Thinking Anglicans

More criticism for Resourcing Ministerial Education

The Church Times reports: Changes in training prompt resignation and protest letter.

…The Revd Dr Sarah Coakley, professor of divinity at the University of Cambridge, sent a resignation letter to the group four days before the report – Resourcing Ministerial Education – was published (News, 16 January). In it, she lists several reservations about the report, warning that it is “anodyne and misleading”. She describes the devolution to the dioceses as “the most disturbing part . . . I must be blunt: I simply do not believe there is sufficient qualitative theological understanding in most of the dioceses to protect the sort of aspirations that this report promotes.”

Resourcing Ministerial Education, presented to the General Synod in February (News, 20 February), proposes that “decisions about training pathways for individuals should be made in the diocese, in consultation with the candidate.” A “standard level of grant for tuition” will be given to each recommended candidate from a central fund, to which all dioceses contribute. This grant “may be used in a range of ways as the diocese sees fit, providing the training is from an approved provider”…

The letter to the editor, signed by 17 academics and quoted in the news report, can be found in full here.

…We the undersigned wish to express our great concern that, should core funding from central funds disappear and be replaced altogether with diocesan funding, a casualty will be the strong links built up over many years with university theology and religious studies departments, and that the public, intellectual engagement of the Church of England with pressing contemporary issues will suffer accordingly.

None of us disputes the importance of alternative modes of educational delivery to the full-time residential one. Mixed-mode and context-based training schemes, alongside part-time study, have already contributed enormously to the development of new ways into ordained as well as lay ministry, and there is no doubt that they have much more to offer the Church in the future. The Church of England needs a diversity of forms of theological education if it truly desires a diversity of ordination candidates.

We are alert, too, to the differential costs of all these various ways of pursuing study. Nor are we blind to the potential that exists – though arguably it is severely underdeveloped – for constructive relationships between university departments and the newer forms of training.

But there is a particular advantage to the pursuit of theological study in a full-time setting that can serve well the deepest engagement possible with the challenges of contemporary theology, and especially the development of an active research culture. All of our universities have contributed significantly to that in the past, and would hope to do so in the future. A key element is the involvement of universities in the education of clergy and laity, both through the contribution that academic staff make to teaching and to debate in the wider Church, and through the participation of students in graduate as well as undergraduate courses….


  • Dr Edward Prebble says:

    I wonder if there is a connection between the proposals suggested in this report (and the protest against them), and the fact, mentioned on these pages over a year ago by Martyn Percy, that for the first time since the Reformation, the C of E does not have a single diocesan bishop with experience as a teacher of theology at university level?
    There certainly seems to be a trend towards practitioners of church growth, parish development etc, and away from higher theological qualifications, and none of the three women appointed as bishops reverses that trend.
    It would certainly not be healthy to have all, or even most, of the bishops to be drawn from the ranks of professional theologians, but something does seem wrong when there is not a single one.

  • Rev. Susan Haseltine says:

    From the experience of the Presbyterian Church USA, this kind of move creates a two tier clergy, the one asks for less compensation and pushes out the fully educated clergy. Watched this happen over the past 30 years in the US.

  • Pluralist says:

    Theology is dying. It is becoming divorced from church life, with ideas about the ‘post-secular’ and language… Interestingly, there is a debate among Unitarians about training via the medium of Christianity and then dropping it as ministers go to congregations turning into religious humanists, semi-Pagans, easterns etc. and at the same time people in more orthodox quarters learn much at the seminary and either willingly drop it for cliches and beliefs ordinary folks gave up long ago or find no place for the seminary insights and intellectual methods. At the same time, whilst theology asks other subjects for reference points other subjects seek no insights from theology. It’s pretty dead, therefore.

  • I see that ‘Reform’ is hosting a much-advertised conference, under the banner of the expectation of the demise of the Church of England should the new reforms be put into effect.

    I note that the Speakers at their conference will be Bishop Pete Broadbent and The Revd. Ian Paul – both Evangelical contenders for argumentation on this tricky subject. It should be an interesting exercise.

  • Christopher Hobbs says:

    Father Ron Smith, I think the details are not quite right. It is Fulcrum that is doing a debate, and the topic is “Reform and Renewal…” Nothing to do with the organisation ‘Reform’.
    To quote the Fulcrum website:
    Our Fourth Pivot Point is on Thursday April 16th.

    As we continue to think about Growing God’s Kingdom we will be learning about and discussing General Synod’s raft of plans for Reform & Renewal on Developing Discipleship, Resourcing the Future, Resourcing Ministerial Education, and Simplifying. We have The Revd Dr Ian Paul and Bishop Pete Broadbent as our guest speakers.

    In a change from earlier Pivot Points we are starting earlier in the evening – 6pm for 6.30pm – and so ending at 8pm (although some may wish to head to a local pub to continue conversation). We are meeting at the St James the Less Centre (next to St James the Less where we held the first Pivot Point) just off the Vauxhall Bridge Road and a few minutes walk from Pimlico tube station.

  • Jenny Petersen says:

    Father Ron – It’s a forthcoming Fulcrum conference; ‘reform’ is merely part of the title. Please see

  • Simon R says:

    What the Archbishops (and the Wash House) simply do not get is the fundamental principle that effective mission and effective evangelism is rooted in rigorous theological foundations and the ability to use those theological sources responsibly, with imagination and resourcefulness. The Church of England’s distinctive vocation has always been to be scholarly AND pastoral AND missionary (not either/or). This letter from our leading theologians must not be allowed to sink without trace (though attempts will be made to bury it). Whatever claims are made in RME, this is manifestly finance-driven. Surely, we have seen the pitiful consequence of more than two decades of finance-driven decisions about training for ordination, as levels of theological literacy among the parish clergy have plummeted, and increasing numbers struggle to give a coherent and engaging account of the Christian tradition ‘in the pulpit’ – let alone in wider society.

    By the way, it is not quite true to say that there are no theological teachers at university level in the House of Bishops. Steve Croft is a former Warden of Cranmer Hall (let the reader understand).

  • Christopher Hobbs says:

    Christopher Cocksworth (Coventry) was also a theological teacher at university level.

  • Dr Edward Prebble says:

    To Simon R and Christopher Hobbs:
    I (and Martyn Percy) stand corrected.

  • andy says:

    As was Rob Innes (Europe) – also university of Durham

  • Will Richards says:

    I think we need to distinguish between ‘University’ and ‘University Level’ here. Robert Innes and Steve Croft were on the staff of Cranmer Hall and taught within that Anglican theological college. They probably had ‘associate’ status in the Durham theology faculty. That is quite different to holding an academic post in a university theology faculty in its own right (e.g. Geoffrey Rowell at Oxford, Rowan Williams at Oxford and Cambridge, Kenneth Stevenson at Manchester, Stephen Sykes at Durham and Cambridge, Peter Selby at Durham). Martyn Percy and Edward Prebble need not rush too quickly to be corrected.

    Nonetheless, the RME proposals, the resignation of Professor Sarah Coakley, and the letter from 17 Anglican priest-academics is a serious issue which cannot be ignored – particularly if questions surrounding the future of training institutions have been ‘buried’ in the report. It is worrying that there seems to be little engagement in this thread with the substance of the proposals.

  • Sorry, Folks, for grossly misrepresenting FULCRUM, as being ‘REFORM’. We all know that the reform of REFORM is not necessarily what it meant by the word itself.

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