 24%. Results downloaded from http://cdn.yougov.com/cumulus_uploads/document/5f5s31fk47/Results-for-Anglican-Clergy-Survey-08092014.pdf)

The language of liberals, conservatives and evangelicals is rooted in the nature of the Anglican Church. The Anglican Church claims a special understanding of a threefold method in theology, which holds together scripture, tradition and reason, as a distinctive style.

Our special character and, as we believe, our peculiar contribution to the universal church, arises from the fact that, owing to historic circumstances, we have been enabled to combine in our one fellowship the traditional faith and order of the catholic church with that immediacy of approach to God through Christ to which the evangelical churches especially bear witness, and freedom of intellectual inquiry, whereby the correlation of the Christian revelation and advancing knowledge is constantly effected.

William Temple at The Lambeth Conferences 1948, pp. 113-114

There is and has always been the temptation to pursue exclusively one of the three elements of scripture, tradition or reason in the name of party strength, commitment or clarity. On the other hand, it is all too easy to turn the tension itself between the three elements into a cause and in the name of intellectual honesty and comprehensiveness to refuse to come to any conclusion. Groups which give greater emphasis to one of these elements have arisen throughout the history of the Anglican Church but Anglicanism has tried with varying degrees of success to show that the principle for which each group stands has its own place within the discovery of Christian truth not when it works exclusively but ‘when it is held in tension with other apparently opposed, but really complementary principles.’ (Vidler 1957, p.166)

It is this recognition that there are ‘opposed systems’ within the Anglican church as a whole that provides the background for an understanding of churchmanship (sometimes called church orientation). Churchmanship is built into the very story of the Anglican Church. From the outset the tension between opposed systems has been present: there were probably five different strands in the Christianity represented in this country — Roman, British, Anglo-Saxon, Celtic and Petrine (see Randall 2005, chapter 1 passim). At no point in the history of the Anglican Church can one assume that the clergy, let alone the laity, form a homogeneous unit. There are diversities of faith and order. There are diversities of religious experience.

In order to gauge the strengths of these different groupings within the Anglican Church a variety of researchers, from Coneybeare (1853) in the nineteenth century onwards, have undertaken studies on the numbers of clergy subscribing to positions of churchmanship. Daniel (1967) was the first to look beyond the Catholic — Evangelical axis and see the need for, and make use of, a second dimension. His was a sociological study concerned to discover whether the new currents of theological thought in the 1960s were changing the clergy’s self-image. His conclusion was that churchmanship was the main criterion for determining the clergy’s reaction to new ideas. He discovered that the factor determining which alternative a clergyman will choose is the particular religious ideology which he already holds — that nexus of beliefs and interpretations which in the Church of England is called churchmanship (Daniel 1968, p.117).

In order to formulate a question with which to ask the clergy about their churchmanship Daniel explored the concept of churchmanship as an ideological position. He decided that a useful way of describing churchmanship positions in their relationship to one another would be to plot them on two co-ordinate axes representing sources of authority. In practice, churchmanship positions usually appeal to the authority of the bible (Evangelical), or of the church (Catholic), in the first place, and after that to tradition (Conservative), or to human reason (Liberal). In order to operationalize this theoretical position, researchers have made use of the concept of a semantic differential grid (Osgood, Suci and Tannenbaum 1957). An early application of this was by Francis and colleagues. They envisaged two orthogonal dimensions through the semantic space which is churchmanship. Each dimension offered a seven-point scale, the first anchored by the bi-polar descriptors ‘catholic’ and ‘evangelical’ and the second by the bi-polar descriptors ‘liberal’ and ‘conservative’. This two-dimensional churchmanship measure has been used by, among others, Francis (1985), Francis and Lankshear (1991), Francis and Lankshear (1995a, 1995b), Francis and Lankshear (1996) and Francis, Lankshear and Jones (1998). The empirical clarity, as well as the reliability and validity, of the two Catholic/Evangelical and Liberal/Conservative scales commended them for further use in quantitative research. The high response rates to these scales suggest that respondents have little difficulty in using them.

Randall (2005) added a third 7-point scale to these two in order to recognise the importance of the charismatic dimension in people’s self-understanding of their churchmanship. He drew on studies like Francis, Lankshear and Jones (1998). They found that charismatic Evangelical churches were promoting a more effective ministry among young people than non-charismatic Evangelical churches. So it seemed that ‘Evangelical’ was not by itself a sufficient designation: the charismatic dimension was also a significant contributor and needed to be included in a comprehensive empirical definition of churchmanship. In looking at the growth and development of things charismatic in the Anglican Church it is not just charismatic experience but rather the influence of the charismatic movement itself that is important (Craston 1981). The poles of Randall’s charismatic axis were established therefore as ‘positively influenced by the charismatic movement’ (‘Pro-charismatic’ for brevity of reporting) and ‘negatively influenced by the charismatic movement’ (‘Anti-charismatic’). The use of seven points on that axis, in line with Osgood’s practice, would give a range of positions from which to measure the degree of influence of the charismatic movement.

