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.’
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…