Resolution 1: Repeal of Mandatory Retirement Age for Priests and Deacons


Resolved, that the 168th Convention of the Diocese of California submit the following resolution to the 79th General Convention of The Episcopal Church:

Resolved, the House of ____________ concurring, that the 79th General Convention of The Episcopal Church repeal Canon III.7.7 and Canon III.9.8 and amend Canon III.9.15(a) as follows:

Title III: Ministry

Canon 7: Of the Life and Work of Deacons

. . .

Sec. 7. On reaching the age of seventy-two years, a Deacon shall resign from all positions of active service in this Church, and the resignation shall be accepted. The Bishop may, with the consent of the Deacon, assign a resigned Deacon to any congregation, other community of faith or ministry in another setting, for a term not to exceed twelve months, and this term may be renewed.

. . .

Canon 9: Of the Life and Work of Priests

. . .

Sec. 8. Resignation

On reaching the age of seventy-two years, a Priest shall resign from all positions in this Church, and the resignation shall be accepted. Thereafter, the Priest may accept any position in this Church, including, with the permission of the Ecclesiastical Authority, the position or positions from which resignation pursuant to this Section has occurred; provided,

(a) tenure in the position shall be for a term of not more than twelve months, which term may be renewed from time to time,

(b) service in the position shall have the express approval of the Bishop of the Diocese in which the service is to be performed, acting in consultation with the Ecclesiastical Authority of the Diocese in which the Priest is canonically resident.

(c) Anything in this Canon to the contrary notwithstanding, a Priest who has served in a non-stipendiary capacity in a position before resignation may, at the Bishop's request, serve in the same position for a term not to exceed twelve months thereafter, and this term may be renewed.; and be it further

. . .

Sec. 15. Dissolution of the Pastoral Relation

(a) Except upon mandatory resignation by reason of age, a A Rector may not resign as Rector of a parish without the consent of its Vestry, nor may any Rector canonically or lawfully elected and in charge of a Parish be removed there from by the Vestry against the Rector’s will, except as hereinafter provided.



The current canon is overtly discriminatory. Theologically and ethically, this is the argument that has priority. On the basis of the gospel, TEC has taken a stand for inclusion and against discrimination in all areas of life, including church life. Several canons explicitly specify that various decisions, some involving lay and some clergy, may not be made on the basis of “race, color, ethnic origin, national origin, sex, marital status, sexual orientation, gender identity and expression, disabilities or age, except as otherwise provided by these Canons.” One of the exceptions “otherwise provided by these canons” is that all clergy, even unpaid clergy, must tender their resignations, and these resignations must be accepted, at age seventy-two, although a bishop may permit a priest or deacon to continue their ministry on an annual basis. This is explicit age discrimination, “ageism,” which should not be in the canons of a church that claims to be inclusive.

It blocks discernment. Clergy discernment is not merely about entering the ordained ministry, but is a constant process of identifying one’s calling and vocation throughout life, including the time and manner of one’s retirement. As a practical matter, most clerics will discern a call to retirement by age seventy-two, but newly ordained older clergy, and older clergy ending their current call but not discerning a call to retirement, face the difficulty of finding a new call due to required retirement age. Parishes and institutions in a search process also have to factor in the apparent age of a candidate based on the expected length of the call. But the Office for Transitional Ministry follows current secular best practices by not including direct information about the cleric’s age in the ministry portfolio. Thus parishes/institutions are faced with a canonical requirement about maximum age and a best practices requirement forbidding them to consider a candidate’s age in the selection process.

Occasionally, the mandatory retirement canon is used to retire an impaired cleric approaching age seventy-two. But impairment does not restrict itself to a particular age. Eliminating mandatory retirement would allow an issue of dysfunctional pastoral relationship to be open to discernment and healing rather than hidden under an arbitrary age factor.

An additional consideration: in 2009, the Church Pension Fund reported to the 76th GC that “Increasing the mandatory retirement age would not have a negative impact on the Clergy Pension Plan. In fact, it would increase the number of assessments coming into the Fund and typically pay a retirement benefit to a cleric for a shorter period of time, thus having a possible positive impact on the Fund.”

