Thinking Anglicans

Resourcing Ministerial Education – An update

Readers may recall that just before General Synod met in February the Bishop of Sheffield issued a note which was titled Financial issues around Resourcing Ministerial Education

Today, he has issued another note, this one is titled Resourcing Ministerial Education – An update.

The full text is copied below the fold.

The article to which he refers by Alister McGrath can be found linked from here.

And there was this other article reporting More criticism for Resourcing Ministerial Education.

Resourcing Ministerial Education – An update

There have been a number of developments in the ongoing RME process since General Synod. Questions have been in recent weeks in correspondence, in the Church Press and online. It seems a good moment to offer an update and some answers to the questions.

What’s happening now?

We’re in the midst of a process of engagement and consultation about the Reform and Renewal programme as a whole (there is a box on the front of the Church of England webpage dedicated to reform and renewal updates). There are a number of elements to this.

1. Members of the Archbishops’ Council and staff members are making visits to dioceses to explore the proposals as a whole and to seek feedback at Diocesan Synods, Bishops Councils and a range of other meetings. There has been a high takeup. The feedback from the meetings is positive.

2. Lead staff members are also making a second round of visits to Bishops and their staff to test out the outworking and possible modification of the proposals.

3. A questionnaire has been sent to all dioceses and theological education institutions on the details of the RME proposals and we have had a high rate of return.

4. There are large number of other meetings and conversations around this agenda, including with theological educators.

This process of gathering feedback and engagement will take a number of months.

What’s the feedback been like so far?

As you’d expect, there’s been a wide range of responses. The vision in the RME proposals has been warmly welcomed, as in the General Synod debates. There are a range of positive and negative responses to the specific proposals – some quite bracing to read and others much more positive.

It’s already clear (and was clear at Synod) that the original proposals will need a good deal of development and that (as we expected) far more detail will be required before decisions can be taken.

What is the process from here ?

The RME Task Group completed its work in January and so the process from here is being overseen by the Ministry Council, the Archbishops Council and the House of Bishops, who all have an important stake in the eventual outcomes.

We are hoping that a more developed set of proposals will be published in the early autumn – but it may take longer than this.

Is there a sufficient theological rationale for the changes?

The RME Report has been criticized for having an insufficient theological rationale. We will certainly try and make this rationale more explicit in the next group of proposals.

However, it was never the purpose of the RME report to develop this rationale from first principles. Paragraph 10 articulates the need for an iterative dialogue between the present needs of the Church and Scripture and tradition. The same paragraph sets the report within the formularies of the Church of England about ordination (including the ordinal).

Paragraph 14 clearly proposes retaining the diversity of the present pattern of training and the Common Awards. Paragraph 31 expresses full confidence in present patterns of IME and affirms the ongoing need for a mixed economy of residential, non-residential and context based training.

The report is about the future resourcing of ministerial education. It is fundamentally about how best to get best value from and where necessary increase the resources available, ensure that theological education is lifelong, more flexible, extends to lay people as well as the ordained, and that the best possible such education is offered to the largest number of people.

Is the report negative about academic theology and research?

Not at all. This point has been raised by Alister McGrath in his Church Times article of 17th April where he detects a “hostility to theological scholarship”. I’ve reread the report several times for anything which might indicate this and I can’t find it. Nor can I find any evidence for the view that theological engagement with ministry is seen as peripheral, a luxury or divisive. The RME Task Group would have identified wholeheartedly with Alister’s paragraphs on theological vision for ministry. We simply assumed that this would be shared ground.

Nor do the existing recommendations mean that there will be less engagement with theology degrees in the universities. Proposal 3, paragraph 36, argues for the continuation of research degree funding and the higher cost pathways in theology departments, though with more flexibility for dioceses than previously.

Is this all a cost-cutting exercise?

Emphatically not. See paragraph 15: “The full range of proposals put forward require further resources. We have identified a first estimate of what an increase in present investment might achieve (in other words another £10 m per annum).

This would be the biggest single uplift in investment in theological education the Church of England has made for a generation.

However in order to increase this investment we have to be absolutely sure that we are being good stewards of our present investment and that any new funds will have the outcomes the Church needs.

Will this mean a decline in residential training ?

This question was raised before the General Synod and I answered it in an earlier blog post.

