The end of residential training?

P1270240It has been announced this morning that St John’s College, Nottingham, having just celebrated its 150th anniversary, is to cease training full-time residential ordinands.

After many months of prayerful consideration, the college Council and Directorate are ready to take the bold step of remodelling the college to meet the future training needs of the church. This plan will see an end to the admission of any new full-time residential students at the Nottingham campus from September 2015, and the development of new models of ministerial formation and training for discipleship. Recruitment of new full and part-time students on all Midlands CYM and Extension Studies programmes will continue as normal.

The website and the press release put the most positive angle possible on this, but it is clear from Charity Commission returns that there are serious financial problems; according to the returns, the college had a deficit of more than £245,000 in the last reported year, and the Financial History section makes it clear that this has been a long standing problem. No institution, even the well-run, can withstand that kind of financial pressure.

But there are surely further challenges ahead. The press release talks of four areas of training, and all of them are already under pressure. In terms of ordination training, the college is looking to go down a St Mellitus/course approach to training. But St Mellitus only got off the ground with a substantial investment of capital, not from a deficit position, and courses can only flourish if they are embedded in and actively sponsored by their regional dioceses. It is lack of good regional relations which has hindered St John’s in the past. In the post-Hind period where theological education is a market, anyone wanting to flourish is going to have to have something distinctive to offer.

The situation grieves me all the more as it affects an institution into which I investing nearly a decade of energy and ministry.

Whatever happens at St John’s, this raises wider questions about training for ministry in the Church of England. Will it be good news for other residential colleges, in that there are fewer other competitors, or bad news, in that it signals the beginning of the end for full-time residential training? It does appear that other colleges are not suffering the same challenges. I understand that Cranmer Hall in Durham is flourishing under the leadership of Mark Tanner, and we have friends training at Trinity College, Bristol who are having a great time. Finances at Wycliffe Hall, Oxford, are apparently doing well, after the troubles of a few years ago, and Ripon College, Cuddesdon appears to be taking over the world with a combination of residential and course-based training. So it does seem that residential training, across traditions, is still viable.

But when there is continued financial pressure on dioceses, with a continued fall in numbers attending Anglican church services, isn’t residential training just an expense too far? I don’t believe so, for four key reasons.

First, being part of a residential community gives opportunities for intense formation and accountability which, done well, is not available in other forms of training. I am increasingly convinced that when things go wrong in ministry (at any level) these are very often linked to fundamental issues of self-esteem, self-awareness, and whether or not the ministers in question are rooted in a confident sense of call from God. That’s not to say residential training solves all these issues, or that part-time training cannot, but that full-time training gives the best chance of addressing them.

Secondly, and related, being residential and moving to a new context is often a vital part of allowing those being trained to stand back and reflect on previous experience and understanding, to have the space to rethink some (often quite central) aspects of faith, and develop the ability to reflect critically on what they are doing. As one former student commented to me:

Residential training was such a blessing. That move to a new community, joining a local church in a completely different context was for me just as important as the training itself.

Thirdly, there are things that you can do in a three-year full-time course that you will never do later, and which are very hard to do in part-time training. Christian Today carries a review of a recent Grove booklet by Graham Archer of CPAS, Don’t Lose Heart. It focuses on the issue of clergy morale, and is an excellent exposition of the apostle Paul’s insights into encouragement in ministry.

A rather different perspective on morale is then offered by Rev Will Vanderhart, pastoral chaplain at Holy Trinity Brompton:

I would question the training model that focuses on learning biblical Greek. It needs to offer a social work model of education, dealing with issues like mental health, aspects like reconciliation, arbitration, marriage and vulnerable adults. I’m not surprised that some people are overwhelmed and disheartened – they’ve learned how to translate the New Testament, but not how to make an impact in areas where there is gross social dysfunction.

I don’t doubt there are always things to question about training. But loss of knowledge of Scripture and theology, in part as a result in ‘thinning out’ training, is one of the major issues blighting the Church and its current debates. And if you think being able to read the New Testament, possibly in Greek, but in any case in an informed and critically reflective way, is important for preaching, pastoral care and ministry, then this is only going to happen in initial training, and only going to happen in depth in a full-time course. I have much respect for fellow educators at St Mellitus—but is packing a full-time course into a schedule alongside significant part-time ministry going to give sufficient space for engaging in these issues in depth? The important things Will mentions should be being taught…in coordinated post-ordination training. The failure to agree a common syllabus as part of the Common Awards process is a loss here.