So a semantic differential grid with three quantifiable dimensions (Catholic/Evangelical, Liberal/Conservative, Positively/Negatively influenced by the charismatic movement), each with an axis of seven points, seemed best suited to this study. It would allow for the precision and subtlety that are often needed in assessing one’s own and, more particularly, other people’s churchmanship. Using seven points on three dimensions would allow, if needed, a semantic space for the concept ‘churchmanship’ with 343 different positions, more than enough even for the Anglican Church. When necessary each of the three dimensions could be analysed on its own, and at those times the use of a 7-point axis would allow comparability with research previously done by Francis and colleagues using their two 7-point scales.

In reporting results from these axes the modifier ‘strongly’ is used for points 1 and 7 (for example, ‘strongly Catholic’), and the modifier ‘mildly’ for points 3 and 5 (for example, ‘mildly Conservative’), with no modifier for points 2 and 6 (for example, ‘Pro-charismatic’). When the seven points need to be collapsed to form three groups easily understood designations would be needed. For the Catholic/Evangelical and Liberal/Conservative dimensions these are at hand, with both ‘Central’ and ‘Middle-of-the-road’ in common parlance in clergy circles. The charismatic scale would form three groups: Pro-charismatic, Non-charismatic and Anti-charismatic.

Though 343 different churchmanship positions have a value in giving clarity to individual churchmanship positions, in practice, for the empirical researcher, a smaller number of overall categories is desirable. By collapsing, when necessary, each of the scales to three headline categories, 27 distinct churchmanship positions within the semantic space could be explored. So the Catholic/Evangelical dimension allows points 1, 2 & 3 to be designated “Catholic”, points 5, 6 & 7 as “Evangelical” and point 4 as “Central”. In using this same method for collapsing 7-point scales into three positions, Francis, Lankshear and Jones (1998) showed that it was capable of measuring the degree to which individual churches aligned themselves with the Evangelicals. They concluded that ‘the mathematical model is powerful enough to pick up the consequences of theological emphases associated with different strengths of commitment to Evangelical identity’ (Francis, Lankshear and Jones 1998, p.265). In a large study of Church Times readers Village (2010) showed that each of the points on the Catholic/Evangelical dimension displayed significant differences in profile. “Extreme Anglo-catholics or Evangelicals (1 or 7 on the scale) appear to have, on average, different sorts of religious expression, attitudes or experience, from those who identify themselves as Anglo-catholic or Evangelical but at 2 or 6 on the scale.” (Village 2010, p.13)

The three-dimensional scale has been used by a variety of researchers, sometimes in its complete form, and sometimes with just individual dimensions. Two important studies need to be mentioned because of their large number of participants. Rutledge (1993) used the Catholic/Evangelical and the Liberal/Conservative dimensions with a random sample of 5% of all serving stipendiary male clergy in the Church of England. Robbins (1996) used the same two scales in a survey of all the Anglican women deacons, deaconesses and priests in stipendiary or non-stipendiary ministry in England, Wales, Scotland and Ireland. Given the nature of Rutledge’s sample it gives the best estimate available of serving male Anglican clergy in England in the 1990s. Given the high response rate and the nature of the population studied Robbins provides the best estimate available of the overall churchmanship of female Anglican clergy in the 1990s. Rutledge showed that 50% of the male Anglican clergy were Catholic, 15% Central, and 35% Evangelical. He also showed that 42% of the male Anglican clergy were Liberal, 18% were Middle-of-the-road, and 40% were Conservative. Robbins showed that 46% of the female Anglican clergy were Catholic, 22% were Central, and 32% were Evangelical. She also showed that 40% of the female Anglican clergy were Liberal, 24% ere Middle-of-the-road, and 36% were Conservative.

Other researchers have discovered the significance of churchmanship in a number of studies of Anglican clergy. Robbins and Francis (2000) analysed role prioritization among working Anglican clergywomen and found the continuing importance of churchmanship (which they call “church tradition”) in shaping expectations of the clergy role. Catholics gave a higher priority to the sacraments and to spiritual direction during their theological training, and Evangelicals gave a higher priority to the roles of evangelist and teacher. At the same time, the data demonstrate that the influence of church tradition, while still remaining, is less strong in current ministry than during initial training. It seems that the aspirations shaped by church tradition at the time of initial training may have become somewhat qualified by the realities and practicalities of active ministry.

