Residential vs Regional: Training in the Church of England

Southwark Cathedral, where some of the
SEITE training takes place

So if you are a regular reader of this blog, it cannot have escaped your notice that I am training for Ordination in the CofE. Throughout the last few years as I have explored this and now in my training, I have regularly thought about the various types of training available. There are essentially 3 modes of training: residential (full time), regional (part or full time) and mixed mode. For a long time, residential training was the only option available and requires someone training to up sticks and move to their college for two years while they train, a bit like going off to uni. In many cases this means partners and families move too.  I’ve got to be honest I’m not entirely sure why the option for regional training was brought in, so please feel free to comment if you can point me to this info! However I am based at SEITE, whose website says the following about regional training there:

SEITE was founded in 1994 to serve the churches of the South East of England in training people for Christian ministry but its roots go back much further. In 1959, the Bishop of Southwark had a vision for training Christians to take ministry from the church out into society. In doing so, he broke with the normal pattern of ministerial training in which ministers are taken away from their everyday situations to study theology in a college community. Instead he set up the Southwark Ordination Course which trained people for ministry whilst they remained firmly rooted in their everyday lives and local communities. This way, people learn to make connections between Christian theology and the world in which they live. This vision remains central to SEITE.

In addition to being rooted in their own communities it does mean people have the option to study part time, and continue in their current paid jobs, but it also means those studying at regional colleges can stay in their homes and not have to uproot their lives and families at this stage (whether training full or part time).

So then why am I writing about this? Well, ever since this process began for me, I have come up against the view that regional training is the poorer second cousin to residential. Many Bishops encourage their Ordinands to go to residential colleges, and students have to have very good reasons for not taking this path. In addition, a widely held view across the church seems to be that those at regional colleges do not get as good an eduction as those training residentially and that they are therefore unprepared for ministry life. Here’s a prime example from a comment on a recent blog. (You can read the full comments and post at his blog, so I won’t repeat it all here but as an example….)

. does it make a difference that there is usually less study time, and always less contact time, on [regional] courses?

 . what is the impact of having less qualified staff (as they usually are, in terms of higher degrees) who are more often teaching outside their area of first expertise?

. what is the logic of training people who will be in full-time stipendiary ministry on a part-time non-stipendiary course?

. is it pastorally responsible to put such pressure on people early in their training?

On the last question, a friend of mine who was principal of both a course and a college admitted that on the course, people often either did not do the hours expected, or if they did, whilst holding down a full-time job, ended up with intolerable pressures on their marriages and family life.

This comes from someone with much experience in residential training, but as I responded to him in the comments of his own blog, it does not seem to be based on fact. For example, where is the evidence? which I did ask for; actually at my college (can’t speak for others) our tutors are teaching in their area of expertise and it’s something I wouldn’t even question as the standard of teaching has been so high; and that diversity amongst students as at SEITE actually is hugely beneficial as we learn from each other; lastly that there are pressures on all students, they just differ from college to college.

(I should just say that this post was not just about modes of training, it was written after the anouncement that a well known college, St Johns, Nottingham, will no longer be offering residential training, and he does make some very good points in the piece around the subject of training in general.)

So to be honest I am a bit fed up with this view that regional training is not as good as residential. The Church of England allows training for ministry in a number of ways, all of which are overseen by Ministry Division. Colleges are inspected and standards must be reached. I have tried to find out if there is any official research done on the differences between the forms of training but as yet I haven’t found any, so again if anyone can point me to some that would be great. However what this does mean is that people’s opinion is largely formed on hearsay, tradition and personal experience rather than any factual evidence. Now I’m not about to start down that route myself but I have asked a few people to write about their own experiences of training in different environments to give a personal and perhaps more balanced view of the different forms of training currently. So in the coming few days we will hear from people at various colleges in guest posts here on my blog. Please do join in the discussion in the comments, I would love to hear from others of their own experiences…

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