Fourthly, although people comment on the cost of training, residential training is nothing more, in reality, than starting offering a stipend early. Even if someone doesn’t start training until the age of 35, they will still be expecting 35 years of stipend. Can the Church really not afford to extend that to 37 years for the sake of laying good foundations?

Simon Vibert, Vice-Principal of Wycliffe Hall, commented to me:

Mixed Mode and Part Time is very helpful and necessary for many people. However, the demise of residential training has huge implications for training clergy (and Bishops and Future Theological College Faculty, etc) who will be equipped for a lifetime of ministry, who will have confidence that they have studied in depth and been training by competent practitioners and who will have spent 2 or 3 years being formed by the Holy Spirit for Gospel ministry. Challenging days—this decision is not good news for anyone …

A few years ago I was asked to offer my vision for the development of residential theological education. This is what I said:

A residential college must be an agent of theological renewal. Even if, nationally, church attendance is ‘bottoming out’ and there are signs of churches and dioceses beginning to grow again, there is a desperate need for the whole church to rediscover the dynamic of spiritual life that comes from encountering God’s grace. Whereas charismatic renewal focussed primarily on fresh experience of God, theological renewal seeks, alongside this, to enable fresh understanding of God, so that experience and understanding develop together. I believe this will be vital in the post-modern, post-Christendom context we increasingly find ourselves in.

A residential college will do this more widely and more effectively when it lives out a connectness in all aspects of its life:

  • Connecting with God by keeping spirituality at the heart of the college’s life. To take this seriously will mean becoming less busy by reviewing decision-making processes and structures.
  • Connecting with the world-wide church by building on and developing our historic links with individuals and churches overseas, through placements, prayer support and mission partnership.
  • Connecting with the national church more effectively by offering consultancy through ‘centres’ that can add value to diocesan strategies and clergy training.
  • Connecting with our constituency by building relationships with leaders of large churches and evangelical/charismatic networks, and working in partnership with other theological colleges.
  • Connecting with the academic world through developing our research culture.
  • Connecting with potential students through a well-thought-out and coherent marketing strategy.
  • Connecting with our past, so we have a better understanding of the legacy of the college that we are inheriting.
  • Connecting with local churches through part-time study, day conferences and opportunities for occasional resourcing events. Are there ways in which local people can contribute to our life and mission?
  • Connecting with ourselves, by having clear communication to the whole community (staff and students) of our aims, goals and strategies, and enabling a releasing of gifts and allowing responsive feedback.
  • Connecting with our physical environment, seeing the physical space we offer as an expression of our welcome and hospitality.
  • Connecting within the faculty team, so that the Principal is less a line manager or individual figurehead, and more a primus inter pares who envisions, enables and releases team members in their ministry.

I still think this is a compelling vision, and one that is achievable—and indeed is happening in various places. It is certainly an approach worth investing in.

In the meantime, please keep all the staff and students of St John’s in your prayers as they face this challenging time together.

Please note that in an earlier version of this post, the comments of Will Vanderhart about the content of training were mistakenly attributed to Graham Archer. My apologies to Graham!

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54 thoughts on “The end of residential training?”

  1. Great thoughts Ian. The language of formation resonates with my experience of residential training – and I really enjoyed the Westcott / Ridley dynamic, I have friends still from both.

    Living in community is an important experience, as is being challenged by other expressions of Christian faith. Living between worlds as a charismatic catholic I am frequently astounded at the ignorance of some of other traditions. This has to end – and residential training does a reasonable job of this.

    • That’s an interesting and positive experience…When I have taught on courses I have had the impression that there was much more ‘tribalism’ as people aimed to defend their corner—though I guess experiences will vary.

  2. Wow, big news for the CofE.
    I can’t say I’m surprised, the map of ordination training in the UK has been in such a remarkable time of flux in the past decade (It seemed relatively settled when I left Ridley in 2003) and I’ve anticipated for a while that one of the residential evangelical colleges would close with the rise of St.Melitus and mixed mode training. With the excellent leadership of Mark Tanner in Durham (& Durham university’s role in theological training) and the ongoing positive vibe at Trinity Bristol, this seemed inevitable. (No one can quite see Ridley or Wycliffe as the Oxbridge colleges going under – however close they may get and we have to accept that OakHill fills its own niche. [is OH still part of CofE?]
    You make a comment about St.Melitus (in London – I don’t know much about the Liverpool centre) being founded with real capital and a solid basis. That links to my concern that St.Melitus becomes a ‘brand’ rather than a movement.

