A pioneering recruitment drive is being mounted in Melton in a desperate bid to fill eight vacant vicar posts.
Only four of the 12 priest’s jobs are currently filled across the Framland Deanery, which covers 65 churches around the town and also stretches to Bottesford in the north and Tilton-on-the-Hill to the south.
In an innovative approach, which it is believed has not been done anywhere else by the Church of England, the deanery has publicised the vacancies in one single advert, organised two open days for candidates and asked them to appply for as many of the roles as they want.
Another unique move will be the requirement for the new vicars to agree to cover at least one day a week in another of the group’s parishes to create a teamwork ethic among Melton clergymen and women.
The priest shortage in Framland reflects an impending national crisis in the church with 40 per cent of vicars due to retire between now and 2026 because they will have reached the retirement age of 70.
Rev Canon Dr Peter Hooper, the rural dean for Framland, said: “For all sorts of reasons we’ve ended up with a number of vacancies which we now need to fill.
“We are taking a different approach than we’ve used before and folks have been telling me this has never been done in the Church of England before.
“This could be an approach other deaneries copy. Based on the number of phone calls we’ve had from other deaneries there is a lot of interest in what we are doing from a recruitment standpoint as well as how we are organsining our deanery.”
Framland, which represents 20 per cent of the area covered by the Diocese of Leicester, requires seven new full-time priests and one recently retired clergy person to work in a ‘house for duty’ role where they are given accommodation and paid a stipend.
The vacant posts will be to serve the Vale of Belvoir (based at Old Dalby), The Ironstone Villages (Waltham), High Framland (Harston or Croxton Kerrial), South Framland (Wymondham), Melton (complementing the existing rector), The Upper Wreake (Frisby), Burrough on the Hill (Somerby) and South Croxton.
From the two open days, where candidates were offered overnight accommodation at Launde Abbey and given a tour of the entire Framland area, 16 people have an expressed an interest in filling one of the vacancies.
Rev Hooper said: “The next step is for those who are interested to formally apply for whichever posts they are interested in and we will then hold interviews a couple of weeks later. We are hoping to appoint our new priests as soon as we can.”
Rev Hooper, who is also priest in charge of Asfordby, Ab Kettleby and Holwell, said there were younger vicars being trained and others who were changing career to move into the church, but not in sufficient numbers to replace those who are approaching retirement. Many of the older retired priests, as well as lay readers, are being used to fill the breach while the Framland posts are vacant.
“We’ve been blessed to have a huge amount of help from retired clergy,” added Rev Hooper. “We’ve managed to cover services so far but we are hoping this different approach to recruitment will help us appoint the new vicars that we need.”