Christianity Church of England & Ministry

Ministerial Training // Residential vs Regional, yet again…

In Friday’s Church Times Revd Dr Michael Volland wrote about residential training for ministry in the Church of England, and so of course the usual debate begins again: which is the best mode of training for ministry in the CofE?

Now I should say to be fair to Michael Volland, he doesn’t out rightly say that residential training is better than regional, that wasn’t his angle, and, he is Principal of Ridley Hall so of course he’s going to push his own workplace. However, I feel that again we need to make the case that the Church of England itself allows, includes, and encourages different modes of training, so it would be unfair of any one form of training to claim the moral high ground.

MV makes 5 points in his article, the first of which is:

1) A fundamental feature of residential training is the way in which it facilitates spiritual formation.

Any ordinand can tell you, no matter where they study, that ‘spiritual formation’ is a fundamental of all ministerial training, so much so that we’re all sick of hearing the term by the end of the first year. It is not exclusive to residential training by any means.

He raises the issue of disciplines of a corporate life, all of which are experienced at regional college, admittedly not daily unless on a residential event, but nonetheless a core part of college life. I’d also question whether coping with others who are different and confronting issues within oneself happen solely at residential college. Frankly anyone with a job in the secular world, anyone who understands village life, anyone who shops in a supermarket on a Saturday morning, anyone who plays team sports, anyone who has ever entered a pub quiz or anyone who’s ever been to a football match will have experienced these sort of questions for themselves. Ok that’s perhaps a bit flippant but so often in the CofE I’ve found we ignore ordinand’s, Curate’s and clergy’s experience of life before training and holy orders. You can’t tell an ex-publican, anyone who’s worked in the building industry or a teacher (just a few examples I know of, not to stereotype) that they don’t know how to cope with others who are different, and they might well suggest that 2 years ‘living in community’ is hardly a good comparison either.

MV goes on:

It is important that future church leaders in training experience grace in their day-to-day relations with others….

Surely this is important for all Christians? regardless of their role in the church or in life? If we want ‘mature and stable’ Priests and lay leaders, there are many ways we can assess this outside of residential training.


2) Residential training enables ordinands to become theologians who can articulate the Christian faith from a position of integrated knowledge.

Oh and I can’t because I went to regional college? Hmmm….

I’m assuming he includes preaching in this category, and I certainly don’t think that those who went to residential training make the best preachers for example. Might be able to cite a few more theologians than I could but better preachers? No, that comes down to a lot more than academic knowledge.

One could say there is a case to be made for future academics coming out of a institution that gives more contact time and more academic input, but actually in ministerial training we are training for, erm, ministry. The academic side is just one part of that. Knowing Greek or Hebrew, is not going to help you deal with a particularly harrowing funeral for example.

Actually, though I’d be really interested to know what the stats are for both contact time, and for those who end up being theological educators, academics or published theologians based on their training institution.

There might be less contact hours at a regional college, but it does instil in you the need to study for yourself, take the initiative, do your own research – which is a great skill to have because you’re not going to have tutors constantly nagging you to read and study when you are in ordained ministry – it’s up to you and you alone.


MV also notes that:

residential colleges working in relationship with a uni­versity ensure academic accountability and intellectual integrity…

As far as I’m aware, all ministerial training is overseen by a university – ALL (most of it by Durham University).


3) Residential training offers a supportive environment for individuals and families to prepare for a way of life that is likely to involve regular disruption.

Yes, yes, we’ll probably have to move at some point, the point about ministry involving sacrifice is pretty much rammed down your throat during discernment and training (but that’s another post…) but this is just absolute rubbish. 