    Thanks for your insights into the residential vs mixed mode models of training. Its an important discussion to have in this mixed economy era we’re in. I have a range of strong opinions on the subject which I prefer to share in trusted relationships not online!
    My one comment therefore is this. If we continue to believe that residential training has value for formation of clergy (& I hold out hope that it does) We need some serious thought, prayer and leadership on ensuring that this formation contains a depth of biblical discipleship, inner healing, personal renewal and nurture so that we empower leaders who are humble, sacrificial, secure, mature and rooted and established in God’s love. That is my passion for the opportunity residential training affords us, my deep concern is that from my subjective perspective, I don’t see or hear of much evidence of that being really lived out in our residential training colleges.

  3. Thanks for this, Ian. I’m training at Cranmer Hall right now, and you’re right to say it does seem to be flourishing – there are so many new ordinands this year that my study carrel feels a bit more like a cattle corral!

    One merely practical point – as a Canadian, I am only able to train on full-time courses at residential colleges, due to visa requirements. So were the CofE to eventually scrap residential training for any reason (and I hope they don’t, because I’m largely in favour of it), that would mean that any non-UK ordinands, under the current Home Office regulations, would not be able to train in the UK.

  4. I’m training for Ordained ministry at St Mellitus (having studied theology at Undergrad). My experience of it thus far has been excellent and I feel that I am being well prepared for full time ministry (as much as is possible!). I don’t feel shortchanged in regards to theological excellence.
    In regards to going deep with people I’ve found that due to the structure of days, weekends and weeks together as a college- deep, vulnerable friendships develop. Working, studying and living in a context does not make it possible to hide! (That has been my experience at least!) It has been immensely helpful to have space/time to share with others ministerial experiences and learn how to do good theological reflection in practice.
    Of course, having chosen to not study through residential training I am not fully able to compare the two from an unbiased perspective- (One could suggest that those who did not/are not training mixed mode might struggle to accurately compare also 😉
    There is such a need for both full time and mixed mode training (something that Graham Tomlin mentions LOADS to us) so I am hopeful that both ways will continue to grow in strength and inform each other to excellence! I was grateful to have had the option to chose between the two.

    • Thanks Sarah, that’s interesting. BUT you are a theology graduate…so you have already been able to study full time! I think that is precisely my point. Without fill time residential study, where can others gain the training you have had in theology?

  5. Our third child was born as we began at St John’s and one of the most memorable moments was when Christina came in to chapel to tell me I needed to go home quickly, ‘your house is on fire’. I’ve just thoroughly enjoyed Colin Buchanan’s history as holiday reading.
    Has residential training declined partly for the practical reason that ordinands like me were not free to immerse ourselves in it as fully as previous generations of single younger people?

    • Possibly…though course-based training is also demanding since you have to balance a job as well as training, and that is hard as a family. And mixed-mode training also has higher demands. So I would think full-time residential is actually the best option for those with young families.

      • I have to say, for me personally, full-time residential training was by far the easiest option. I’m in the first year of curacy having trained full time at Cranmer. I also have 4 children 19 – 4. When I had my daughter (now 10) I began Reader training – husband still worked long hours, and when he worked away child care was a nightmare. Trying to write essays whilst juggling a house, husband, church commitments, and three kids with their commitments was extremely tough. I was fortunate enough to have very understanding lecturers and head of a Reader training – I think 1 essay was handed in on time. Full time ordination training still brought it’s difficulties, not least because husband and I basically had a complete role reversal, he became the stay at home parent and I was the one leaving the house each day and, in a sense, earning the money. For me personally, f/t training offered a more rounded academic study, a sense of community that I feel was lacking from p/t, and perhaps more importantly support in abundance from fellow students, faculty and support staff. That’s not to say there was no support p/t it’s just that when you spend 4/5 days a week in the same place with the same cohort the bonds are, perhaps, stronger.

      • It was a happy remembering of being at St John’s that prompted me to write. I agree about the relative demands – you remind me that if I hadn’t married when I did I would have explored p/t training (and feasibly NSM).