Francis and Turton (2002) analysed a measure of ministerial job-satisfaction with the Charismatic scale among male Anglican stipendiary parochial clergy. They found a significant positive correlation between charismatic influence and ministerial job satisfaction. After controlling for age, extraversion, neuroticism, psychoticism and a lie scale, “charismatic clergy benefit from a higher score of ministerial job satisfaction in comparison with clergy who have not been influenced by the charismatic movement.” (Francis and Turton 2002, p.139)

Francis (2004) looked at the impact of age, personality and churchmanship on baptism policy among male clergy in the Church in Wales and found that only churchmanship was a significant indicator of baptism policy: Catholic clergy are more likely than Evangelical clergy to prefer an open baptism policy.

Hills and Francis (2005) looked at a large group of recently ordained Anglican clergy to discover their levels of work satisfaction when performing a range of clergy roles. They found that churchmanship (which they called “theological orientation”) was the largest and most notable predictor of work satisfaction above that of demographic factors and personality variables. Evangelicals derive greater satisfaction from the role of teacher, Catholics derive greater satisfaction from the roles of pastor and counsellor, administrator leader in the local community. Conservatives derive greater satisfaction from the role of teacher. Francis, Hills and Rutledge (2008) came to the same conclusion that churchmanship is at least as important as personality in accounting for clergy work satisfaction.

Village and Francis (2009) reported results of the clergy who responded to the Church Times survey in which they summarised the data from the three-dimensional scale as “religious differences”. “Religious differences between clergy are thus the main predictors of clergy attitudes, beliefs or behaviours. Individual differences related to sex, age and personality also have an effect, though this is about half as strong as religious differences.” (Village and Francis 2009, p.161)

Village (2012) studied biblical conservatism and biblical literalism among both clergy and lay Anglicans in England. “Among Anglo-catholics and broad-churches, lay people were generally more biblically conservative than clergy. Among Evangelicals there was a marked contrast among clergy, with clergymen being more biblically conservative, and clergywomen being less biblically conservative, than evangelical laity.” (Village 2012 p.185)

Rutledge (2013) reported a study of stipendiary and non-stipendiary clergy in one rural Anglican diocese using the three-dimensional scale. He found significant differences between stipendiary and non-stipendiary clergy. The stipendiary clergy were more likely to be Evangelical, Conservative and Pro-charismatic than their non-stipendiary colleagues.

Randall (2013) examined thoughts about leaving the ministry among Anglican clergy using a variety of measures including burnout, personality and churchmanship using the three-dimensional scale. He found that the more Liberal the cleric, the more likely they were to consider leaving the ministry. However, Brewster (2015) in a study of Anglican clergy responsible for multi-parish rural benefices, found that Liberal clergy are significantly more happy than Conservative clergy of the same sex, age and personality disposition.

The usefulness of the three-dimensional scale and the results that it produced led Randall in 2005 to examine wider questions about churchmanship. He explored the correlation between churchmanship types and various personality measures including Eysenck’s personality measures, the Maslach Burnout Inventory, the Oxford Happiness Inventory, and the Bem Sex Role Inventory. He found that, in general, different forms of churchmanship did not attract different personality types, and that different forms of churchmanship customarily did not lead to greater or less happiness, greater proneness to burnout, or greater adoption of particularly masculine or feminine roles. However he found, as others had, that in areas such as belief, behaviour, and clergy role priorities churchmanship made a profound contribution to individual differences among Anglican clergy.

As was said earlier, Robbins and Francis (2000) showed that churchmanship positions were less strongly held in clergywomen’s current ministry than in their initial ordination training. In considering the differences between his results and those of Rutledge’s male clergy and Robbins’ female clergy reported above, Randall (2012) asked, is churchmanship for most clergy a stable or a changing element in their choices or style? Individual clergy biographies anecdotally hint at a change in churchmanship as the person ages. As part of his longitudinal study of Anglican clergy first ordained in 1994, he asked two questions about churchmanship in the questionnaire he sent out in their fourteenth year of ministry. Both questions used the three-dimensional scale of churchmanship. The first asked “What was your churchmanship when you were first ordained?”, the second “What is your churchmanship now?”. The results were subject to a paired t-test and showed three significant results. Over fourteen years this cohort of clergy judged that they had become less Evangelical, less Conservative, and less positively affected by the charismatic movement.

To explore the question about fluidity of churchmanship however it would be better to discover what the respondents said about their churchmanship when they were first ordained rather than what they thought they said then. It is to understand that question that this study was undertaken. In addition, a further question was studied: how well had they remembered what they said their churchmanship was when they first began training.

Method

Participants

As part of a longitudinal study the same cohort of clergy, all those ordained to stipendiary ministry in 1994 in the Church of England and the Church in Wales, answered postal questionnaires in their first, second, third, seventh, fourteenth and twenty first years of ministry. The data for this study are taken from the first year, seventh year, fourteenth and the twenty-first year questionnaires. In 1994, 340 had been ordained to parish ministry: of these 77% were male and 23% female.