Up sticks and move to somewhere where you know no one (probably), remove yourself from your friends and church environment where you currently get your support and go away for 2 years, occasionally coming ‘home’ if you can – though you might not now have a ‘home’ in your sending place to go to  – oh and just when you think you are making friends and getting a new support network, off you go again, sent off across the country away from each other – if you’re lucky you might find someone from your year in a curacy near you… That’s not what I’d call a supportive environment… Of course I didn’t experience that, so others well might disagree, but by contrast, I stayed in my sending church, with those who know and love us, with family and friends nearby who I could call on, cry on their shoulder, and seek support when we needed it. Many families, mine included, do not want to have to put their kids through more changes than are required. For us, a key element of choosing where to train was to minimise impact on the family. And yes it’s been hard moving but at least I haven’t inflicted it on my family twice in two years.


4) Residential training can offer a window into the “real life” of what a community of grace can become.

This is often a key point between residential and regional training and one where mixed mode training rates highly.  MV seems to suggest that the clichéd description of residential training as isolation from “real life”, is unfair. Perhaps, but I’d say it’s no more unfair than suggesting regional training doesn’t produce good enough theologians…


5) Residential training offers value for money.

As he also notes in point 2:

The gifts of time and space have a financial cost, but this represents value for money for a Church committed to identifying, training, and releasing a generation of pastor-theologians, along with those who will become the theological educators of the future.’

And here:

For many, the most powerful argument against residential training is cost. But a Church that trusts God to provide abundantly for its needs refuses to weigh the future in terms of the financial bottom line. This is untheological and unchristian. The Church is called by Christ to think and act in line with the coming Kingdom. The Church of the future will trust God for the resources necessary to ensure the continued flourishing of ministerial training, because we are committed to giving our future leaders the best possible preparation for mission and ministry.


I’m really not sure where he is going here. So firstly on cost: Residential training IS more expensive than regional that’s just the way it is, but he then goes on to say:

For many, the most powerful argument against residential training is cost. But a Church that trusts God to provide abundantly for its needs refuses to weigh the future in terms of the financial bottom line. This is untheological and unchristian

This seems to be an interesting point to include here, because surely, we need to trust God with every aspect of theological training not just financial? Could we not say also that we are trusting God for our spiritual formation? For our academic education? I’d edit his final sentence to read:

The Church of the future will trust God for the resources (^^and the training methods) necessary to ensure the continued flourishing of ministerial training, because we are committed to giving our future leaders the best possible preparation for mission and ministry.


I’d be really interested to know people’s thoughts on this. I wish that we could accept that the Church of England offers different methods of training and support each other in that rather than bringing out the same old tired arguments. Each has its own qualities, and yet also its downsides. But each method does prepare people for ministry and gives us a diversity of ministers with different skills and qualities, to meet the needs of a vast array of people and churches that we will minister to and in. Sounds about right to me…




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  • Reply
    March 5, 2018 at 11:07 pm

    Obviously I can’t comment on residential training for Ordained Ministry, but I can on regional (or distributed training) for Licensed Lay Ministry.

    From the perspective of a now, Licensed LLM, Both my Incumbent and Curate trained at SEITE (now St Augustines’ College). And they’re fabulous adverts for Residential Training. Both bring different experiences to the table, but I respect both for their leadership and example. In fact, every incumbent that I have experienced to work with so far, has been trained at SEITE.

    In my last parish, we had a residential trained curate,who worked with a SEITE trained Incumbent. She was young, but made a very favorable impression with me. It was a privilege to work with her as she grew, developed and made progress and she was whisked away to become the Bishops Chaplain pretty early.

    But in the same way, I was privileged to work with our curate, trained at SEITE, as he progressed and is now ready to see where God might take him next – wherever God places him, they will receive a thoughtful, well qualified and trained theologian, whose academic ability is beyond question.

    And I would have to strive very hard to tell the difference between the residential trained curate and SEITE trained curate.

    The mobility component is something that I experienced in the Army. In 23 years of Regular Service I had a move every couple of years, which was about promotion, and going where they sent you, with little or no choice. This meant uprooting family, who had barely settled and put down roots to another place, or another country. Our children had numerous schools, as a deliberate choice was for them to accompany us, and not be placed in Boarding School, which was the option.

    Stipendiary Clergy have the option to take their families with them, in fact is seems to be a required part of the expectations of Clergy life. In the Army, you could leave your family at home in a permanent base and only see them when on leave or getting home at weekends. Not ideal in my view.