Circumstances have changed since mandatory retirement age laws were instituted. The mandatory retirement canon for “ministers” was first enacted in 1949. The temper of those times saw a need to open up positions for younger men, and the accepted solution was to institute age terminations. According to the Church Pension Group (CPG), in 1960, 71% of ordinands were 35 years old or younger, and only 6% were over 55. It was expected that the typical cleric would have a thirty- to even fifty-year career. But times change. In the 2009-11 period, only 28% of ordinands were under 35, and 27% were over 55 (CPG, “State of the Clergy 2012,” p. 7). Furthermore, the total number of ordinands is dropping, and retirements during this period outpaced priestly ordinations by nearly 2 to 1 (CPG, p. 6). Social and financial changes have made it impossible for most clergy to expect the old thirty-plus-year full time church career. Analogous changes have made age discrimination in employment now usually illegal in the secular world, putting TEC in the awkward position of being more discriminatory than secular employers. In fact, in 2009 CG passed Resolution 2009-C048, “Support Employment Non-discrimination Laws,” rejecting all discrimination, including age, in employment.


Submitted by:  Peninsula Deanery. Contact: Irene Lawrence, St. Bede’s, Menlo Park,

Endorsed by: Nigel Renton, St. Mark’s, Berkeley; the Rev. Rebecca Goldberg, Holy Child and St. Martin’s, Daly City; the Rev. Jane McDougle, Holy Innocents’, San Francisco.


I quote your resolution: "Furthermore, the total number of ordinands is dropping, and retirements during this period outpaced priestly ordinations by nearly 2 to 1 (CPG, p. 6)." but would this resolution would encourage any new priestly ordinations? Would Parishes be stuck in stagnant, low energy, no growth,status due to lack of a "healthy turnover? Would the lack of an mandatory age retirement increase difficulties in Parishes where the Priest is no longer able to serve but has the political power to stay on as a Rector? Finally, this resolution takes this difficult question out of the hands of the Parish and more importantly out of the hands of the Bishop effectively leaving only the Rector or Priest or Deacon to decide for their own self interests. IMHO, Your Brother in Christ

Provision already exists for bishops to grant year by year extensions on the retirement age. Likewise, clergy are allowed to continue working in various capacities. They just have to take their pension.
This resolution would severely handicap bishops and vestries in cases where clergy, especially rectors or vicars, need to retire for the health on the congregation but refuse to do so for personal or perceived financial need. Repealing the mandatory retirement would have a negative impact on younger clergy assuming positions of leadership in congregations.
I would urge the proposers of this resolution to consider changing the mandatory retirement age to 75 or something under 80. I cannot support a repeal of the mandatory retirement.

Clergy are already known (and researched) to be one of the fields of work with high levels of burnout and lack of self care. It is not rare to hear stories of clergy who felt they needed to stay in a particular situation "to save the congregation," while there was no one to save them. The way I have seen it operate in the lives of many clergy persons is that the age of 72 gives a light towards the end of the tunnel. A moment in time when taking time for oneself is unquestioned and very well deserved. I Time when the clergy person can say "I wish I could, but I can't," without feeling guilty or recriminated by those who always want more from their clergy.
As a clergy person I see compulsory retirement as the church's call for me to create a vision for my future that is healthy (spiritually, financially, emotionally, physically) beyond the day to day, week to week parish commitment and responsibilities.
I am a priest forever. I do not want or need to be in the pulpit or preside at the altar every week for ever.
I currently have the joy of serving with two RE-tired clergy persons as the parish's assistants. I truly am looking forward to being someone's assistant someday soon, maybe even before the age of 72.

B.T.W.: In current Episcopal polity, only rectors and bishops have tenure. P.I.C.'s, curates, deacons, vicars, assistants, etc. can be let go or asked to leave if the situation is unhealthy or dysfunctional, regardless of age or status (active or retired). This could be a reason why more Congregations are calling priests in charge instead of rectors, to lighten the burden of separation due to unforeseen issues.

I have known a number of priest aspirants in their 60s who have been denied access to the ordination process on the basis of their age, despite being strongly supported by their discernment committees. These are men and women who would bring much to the church and who are generally not wishing to be in rector positions, but rather wanting to serve as P.I.Cs, curates etc. I grieve to know of the wasting of such callings, for both the individual and the church as a whole.
Having a mandatory retirement age (admittedly with possible extensions) seems like just an easy way out of dealing with 'challenged' older clergy. As we know, clergy can be 'challenged' at any age! In lieu of a mandatory age, I could imagine a regular review process that would support clergy retirement at the 'right' age for priest and congregation.

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