        My thought came from reading Colin’s history and knowing some of those who in days of old entered into the jolly japes and intensity of a community of young single men. Though I enjoyed St John’s it couldn’t be that unique experience. I was however sufficiently present in the common room to beat Matt Lefroy to be 2002 (and possibly still reigning?) snooker champion ….

  6. Yes, very important comments especially about the necessity of theological renewal preceding pastoral/church/social renewal.

    The idea (expressed by Archer) that learning about God and Scripture and Christian traditions through academic work is somehow irrelevant to the pressing need for dynamic pastoral and social renewal is very dangerous and misleading.

    It is only people who have been immersed in the text and context of scripture and its historical application and interpretation, who really have the potential to be truly counter-cultural and socially radical. By leaping straight to the “application” one simply ends up following the unexamined trends and fashions of the day.

    There is also the lurking anti-intellectualism in this apologia for thinning out academic depth, which has plagued both liberal and evangelical forms of Christianity since the eighteenth century: dogma is at a discount, experience/action is at a premium. It is one thing to admit that the money or people are not available to do full-time training with strong “academic” elements in our current climate, and there are no doubt creative ways to make the most of scarce resources; but it is important not to try to make a virtue out of this deceit, as if this is what we should have been doing all along, and without acknowledging what is lost.

  7. There’s one fundamental question that deeply disturbs me. Why was St John’s allowed to run year after year of deficit? Surely the Governing Body holds major responsibility for this gross commercial disaster?

    • Peter I am not sure that I am at liberty to answer your question, since I was part of the discussion until last year. I think you ask a good question, and it will be interesting to see

      a. where else this question is asked and

      b. what answers are forthcoming.

      I notice that the previous Chair of Council is still a member. It is worth also noting that these problems do not spring up overnight.

      • I had a look around Ian. Mark Woods has written about the announcement at Christian Today ( and notes two interesting perspectives on the finances. First, he identifies from the online accounts at the Charity Commission:

        ‘The college’s accounts have shown a deficit for the last four years, with income from its Extension Studies programme falling by a third last year.’

        Following the link to the accounts gives this comment on page 5.

        ‘Extension Studies income fell to £230,000 (2012: £320,000).’

        That is a really large change for a single year – it’s not just simply wider issues in theological education or ordinand numbers. There is clearly something going badly wrong in basic management and leadership.

        The accounts also include the paragraph:

        ‘After making appropriate enquiries, the trustees have a reasonable expectation that the company has adequate resources to continue in operational existence for the foreseeable future. For this reason they continue to adopt the going concern basis in preparing the financial statements. Further details regarding the adoption of the going concern basis can be found in the Accounting Policies.’

        This was clearly grossly inaccurate. With no evidence of a plan for a clear financial turnaround the College was heading directly towards being financially insolvent. No such plan is evident in the report.

        Secondly, Mark notes a difference of view about ordination funding:

        ‘The Trustees Report also noted that “The Church of England fixes the fees for the majority of full-time students and has continued to fail to meet the full cost of training ordinands, with other operations within St John’s seeking to subsidise the shortfall.”

        However, a spokesperson for the Ministry Division of the Archbishops’ Council noted that the college was independently run by its own trustees. “All residential theological colleges in the Church of England receive central funding per student on the same basis,” it said.’

        Colleges actually receive more money in fees for ordinands than they do for independent students on similar course because of the way residence elements are paid for.

        Put it all together Ian and there are serious questions to be asked of the Governing Body.

        Can anyone get me copies of the accounts going back at least five years?

        • Yes, I agree with Peter about serious financial questions (see my post on FB page). I am surprised that the Charity Commission have not investigated further…though they are so underfunded that they generally only deal with more serious cases of poor governance. I’ve consulted them in the past about governance matters and that seemed to be the essence of their reply but I think is a rather larger problem over a longer period (which can often have the effect of essentially hiding the issue) which might merit questions being asked about what the trustees understood in terms of their responsibilities in reporting the health of the charity. Peter: it was the same paragraph that struck me when I read the return: ‘After making appropriate enquiries, the trustees have a reasonable expectation that the company has adequate resources to continue in operational existence for the foreseeable future. For this reason they continue to adopt the going concern basis in preparing the financial statements. Further details regarding the adoption of the going concern basis can be found in the Accounting Policies.’

          What is also odd is the statement about how they managed risk; I am not convinced they understood the nature of risk management (or had among their number someone with experience of this) at all, though one would need to see their risk register and minutes to dig into that further.