    I can see the desirability of residential training, but our LLM training had two Residential weekends and one Residential Retreat. But as a cohort we’d really gelled right from the start. We had a whatwapp group, (which is still running) and socialized outside the formal training setting in fellowship and this made us a cohesive whole. That fellowship continues as we move into year 4, each doing different things, but still friends, probably life long, sharing each others ups and downs and progress as well. Surely, this sort of sharing is the aspiration of both residential and regional training? We know each other well, and here we have a sort of ‘Chapter’ for mutual support and encouragement.

    • Reply
      March 7, 2018 at 7:26 pm

      there’s definitely some parallels with LLM training, and a lot of the same issues, and of course I’m a SEITE – St Augustines – fan!

  • Reply
    March 5, 2018 at 11:09 pm

    That Residential should read Regional – mistake on my part. 🙁

  • Reply
    March 5, 2018 at 11:42 pm

    Hi Jules, I love what you have written here! I’m currently in the discernment process, and looking ahead to what would happen if it turns out that God is, in fact calling me to ordination (gulp!). I finished my 3 years of training as a reader last year, and I have to say that being able to come back to my home church and immediately put into practice the things I was learning was extremely helpful. It also taught me a great deal about being in a community of grace, as my church family encouraged, celebrated, taught, supported, forgave and bore with me! I did love the residential training weekends, especially for the opportunity to immerse myself in learning and being formed with and by my fellow students, but I personally think that if I were to train residentially full time, I might become too find of the ivory tower and afraid to leave it! I too have family to consider, my youngest is looking at gcse’s in a few years time, and I don’t think it would be right to uproot him before then. So if I end up being recommended for training, I very much hope and pray I would be able to follow a similar path to yourself, and remain in or near my home church.
    I have taken so much inspiration and sometimes comfort from your blog, thank you for writing so honestly about your journey so far!

    • Reply
      March 7, 2018 at 7:34 pm

      Great to hear about your experiences so far, how are you enjoying being a reader? MY experience with my church community was the same, really positive and encouraging, I think it’s so helpful to be able to do that. Hope your journey continues to go well, glad the blog has been helpful to you so far! J

  • Reply
    Vicar's "wife"
    March 6, 2018 at 12:13 am

    My reflection is as an ordinands husband who went through the residential system. From my point of view it was a horrendous experience, little or no support, uprooting our kids twice in two years. College life is a bubble with, in the main, ways of doing things set in stone. To be fair, my wife has a core of fellow ministers she trained with that she is in contact with but no support from them.

    • Reply
      March 7, 2018 at 7:36 pm

      Sorry to hear it’s been so tough for you. They say it’s a sacrifice and you realise when you rein it it’s. sacrifice for the whole family not just the person training. Hope things are better now? J

  • Reply
    March 7, 2018 at 6:26 pm

    I’m currently in my first year of curacy having completed 2 years residential training at Ridley Hall. I was an ordinand there when Michael Volland was appointed Principal at the end of 2016. As you say Jules, Michael is naturally a passionate advocate for residential training, and rightly so, having been appointed to this post. However, I think it is only fair to say that because Michael is passionate about this form of training it does not mean that he rejects the value of other types of training, nor that he is demeaning them. Knowing Michael as I do, this is not the message that he is communicating in the article, or that he did when I was an ordinand at the College. What I actually believe he is doing is defending the ongoing possibility of residential training for all those ordinands for whom it is the most appropriate form of training, something which I believe is under threat. Certainly, for many ordinands over 40, age-related financial constraints, imposed by their sending Diocese as a result of the recent changes in the allocation of resources provided for ordination training by the Church of England, have completely removed the possibility of residential training. As someone who trained residentially in my 40s, I thank God every day that I was not denied this possibility because for my family and I it was entirely the most appropriate mode of training. Had I entered training just 2 years later than I did, I strongly suspect residential training would not have been an option available to me.