Instrument

The clergy were asked five questions about churchmanship using the three-dimensional scale. From the first, seventh and fourteenth year questionnaires they were asked “What was your churchmanship when you began training?”, and from the twenty-first year questionnaire they were asked “What was your churchmanship when you began training?” and “What is your churchmanship now?”

Results

Tables 1, 2 and 3 compare the churchmanship choices in year one with the choices remembered by the clergy as they looked back to beginning their training. For each of the three churchmanship dimensions they show the results of the paired t-tests carried out on the responses. They reveal that, with one exception, the clergy remember accurately after seven, fourteen or twenty-one years their churchmanship when they began training. The one significant result is that after 21 years in the ministry this cohort of clergy thought that, as they began training, they were more Liberal than in fact they were.

table 1

Catholic/Evangelical churchmanship as at beginning of training and as remembered now

table 1
table 2

Liberal/Conservative churchmanship as at beginning of training and as remembered now

table 2
table 3

Pro/Anti-charismatic churchmanship as at beginning of training and as remembered now

table 3

Tables 4, 5 and 6 compare the churchmanship choices in year one with the churchmanship choices in subsequent years, again using paired t-tests. Table 4 shows that, though there was no change in churchmanship after seven years, after fourteen and twenty-one years the clergy are significantly less Evangelical. Table 5 shows that in all three years (after seven, fourteen and twenty-one years in ministry) the clergy were significantly less Conservative. Table 6 shows that, though there was no change in churchmanship after seven years, the clergy after fourteen years were significantly less Pro-charismatic. After twenty-one years though, this change was no longer significant.

table 4

Catholic/Evangelical churchmanship at beginning of training and now

table 4
table 5

Liberal/Conservative churchmanship at beginning of training and now

table 5
table 6

Pro/Anti-charismatic churchmanship at beginning of training and now

table 6

In order to explore this change in churchmanship further, and particularly the changes on the Liberal/Conservative dimension, the clergy were grouped by age and by gender: under 40 in age when first ordained in 1994, and over 40 in 1994. Tables 7 and 8 show the results for the two age groups. Those who were under 40 in 1994 are now significantly less Evangelical, significantly less Conservative, and significantly less Pro-charismatic. Those who were over 40 in 1994 are now significantly more Liberal.

table 7

Churchmanship of clergy aged under 40 at beginning of training and now

table 7
table 8

Churchmanship of clergy aged over 40 at beginning of training and now

table 8

Tables 9 and 10 show the results for male and female clergy. Men are now significantly less Evangelical, significantly less Conservative, and significantly less Pro-charismatic. Women are now significantly more Liberal.

table 9

Churchmanship of male clergy at beginning of training and now

table 9
table 10

Churchmanship of female clergy at beginning of training and now

table 10

Discussion

There are six main conclusions from this data. First, Anglican clergy generally remember accurately their churchmanship choices of twenty-one years ago. In that way they contribute to establishing the reliability of the three-dimensional churchmanship measure.

Second, the growing espousal of Liberal churchmanship over the years affects the memory of the clergy so that after twenty-one years they thought they were more Liberal at ordination than they actually were. Third, this cohort of clergy is becoming less Evangelical, less Conservative and less Pro-charismatic. This supports Randall’s (2012) study. Fourth, the under 40s at time of ordination show significant changes on all three dimensions, whereas the over 40s only show significant change on the Liberal/Conservative dimension. Fifth, the male clergy show significant changes on all three dimensions, whereas the female clergy only show significant change on the Liberal/Conservative dimension. Sixth, though there are changes on the Catholic/Evangelical and Pro/Anti-charismatic dimensions, the consistent significant changes for the whole cohort and for groups within the cohort in years seven, fourteen and twenty-one are on the Liberal/Conservative dimension where the growing Liberal nature of these clergy is shown. In the introduction to this paper the growing liberal consensus within the British churches as well as in British society was outlined: that consensus is reflected when individual clergy churchmanship is measured over time.

Social attitudes research sometimes talks of generational change. This reflects the importance of the generation that a person is born into, the argument being that their formative experiences as they are growing up will indelibly shape their attitudes and values across a wide range of issues, and these attitudes will subsequently not shift very much as they get older. If it is the case that each subsequent generation is more liberal than its predecessor, we should find that attitudes across society as a whole gradually change as older, less tolerant, generations die out and are replaced by generations with more liberal views. But the evidence from this study indicates that, on some issues, people’s views may simply change as they get older, as depicted in the well-known quote attributed to Churchill: “If you’re not a Liberal at twenty you have no heart, if you’re not a Conservative at forty you have no brain.” With Anglican clergy, though, it seems that even if you are a Conservative at forty, you are more likely to be a Liberal when you are sixty.

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