  8. Ian:

    ‘Even if someone doesn’t start training until the age of 35, they will still be expecting 35 years of stipend. Can the Church really not afford to extend that to 37 years for the sake of laying good foundations?’

    I’m sorry it’s come to this, the figures don’t add up to a viable future.

    For instance, apart from the stipend, you should add:
    1. the £121M Church Commissioners paid out last year for pre-1998 final salary clergy pensions (a comparative luxury compared to my index-linked one);
    2. bishops’ and archbishops’ costs (staff and working) in 2013 totaling £23.8M and £7.4M respectively;

    I’ve read the last Archbishop’s Council Annual Report 2013 to see what was accomplished with the £28.5M from 43 dioceses and £41.2M from Church Commissioners.

    Yes, there are many wonderful projects, but how about the £7.25 million earmarked in 2007 for extending the Church’s witness and developing sustainable Christian communities in new housing and other development areas?

    Well, in 2013, the Charities Evaluation Services (CES) was asked to ascertain the Programme’s impact and identify any learning that could inform the all-important research into Church Growth.

    The CES report stated:

    ‘Monitoring and evaluation within the projects has been very limited to date, although most projects have collected some data, including a small amount of outcomes data.’

    ‘There was a lack of clarity in terms of the intended outcomes for each project and, in some cases, a lack of understanding of the difference between outputs and outcomes’

    In other words, there was little accountability for outcome reporting considering the massive injection of money into mission.

    Are you really surprised that the till is low on cash?!

    • There’s a simple answer though David: give clergy to parishes who pay for them. i.e. insist all ministry is viable. This is essential the model of most other denominations.

      It would solve the ‘funding ministry’ problems overnight…

      • For the most part, I agree; although I have no problem with the current subsidising of low-income parishes.

        My church is in the parish of Farnborough (part of Guildford diocese). Based on interpreting our increase in attendance and relative prosperity factor as potential to contribute, we are facing another hike in our Parish Share capped at 4%.

        Failing parishes are indulged with a floor of 0%. I say ‘indulged’ because the Diocese does not couple the unchanged Share with a condition that these churches, their PCCs and vicars undertake Mission Action Planning. The assumption is that they’re doing everything they can already.

        Does a vicar become ‘unemployed’, if a church has to close, in the self-funding model?In any other type of endeavour, before resorting to closure, you could dismiss a ‘manager’ and hire a more competent replacement. Not so, the CofE.

        There’s also the problem of what you do with church assets where ministry is not viable. Do you turn them into Festival churches, or convert them for sale or rent (some of which are listed buildings)?

        Personally, I would love to see the CofE approving Local Ecumenical Partnership agreements with some of the larger denominations of fast-growing New Churches. Surveys have shown that these churches, compared to the CofE, attract congregations that are younger and more reflective of diversity in the wider community.

        Whatever you make of their theology, it’s evangelical and largely consonant with the 39 Articles. Okay, they don’t use the BCP, but neither do the current denominations under LEPs. Let’s fact it. In mission, they must be doing something right.

      • “give clergy to parishes who pay for them. i.e. insist all ministry is viable”
        So you are saying that my 25 years of ministry in housing estate and rural parishes that never could and never will be ble to meet the full ministry cost was not ‘viable’?
        Do you mean that such parishes should be abandoned because the churchgoers in them are poor?
        That they should have no-one to bury the dead or marry or visit the sick or comfort the afflicted because they can’t pay the parish contribution? In 10 years in one parish I took as many funerals of parishioners each year than there was congregation, and visited and supported. Shall we abandon them to the “crem cowboys” and confirm the view that the ‘church’ is just an unconnected figure who turns up obviously knowing nothing about the departed and never having met or will see again the bereaved?
        I despair.

        • No, Richard, I was offering a limited answer to a specific question. How could we stop money being wasted?

          I don’t think this would be the right thing to do for the reasons you outline. But the Church is not good at holding people accountable. I think it would be much better to decide share by clergy numbers (which addresses the viability question) but then fund the kind of ministry you are talking about by means of active mission partnerships between different churches.

          This would involve sharing all kinds of resource, and not just money.

          • Thankyou for your response.
            “active mission partnerships between different churches.

            This would involve sharing all kinds of resource, and not just money.”

            Wouldn’t that be wonderful!