    I should mention at this point that I had no fairytale experience of residential training. My 2 years at Ridley were times of what I can only describe as extreme highs and lows, the best of times, the worst of times, and everything in between…..but I look back and thank God for all of it because it prepared me in many different ways for the shape and location of my current ministry and the future ministry that God continues to prepare me for.

    In relation to the specifics of your response to Michael’s 5 points, here is my response to some of them based on my own experience:

    Spiritual formation: I spent the first few weeks of my time at Ridley wondering when we were going to have our classes on spiritual formation. And then I realised that actually it was the day to day lived experience of attempting to live and work in community, productively and in some form of harmony with this diverse bunch of people of differing ages, opinions, theological views, characters etc that was actually forming me spiritually, in a concentrated, ongoing and at times deeply painful and challenging way. This combined with invaluable spiritual disciplines which I have carried with me into curacy, such as daily corporate prayer, and the mutual accountability of participating in this. It was hard but it was immensely valuable and it helped me as a leader to experience grace in day to day relationships with others so that I might have some hope of modelling it to those within the churches and communities whom I now work for.

    Becoming a theologian – training residentially at Ridley made it possible for me to pursue a Bachelor in Theology for Ministry degree with Cambridge University in which I was able to overcome underconfidence and self-doubt and fulfil an academic potential I never realised I had, exceeding all expectations I ever had of my own academic ability. Consequently, I’ve been able to start an MA course in my curacy and I’m also beginning to be involved in training and education more widely in my current Diocese. Through this, I hope that I can benefit many others with the excellent education and training that I have received. Much of this was instigated by a tutor at Ridley who suggested this pathway to me at interview and encouraged and supported me throughout my training. With regard to this point, I can honestly say I don’t think I would have achieved this outcome had I trained on a part-time regional course. I am not saying this is true for all, but I do believe that the option of residential training may allow some ordinands to fully achieve their academic potential, maximising all the gifts and skills that God has given them, for the benefit of his wider Church, something which might not happen for some if this option were removed.

    Residential training as a supportive environment for individuals and families – I moved with my husband and 2 children to Cambridge. We left family and friends and our home-town where our children had been born and our church of 8 years which was like family to us. It was probably the most difficult decision we had ever had to make as a family and we grieved deeply for what we lost. Being in a community with others in a similar situation to us was immensely helpful and eventually healing, particularly for my children, though certainly not always easy. This move, made the second move into curacy so much easier. Our children were prepared second time around. It gave us confidence to have the courage to step into a future that we felt God was calling us to. In the end we left our sending Diocese by choice and moved hundreds of miles to a new Diocese. I’m certain that Ridley prepared us to take this step.

    I completely agree that it is fantastic that the Church of England does offer different methods of training and that all of these are valid ways of preparing people for ministry. However, I do feel that it is entirely appropriate that people in Michael Volland’s position continue to speak out to ensure that the full range of training options is available to as many people as possible. We need to avoid further restrictions imposed by short-sighted funding policies that certainly do not bear witness to a God of abundant provision who calls and fully equips a diversity of people of all ages, with differing skills and abilities, to ministry and mission in his church. It is through releasing the full potential of all people, ordained and lay, that we can help to facilitate the growth and flourishing of God’s church.

    • Reply
      March 7, 2018 at 7:45 pm

      Thanks for this, helpful to hear from someone who knows him. I agree we need all different modes of training and I am disappointed that residential courses are facing issues due to funding changes, which I’ve heard about from other people too. We definitely need the diversity of training places to produce a diversity of clergy, which is so important. I think my frustration is borne out of the fact that there is so much anti-course feeling and as someone who attended regional training you are often made to feel like your training was second class. It wasn’t and it was exactly what we needed, and worked for us, just as residential worked for you and others. I think MV could have done so much more to talk about the benefits of residential/Ridley without what seemed to me (and others felt this too) the veiled criticism of other modes of training. I’m not against him pushing Ridley or residential, as I said that’s his job! but he just brought out the same old arguments, which in many cases just aren’t true. It just felt like a lazy article with all the same old rubbish.
      Good to hear your experiences too and I’m glad Ridley was so good for you, again it’s stories like yours that show why we need such diversity in training choices. That kind of of info in an article would have been so much better than what he wrote 😉 Hope you continue to flourish in your continued training. J