Much will depend on the level at which the standard grant is set, on the provision for family maintenance which is made and on the framework for decisions about candidates provided by the proposed Bishop’s Guidelines. But with the intended 50% increase in the number of ordinands none of the three modes of training- residential, course and context based- needs to be anxious.

The evidence from all across the Church of England is that bishops, parishes, and clergy all place a high value on residential training as part of the mixed economy of training we need for the future.

Is more clergy the answer?

A number of people have raised the question of whether simply ordaining more clergy is an answer to the range of challenges we face and will lead to the growth we are seeking.

The hardest single point to communicate in the whole RME proposals is that a large increase in people offering for ministry will not lead to an increase in the total number of clergy.

We are facing a significant fall in the number of stipendiary clergy even on the most hopeful scenario of a 50% increase in vocations.

If we do nothing we face a very steep fall indeed in the clergy who will be available to dioceses in ten years time. Clergy are already very stretched across many dioceses. Dioceses, clergy and parishes are already very imaginative in rethinking deployment and patterns of working and that needs to continue. But the kind of reduction we are facing would mean a radical change to the Church of England’s ability to sustain Christian communities in every part of the country.

This is a situation we cannot ignore for the sake of future generations. The effects will be felt most in dioceses with fewer resources, in areas of unfashionable deprivation, in poorer communities. The evidence of the feedback and debate is that some sections of the Church of England have not yet faced these uncomfortable realities.

RME is not arguing for more clergy than we have now. It is putting the case (and urging prayer and action) for more vocations to all kinds of ministry so that the mission of the Church as a whole can grow and flourish into the future.

That means addressing the funding questions as well.

Can the additional costs of training be met from “central funds” ?

Some of the contributions to the debate assume that the Church of England has a large pot of money somewhere called “central funds”.

There is at present no “core funding from central funds”. The funding for ordination training is all provided by the dioceses, mainly from the sacrificial giving of church members.

That funding is pooled. The pooling arrangement has some benefits: richer dioceses contribute more than poorer dioceses and the dioceses which produce a large number of ordinands do not bear the cost of their initial training.

However, the present arrangements also have some serious disadvantages. They are complicated and inflexible. Decisions about an ordinand’s training are separated entirely from the consequences in terms of costs. The consistent feedback from Bishops and Dioceses is that theological training institutions need to be more responsive to the changing ministerial needs of the Church as a whole.

The General Synod Vote 1 which funds ministerial education has increased by 40% between 2004 and 2014 and at a rate which is significantly above the level of inflation, even at the higher measure of RPI. The number of ordinands in training has remained broadly constant. Dioceses tell us that they are struggling to bear additional costs over and above inflation given the pressures on their own budgets.

This cost pressure comes at a time when the Church of England as a whole discerns a need to see the numbers of vocations to ordained ministry rise. For that reason we are seeking ways of connecting decisions about training more intelligently with the costs and content of that training. We are also looking at drawing down additional resources for a limited period from the Church Commissioners as part of the wider Reform and Renewal agenda discussed by the General Synod in February.

Have would any additional funding be invested?

No decisions have been made about the quantity of additional funding required or the details of how it would be invested.

The Reform and Renewal programme has a number of elements which might be included in a request to the Church Commissioners from the Archbishops Council for additional funding to be released. All of that is the subject of the present consultation.

And finally….

I do not believe that RME advocates a “corporate, management driven institutional approach’ to ministerial training as some have argued. It is a report about resourcing. The clue is in the title.

In that context, the report advocates prayer, increased investment, continuity with the present patterns of training, good stewardship and greater flexibility as the Church looks to the future.

The Reform and Renewal process as a whole is a courageous attempt to help the Church examine its future direction, face uncomfortable truths in a spirit of hope and to better equip that Church in its understanding of and participation in God’s mission. I believe these are vital proposals at a key moment in our history. They are necessary but not sufficient for the reform and renewal of the Church. Doubtless they can be improved (and they will be) as the process continues. As ever, I look forward to the continued debate.

+Steven Sheffield
28 April, 2015.

Notify of

Inline Feedbacks
View all comments
Simon R
Simon R
8 years ago

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… Read more »

Charles Read
Charles Read
8 years ago

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… Read more »

Stephen Parsons
Stephen Parsons
8 years ago

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… Read more »

Would love your thoughts, please comment.x