When Reverend Charlotte Ballinger went to buy vestments recently, the 28-year-old caused confusion: "The man behind the counter asked me if they were for TV or theatre. It hadn't crossed his mind that a young woman buying vestments could be a priest." That puzzled shop assistant may find an increasing number of Charlottes cross the threshold in coming years, though.
The latest statistics from the Church of England, seen exclusively by The Independent, show that under-30s make up 23 per cent of those entering ministry – a 20 year high. The church attributes the rise to an online and offline push combined with a move away from the school of thought that ordinands shouldn't be fresh out of school or university.
"There's now greater clarity that young ordinands don't have to go away and get more life experience," says Liz Boughton, the national adviser for Young Vocations, created in 2006 to tackle the dearth of younger clergy.
Each of the 43 dioceses has its own Young Vocations Champions, and a pilot Ministry Experience Scheme enables wannabe ordinands to experience life as a vicar for a year.