  • Reply
    Frustrated Anglican
    March 7, 2018 at 7:22 pm

    Interesting article and as someone new to all this it just re confirms my opinion that those with “the bright ideas/ opinions” don’t actually have much connection with the real world, they have opinions formed 40 years ago and haven’t stepped out into the world that the rest of us inhabit for a considerable amount of time, which is rather disappointing.

    The world has changed considerably even in the last 5 years yet the church just doesn’t demonstrate that at “the top” they understand any of that, perhaps a tad harsh but that is the perception.

    The church should be making it easier and more accessible for people of any age to serve in whatever way their calling suggests but it seems to be littered with “managers” who haven’t stepped out from behind a desk for years yet they consider their opinions are still relevant.

    Perhaps if they talked to ordinary people they might, with an open mind, learn something and people’s perceptions would not be of the ” and in the real world” variety.

    The church seems frustratingly still stuck in 1952 why oh why can’t they accept that trainng and learning now takes on many forms and they need to make it easier by way of a choice of access streams

    • Reply
      March 7, 2018 at 7:53 pm

      Hiya. Well as you say harsh maybe, possibly fair. I think there are certainly pockets of this, people who’ve been in the CofE since they were in their 20s and are career clergy who may well have limited experience of the ‘real world’ but there are also others who I know make every effort to stay in touch with society as it is. Much as I found this article frustrating and the CofE too sometimes, I still love it and embrace it, hence why I’m part of it, and I still feel it has a huge role in society. I also feel that God is bringing people into the church who have got more ‘life experience’ who can feed this in and make a difference, so perhaps that’s something to think about? I once heard someone say (though I’ve not yet found any evidence for it!) that there is a greek word for frustration which means the same as passion. The person who said this used it as an analogy for those of us who find things frustrating – saying maybe God is trying to show you how he wants you to act in a situation – ie: can your frustration be used for good? As I said I don’t know if it’s true but whenever I’m frustrated about something I find that helpful! J

  • Reply
    Melanie Burnside
    March 8, 2018 at 10:49 am

    This comment “and ensures that students do not unintentionally collude with an anti-intellectual approach to Christian faith” coloured the tone of the article for me. I reiterate my twitter response to the following recent article:
    As a 44 year old woman I start my part-time training with St Hild College, Mirfield in September which was the best fit option considering the needs of me and my family. The Diocese of York have already provided considerable resources during discernment particularly through York School of Ministry (YSOM) where I am now part way through a diploma under Durham University’s Common Awards. My study so far will continue to BA/MA during training. I’m very thankful for the excellent training I’ve received so far and am excited to be joining St Hild’s, who operate alongside YSOM. The inference that the well qualified and committed staff of both YSOM and St Hild’s (or any other regional colleges) would advocate an ‘anti-intellectual approach to Christian faith’ seems like snobbery to me.

  • Reply
    April 19, 2018 at 7:26 pm

    Hi Jules! Thanks for your thoughts, I found this really interesting.

    I think that That context of why Michael wrote this article is really important, being that the Church of England are increasingly resistant to sending people to residential training because it is more expensive. This means that the benefits of residential training are not being offered to those whom it would serve well, specifically on a financial basis.

    Ridley Hall actually offers a part-time context based course (Ridley Lay Ministry) in which students go to college for week long block courses and spend the rest of their time in their churches, much like regional training. So Michael absolutely doesn’t undervalue other modes of training, as he has been key to establishing RLM and is very passionate about it.

    I’m sorry if you have felt that your mode of training has been looked down upon by others in the church, because that is wrong. But I think he’s rightly concerned that residential training doesn’t disappear for financial reasons and unfortunately that is a corner which needs fighting right now because of how the conversation around training has changed in the last few years.

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