Residential vs Regional: Ministerial Training in the Church of England: A Residential View

This is the third post in a series on Ministerial Training in the Church Of England. To see the intro to it all click here. I have asked a selection of people to write on their own experiences of training, in different environments.

Today Hugh Bourne gives us his experience of training at a residential college, full time. Hugh is a third year Ordinand at Oak Hill College. Hugh blogs at HughBo.com

I’m a few months into my third and final year of full-time, residential training preparing for ordained ministry in the Church of England – and I think it’s great! Before I explain why I think it’s so valuable let me answer three common objections to this mode of training:

1) Cost – yes it’s expensive, further education is expensive, wherever you go, as is the cost of living. But it’s not an issue as the costs are met by a combined effort of my sending diocese and the CofE Ministry Division. This might be an argument against residential training if you’re a Diocesan Treasurer, but not from an ordinand.

2) Relocating – this will present different challenges for different people depending on life stage and circumstances, for us it was not a big upheaval, but certainly a wrench to leave friends, family and jobs. But to not do this at the college stage is really delaying the inevitable, it’s rare to serve a curacy at a sending church and by offering ourselves for ordination we offer ourselves to the Church of England as a whole – moving will be an inevitable part of ministry!

3) Ivory Tower – no one really questions the fact that many medical students study for 3 years (pre-clinical) before they do much training with real life patients, we actually assume that our doctors our well qualified for the job. Academic study, when done well is incredibly relevant to real life and real ministry because the connections are made, my own college has recently launched an ‘integrated curriculum’  to help this to happen. There may also be a sense in which the training is disconnected from the parish context, the reality is that in my training I will have had a much broader (if not as intense) experience of parish ministry. It’s possible that an ordinand could complete their training having only really experienced one church (their whole life!) – that doesn’t prepare well for wider ministry in the CofE.

Students wrestling with theological essays…

Let me tell you about some of the things I get from 3 years of residential training:

: Over 1000 hours of lectures – (approx… x12 1hour lecture, x10 week term, x3 terms, x3 years).
: A BA degree which gives accreditation to my study, demonstrates a level of academic competence, is transferrable and can be built upon. While some mixed-mode courses offer the same level of accreditation there really is no comparison in terms of academic rigour (just compare teaching time).
: 24 hour access to a theological library of over 50,000 books.
: We get a free lunch! But seriously, catering means I can get on with study and some of the best conversations happen at the meal table with my fellow students.
: A breadth of church experience in two year long parish placements, one intensive two-week parish placement, a week long chaplaincy placement and week long parish mission.
: Daily chapel services which immerse me in a breadth of liturgy and ground me in a worshipping community.
: The time and expertise to commit to learning Greek and Hebrew (I only did a year of Greek, but many of my peers have done three years of both!).
: I train side by side with Anglicans, Baptists, Charismatics, a whole range and spectrum of people from different backgrounds. Some are training to be ministers others to be missionaries or youth workers. There are groups which meet to pray, practise preaching, help each other learn languages, revision groups, social groups, special interest groups – study and worship are in sync and both done in community.
: We live in community, my neighbours are my peers, my lecturers do their laundry in the same laundrette, children play together. My neighbours are my peers now, they’ll also be in the future providing a basis for long term support for the next X years in ministry. : When I leave college in June to begin a curacy I will have spent 4 years in full-time parish ministry (including 3 years of practical study here and here, followed by three years in full-time training to degree level here.

Paradoxically I feel incredibly well equipped while feeling rather inadequate for the ministry ahead. If I had the choice between residential and a form of mixed-mode training (I realise some have no choice realistically), to choose mixed-mode would in my mind be downplaying the importance of being academically equipped for ministry and would be a disservice to the people which I will serve. After all no one wants to be operated on by the doctor who hasn’t spent adequate time in the classroom!

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  • Reply
    December 12, 2014 at 8:18 am

    Residential training was the traditional method of preparing candidates for Ordained Ministry. It produced, combined with double curacies, well rounded Priests fit for deployment country wide.

    This write up describes the quite detailed preparation and formation for ministry, including the life in community, that it entails. Yes it's expensive, yes it's a long time, but the reality is that the residential candidate goes forward to parish ministry well prepared for their role.

    Once in curacy the fun starts. There the relationship with the training incumbent will be key to success or failure of a curacy. I have seen statistics on those who resign their curacy as being quite high, many leaving ministry for good. What is unclear is how many of them were trained in residential situations or on regional schemes.

    I know many able Priests, trained on regional schemes, who have successful ministry, but who might lack fluency in greek or hebrew, because there isn't time on regional courses to deliver such specialised training. Perhaps it could be included in the IME scheme post ordination, because that's the only disadvantage that I see between candidates on residential or regional schemes.

    As someone who is training for licensed Lay Ministry on a regional scheme, and continuing to serve in my own parish, the focus on ministry in our own context is central to the teaching and learning. It makes sense to do it in that way, and we won't have placements, with all of our training taking place in our home parish. The advantage of this is getting to know our own context better and also to form ministry relationships which will determine the future shape and direction of each individuals service in their parish. I see the advantages of this, and I believe that they could well be used in a similar context with Regional Ordination training schemes, with perhaps a pre-ordination placement in a suitable parish, from a different tradition, just to focus their ministry for the wider church.

    In the end, each Ordinand is offering to serve the Church of England, not a specific diocese or deanery or parish. At least since the abolition of the OLM scheme.

  • Reply
    December 12, 2014 at 6:14 pm

    Thanks Ernie. Yes it would be interesting to have some stats on people leaving ministry related to training. In fact this series of posts came about partly because there doesn't seem to be any research on training in general which would actually be quite useful…
    Glad your training is going well!

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