How to become a vicar online in the UK: a step-by-step guide
Updated 8 September 2023
Training to become a vicar provides a pathway to a potentially rewarding career in church leadership. The route to becoming a vicar or another type of ordained pastor has many steps, and it can take years before you receive your first church leadership position, but it's sometimes possible to complete some of the training online. If you're considering a career in the clergy, you might want to learn the steps to training for ministry online. In this article, we discuss how to become a vicar online in the UK and explore the types of vicar and pastoral training you can complete online.
Please note that none of the companies, institutions or organisations mentioned in this article are affiliated with Indeed.
What is a vicar?
Vicar is the specific term for a church leader or ordained minister in the Church of England. Vicars go through a thorough training programme and spend time in assistant and junior positions before becoming eligible to lead a church or a parish. Once fully qualified, vicars assume responsibility for a local church or oversee a group of churches within a local parish, leading church services and officiating over ceremonies such as weddings, christenings and funerals. They also tend to play a part in overseeing and supervising social activities and outreach programmes in the local community.
While a vicar is a specific type of ordained minister, there are other terms that describe pastors and church leaders from different denominations. Catholic Church leaders are priests, while other denominations, such as Baptist or Methodist churches or Pentecostal churches, may have a senior minister or a senior pastor. Each of these positions broadly include the same responsibilities as Church of England vicars, while each one may have a slightly different route to becoming qualified.
How to become a vicar online in the UK
If you're considering studying to become ordained, take a look at the steps below to learn how to become a vicar online in the UK. While you may be able to complete some of the steps towards your training online, becoming a Church of England vicar requires active involvement in a local church community. There's also a period of working in an assistant role before assuming a full-time posting as vicar of a parish. Take a look at the steps to becoming a vicar online below:
1. Develop your faith
Before deciding to become a vicar, it's necessary to spend time as an active member of the church, studying religious texts and developing your faith. You might consider serving as a volunteer or helping to run an activity or outreach programme in the church. If you decide to become a vicar, church leaders are likely to seek evidence of your commitment to the church and your dedication to helping people and serving the community.
2. Discuss your calling with a church leader
Before commencing studies to become a vicar, candidates pass through a period of consultation and discussion with their local vicar. This determines whether you have the necessary qualities and gifts to serve as a vicar and lead a congregation. If they agree that you're ready to study towards ordainment, the vicar can connect you with the local Diocesan Director of Ordinands, who guides you through a process called 'discernment', to establish your suitability for a career as a vicar.
3. Gain a degree
If, after completing the discernment stage of the process, the leadership deems you to be suitable and ready for ordained ministry, you can apply to study towards a theological qualification. Many mainstream universities in the UK offer undergraduate degrees in theology and religious studies. Although most of these universities require in-person attendance, there are likely to be elements of the course you can complete online. For a fully remote, online degree programme, The Open University also offers courses in theology and religious studies.
4. Study at theological school
The typical path to becoming a Church of England vicar in the UK involves attending a specialist theological college or seminary. While many of the theological colleges in the UK require physical attendance, including residential courses where you live on campus, there are some theology degrees and qualifications you can complete online. If completing an in-person qualification, there may be modules and sessions you can study remotely. Completing your theological degree typically takes three years, and may include a period of working in a church if you're completing your degree in a non-residential setting.
5. Work as a curate
After gaining your degree, a bishop ordains you as a deacon, and you begin the next step towards becoming a vicar: a curacy. This stage involves spending time serving in a junior role in a local parish. It provides an opportunity to learn from an experienced vicar and develop your knowledge and skills beyond what you learnt in your studies. Deacons can carry out some official duties such as weddings and baptisms.
6. Apply for your own church
After at least a year of curacy, it's possible to progress to the next stage and become a fully qualified vicar. A bishop ordains you as a priest, which gives you permission to lead the Holy Communion. It also means you have the qualifications and experience necessary to lead your own church or parish.
Becoming ordained online for other denominations
Much of the traditional pathway to becoming a Church of England vicar requires in-person study at a college and serving in a church or community setting. There are, though, ways of becoming ordained for other denominations that you can complete predominantly or exclusively online. These services can be useful if you want to become ordained for the purposes of presiding over a wedding, a funeral or another traditional religious ceremony. Here are some options for gaining a ministry qualification online in the UK:
Become a non-denominational minister or leader
Taking this path is a similar route to becoming a Church of England vicar, as it includes acquiring a recognised degree in ministry. Before taking this route, talk to your local pastor or church leader if you want to qualify as a minister for your particular denomination. They might be able to provide guidance on how to pursue this. If not, you can study towards a degree in theology or religion at a seminary that's not associated with a particular denomination.
You might wish to focus on qualifications and certifications that require a minimum time investment. This can include modified doctoral programmes that only require the completion of a dissertation. Many institutions in the UK offer online degree programmes, so you can complete your training remotely. You may also be able to complete a shorter course such as a certificate in theological studies, which may equip you with the necessary knowledge to serve in church leadership, depending on the denomination.
Become ordained via an online form
The quickest and simplest way to become ordained online in the UK is via services that only require you to submit an application. You might consider this if you're planning to officiate a wedding or another religious ceremony for a friend or family member. There are several services where you can complete the ordination application entirely online. You usually have to be at least 18 years of age to apply to one of these services, and most charge a fee or at least encourage you to make a donation.
To become ordained online, select your provider and read the information provided before completing your application. Some services require annual renewal. Other services may provide ordination kits that include items for performing a wedding or other ceremonies. You may wish to check before applying whether the ordination legally qualifies you as a minister in the UK. If the process isn't recognised by UK law, you may be unable to complete a full wedding or another religious ceremony. In this case, you may require a qualified minister or someone registered by your local authority to complete the legal ceremony.
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