            Having ministered for 10 years in a parish in which (a) I know I was the third highest wage earner in the congregation (excluding the value of housing) and my household cash income was probably in the highest 10 percentile; and (b) in which 3 PCC Treasurers lived, but my wife and I had to act as treasurers to our PCC (having accountancy training);
            my parish struggled not only to pay my expenses and a minimal contribution, was a prime mission field, in which we with our limited resources did our best, while knowing full well we would not receive any help from the well-funded parishes surrounding us and not only could we expect no support but also that many of those we evangelised would end up elsewhere because the neighbouring parishes had church schools whilst we were doing our best in the ‘sink’ County’ Primary next to the church building;
            allow me to respond with a cynical ‘ha’

        • Richard,

          What’s your view on tying Mission Action Planning (if not already undertaken) into the concessionary Parish Share ‘floor’ for failing churches?

          • Okay, let’s look at something objective, like the 324 CofE churches that closed between 2008 and 2013. They failed…to stay open.

            So, a failing church would be one facing this prospect in the next few years.

            As a result, while a growing parish’s increased contribution to the diocese is capped at 4% and never more than 65% of its gross expenditure, another may be apportioned a lower limit to any increases in the Parish Share (floor),

            So the question is whether the latter should simply continue to receive financial support or should they be under an consequent obligation to engage with diocesan advisers in formulating a documented mission action plan for recovery and growth.

          • For some reason there’s no reply button on your last response.

            Specific example:
            A rural parish (formerly three parishes) covering 40sq ml, total population under 2,000; three church buildings, all Grade 1, 2 hard to heat, 1 difficult to access (200yd path, 1:3).
            Two CE ‘Controlled’ primary schools.
            The church buildings are typically seen by the residents, especially the older villagers, and their children, as ‘their’ churches, and they expect to be married and buried there. The Rector is seen as their clergyman. What was 15yrs ago 3 aging and entirely distinct congregations (actually 4 congregations), has now become, with a lot of anguish, one congregation that uses the three buildings in turn, although there is a minority who will only attend when the Parish Eucharist, or other service is in ‘their’ church. The average age of the congregation has fallen from 60 to 30, and each year there are families coming forward for confirmation, often including adult baptism.
            The average Sunday attendance is 30-40, but at Easter and Christmas the buildings are packed, as they are for the regular school services (unfortunately, 50%-60% of the schools’ intakes are from outside the parish).
            There is some wealth in one village (residents are now professionals rather than farm labourers as they were only 50yrs ago), but in another most live in tied or rented accomodation belonging to the estate, and there are many estate pensioners.
            Whilst the wealthier inhabitants can be willing to contribute to ‘their church’, this is understood to be contriuting to fabric maintenance and upkeep, and not towards ministry or worship.
            The younger congregation is enthusiastic, but most of those families are on very restricted incomes, as are many of the older congregation members. As a result the parish is not able to meet its parish contribution in full.
            Growth has taken place; meeting with diocesan advisors has happened and continues; ministry continues, and the gospel is preached; there is unlikely to be a sudden boom in attendance, or a sudden influx of riches, there certainly is not going to be a growth in population.
            You write as though a continued need for financial support and ‘a documented mission action plan for recovery and growth’ were mutually exclusive: they are not.
            So, what do you propose? Take away the Rector and close the buildings? The church would lose all support. Attach to a neighbouring parish? – wouldn’t work because of distance and social divides – and you’d have to keep the buildings going.
            This is far from a failing parish, but financially it struggles.

  9. The market for theological education in the Church of England has been a competitive landscape for some time now. Not only do the 12 – including St Michael’s Llandaff – (now 11) residential colleges (6 (now 5) evangelical) need to attract their share of ordinands, but the dioceses need robust vocations strategies to deliver candidates. We in St Albans have a plan to ordain 20 new homegrown deacons a year and if we cannot deploy the ones we have sponsored ourselves we will export them to the likes of Liverpool and Durham (if they will go!!).

    We managed 17 this year, next year will be down, and with at least 19 in prospect for 2016. We believe the pathways need to fit the needs of the candidates. We will always want to send some to colleges to train residentially. We currently have 44 in training, 21 courses, 7 in mixed mode and 16 residential. The feedback from some training incumbents is that the jury is out on mixed-mode training. From my time on college councils (15 years in total) I have a sense that the dialogue between the colleges and the dioceses is not as close as it needs to be. However, it is sad to see SJCN pulling out of residential training.

