Comments: Resourcing Ministerial Education - An update

Unless I'm missing something, I can't see that this update from Steve Croft addresses the fundamental concern of the "17 Signatories" that there are not sufficient theologically qualified personnel in the dioceses to make competent and insightful decisions about training pathways. Until the proposal to locate the decision-making about training pathways in the dioceses is more rigorously critiqued, there remains the real possibility that potential theological educators will go unidentified and unresourced, and residential training limited or ruled out, because (despite the assurances) this will be finance-driven with diocesan secretaries and chairs of dbfs calling the shots. It will be very difficult for a theologically insecure bishop to resist these pressures.

It will also mean more diocesan 'theological colleges' where staffing, costs and formational emphases are controlled by the bishop. I have just been told about one diocese in the South of England, beginning such a venture, who has appointed a Principal with no higher level teaching experience or the appropriate academic qualifications; but who is 'on message' as far as the diocesan strategy is concerned. That cannot be good news for the wider Church - especially when clergy trained under this scheme are subsequently seeking posts in other dioceses.

Posted by Simon R at Thursday, 30 April 2015 at 9:43am BST

I may be treading on thin ice in commenting on Simon's post - we had (in Norwich) a diocesan ministry course that trained Readers and OLMs. Some years ago, a decision was made to beef up its theological and formational rigour and we appointed a new principal to do just that. She was nearly at the end of a PhD and has taught in HE before. I was then appointed as Vice Principal, coming from seven years on the staff at Cranmer Hall (sorry if that feeds some people's current conspiracy theories!) and with a research degree at Master's Level and a PhD nearly finished. We forged a very close relationship with our regional course, ERMC, which was, with us, part of the Cambridge theological Federation. While we were under episcopal authority and had a governing body, we were not given directives 'from the top' about how to run the course.

Of course, it is tempting for me to think that all the things I've been involved in did things the best possible way, but I do think this did work. We had some involvement in other training in the diocese too. In 2013, we closed the diocesan course, made all our OLM ordinands students with ERMC (we were operating joint timetables etc anyway by then so it made little difference to them) - but had to reinvent a diocesan Reader training course (which I direct now) - though the Readers do academic modules with ERMC.

Setting up lots of diocesan training courses as stand-alone enterprises will run the risk of lowering quality. Partnership with a regional course or a residential college will help a great deal to stop this - that's our East Anglian experience.

However, Steve Croft has indicated that all the specific proposals will be up for debate and voting at GS so the things Simon is concerned about may well (in my view) be modified or thrown out. I share his concerns about it becoming finance-driven - I'm a diocesan officer and we are very conscious of the need to save money!

Posted by Charles Read at Friday, 1 May 2015 at 11:16am BST

I have not commented on this blog before but I want to raise an issue that Simon R alludes to, and which I tried to articulate in a letter to the CT that came out on Maundy Thursday. The elephant in the room is an increasing tendency of dioceses within the Church of England to develop their own distinctive theological cultures. Some, and I have one in mind in the South of England, (perhaps the one Simon refers to?) regard themselves as Conservative Evangelical. If a diocese decides for reasons of cost and conviction to offer only a single style of theological training, modelling itself on a Reform ticket like Oakhill or Moore Theological College in Australia, it will not be long before that diocese is prepared, like Sydney, to tolerate only a single theological culture for its clergy. How does the diversity of Anglicanism remain embedded in that diocese if the ordinands sing from a Reform hymn sheet and all future appointments to incumbent status conform to this pattern? Martyn Percy has reminded us that theological scholarship and indeed theological imagination may be on the decline among our bishops. A single diocesan bishop of a narrow background can lay the foundation for his diocese eventually to vote itself into communion with ACNA and GAFCON. The localising of theological training may be one plank in this process. Nobody wants to address the implications of the fact that if we increase the numbers of ordinands, we are also going to be tempted, while teaching them, to decrease the time that these candidates have to encounter traditions other than their own. If a new swathe of clergy, trained only in the rhetoric of the Reformation and the techniques of mission, sweep through certain dioceses in the next twenty years, there will be little space there for the wider and wiser traditions of Anglicanism to flourish or even survive in these particular areas of the Church of England.

Posted by Stephen Parsons at Friday, 1 May 2015 at 5:26pm BST
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