  10. I was trained at St Mellitus (whilst David Hilborn was part of the team btw) and found it to be excellent preparation. You had to put in the extra hours and be committed to learn, but the level of in depth training was excellent. I have had discussions with those who were in full time residential training – they complained about essays they have to do – try doing the same holding down a full time job and expecting the same marking criteria! It’s true there is not so much time as in residentials that some of my peers have gone to, but they don’t seem more way more prepared than I. In fact not being disconnected from the real world I found as a bonus to training. (Not so much time to open fire extinguishers in the halls etc, 🙂 ) In truth much theological thinking and training is done in the practice of curacy..

    • … sorry one thing I should add of course. My prayers are with all the staff & students in these difficult times of loss & change

      • Ian, good question. I had a teenagers at the time – they were great and supportive, so was my wife and I negotiated a certain amount of flexible working hours. I would like to say no about the ‘unmanageable workload is a good preparation for ordained ministry’ but sadly it probably was. Actually, it helped me to further improve my time management!

  11. Dear Ian

    I too have recently received the letter that my job at the refinery is officially at risk. If I am made redundant it will be during December (i.e., just before Christmas). I too will keep you and the staff in my prayers. The confusion really is the change of shape rather than the discontinuation.

    Whilst my qualifications, including first degree, are in science and engineering I did do a Masters degree in theology part time. I was juggling (if that is the right spelling) both a job and a degree at the same time. It is truly hard and so I suggest that I disagree with those who propose that. It’s hard and doesn’t necessarily produce good clergy.

    Graham Archer’s view is common amongst clergy where social-services is slightly confused with being Christian. Any Christian is rightly involved with taking actions against poverty in all its forms, but that is really not the same as saying that social-services and Christianity are the same. The Bible and Biblical authority is under attack at the moment very seriously. It is really important that clergy do understand Biblical authority (which, incidentally, is included in the 39 articles) and can question the Bible without wishing to put the Bible in the bin as some clergy, including some Bishops, seem to wish to do.

    I did run a Church plant operating out of schools and community centres for several years so believing in the Bible and being CofE does not preclude being properly Christian (incidentally I’m only a Reader, not clergy, but we didn’t have a clergyman).

  12. I’m sure that funding is at the bottom of this bombshell; for the fifteen years I’ve known St John’s finance has been a perpetual thorn in the flesh. And a hasty statement put out by Ministry Division this morning clearly indicates that they had not been consulted.

    But I have a further concern, from my current perspective as a DDO. If St John’s is going to be just another context-based provider of theological education in a market that is rapidly becoming saturated there is a real danger that it will contract from being a national to a regional provider. As a DDO I’m currently happy to send ordinands to St John’s to benefit from its unique community atmosphere. If it’s context-based training I want for an ordinand I can find it nearer to home and at less cost.

    • So, John, are you suggesting that financial management has been a long-term problem, not just in the last couple of years?

      I think you are absolutely right about the regional question, as I hint near the top of my piece. I am unclear as to why someone would go to course-based or part-time/contextual training at St John’s, rather than go somewhere local or somewhere which has been established longer. I think that is a real marketing question, and I sincerely hope someone at the college has thought about that before making this decision.

      The track record is not good though…

  13. John Darch touches on a point that we are keenly aware of in theological education on this side of the pond. One of my colleagues, Leander Harding, once used the image of a red- versus blue-ocean. Many theological colleges/seminaries are competing in a red ocean of vigorous and, at times, vicious competition… mostly because they operate with similar paradigms (in the U.S., the prevailing one has been to minimize distinctives of one’s tradition/denomination in favor of a broad and pragmatic ministry-training regimen.

    Gradually, after countless failures, there seems to be a counter-move by some schools to enhance their distinctives, traditional ethos, etc. so as to reach a niche. I see this most often among smaller institutions with minimal funds… which gives them a certain flexibility, ironically, that well-endowed schools do not have. In the quest for such a ‘deep church’ experience, there may be particular emphasis on scripture, but as interpreted historically within the hermeneutical community of the tradition/denomination. There is also a stronger emphasis in such schools on particularities of worship (liturgics and liturgical formation), history, and historical theology. Golden threads are traced and history becomes a fusion of horizons rather than a tale of woe, embarrassment, shame, and deconstruction. I’m reasonably certain that this path has its own risks and built-in temptations (e.g., those golden threads can be rather triumphalist or rarified at times!), but the risks are proving worthwhile for some institutions.

    With this, I think, comes a very strong emphasis on community. If the wider church is headed toward a neo-monastic profile in secular society (as Alisdair MacIntyre suggested some years back in his ‘new Benedict’), then it would also be very timely and, very pragmatic, for the colleges/seminaries to begin practicing community-formation in a ‘deep church’ context. But this is another topic for another occasion… Either way, I hope and pray for St. John’s–a marvelous place to teach and learn, from my own experience there some years ago.

  14. Ian, you say “The failure to agree a common syllabus as part of the Common Awards process is a loss here.” Could you expand on that rather intriguing and concerning statement?

    • Yes. Early on the CA discussions, the question came up to what extent will the new Durham modules simply replicate the diversity that currently exists, and to what extent will it be used to converge syllabuses. I and some others (especially POT trainers) proposed the latter; this was vigorously opposed by others.

      I think this is a big missed opportunity. I don’t see that it makes any sense to have the variation in syllabus from one institution to another. Differences in tradition can easily be preserved in delivery and ethos of institutions.

      I don’t think the opportunity will come again.

      • Thank you, Ian, and I think I agree with you – although not having seen the modules or heard the other side ofthe argument it’s hard to be more certain than that. But I can imagine some elements insisting in an unhelpful way on rejecting a common agenda.

  15. There are those of us for whom there was no choice in the method of training. This is a function of age, cost and payback. Being over 50 my diocese gave me no choice but to train on a part time basis. This is due to the fact that diocese budgets are just as squeezed as the colleges budgets are. The result will be that more and more Ordinands will be trained through the part time or mixed mode routes. This in turn will put additional pressure on the colleges that only provide full time training. Unless the CofE has a radical rethink of its Ordinand funding this matter is only set to spiral.

  16. As a current student on a regional training course at SEITE, it is slightly irritating (well probably more than slightly!) that you continue the implication that regional courses are the poorer second cousin to residential training, a theme which seems to recur continually in the ministry training sphere. Clearly residential, regional and mixed mode training are each able to offer a different experience of training, which as Sarah pointed out above is important. Do we want to churn out robot style Priests based on one style, environment or style of teaching? No of course not, which is why there has always been a choice of colleges. Otherwise why not have one big Vicar factory that everyone is sent to?

    You wrote: ‘I am increasingly convinced that when things go wrong in ministry (at any level) these are very often linked to fundamental issues of self-esteem, self-awareness, and whether or not the ministers in question are rooted in a confident sense of call from God’, and athough you linked this to the types of training, I think this actually has more to do with the process of discernment than the mode of training itself. And if full time training does have the best chance of addressing these concerns – is there any evidence of this? I’d actually be very interested to know what research has been done into the different types of training, if any? As I said, regional/part time courses are often open to criticism and it would be good to know what evidence this is based upon other than purely personal experience – you know the ‘I knew a Priest once…’ kind of thing. Of course we can all name people who fall short, and make their circumstances fit our own theories, but is there any real evidence to support the idea that residential courses offer the best chance for formation or anything else?

    As an Ordinand I really hope that the CofE will continue to offer a variety of options to train, and in that it will produce a range of Priests, with a range of experiences, skills and knowledge to go out and minister to the breadth of society that we live amongst, and making full use of those differences.

    • Jules, I understand your irritation, but the problem is that this kind of irritation has frequently prevented proper discussion of issues. I have lost count of the number of times this issue has been raised, only for someone to call out ‘How dare you question the quality of those hard-working course-based ordinands’ or the equivalent.

      The educational issues are the kinds of things I have mentioned above, and include:
      . does it make a difference that there is usually less study time, and always less contact time, on 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.

      It seems to me that these are all important questions to ask—but ones which most are very reluctant to engage in. For example, I have asked about how the placement experience on St Mellitus training relate to the notional learning hours on biblical studies modules…and am still waiting for a response. These are important educational questions. I am baffled how, in the move from previous validation to Durham, the SMC programme managed to ‘lose’ 60 credits (that’s half a year’s academic work!) from the programme.

      It all suggests that C of E thinking about these things is far from robust.

      • In answer to some of your points:

        : Proper discussion is I am sure necessary but the danger is that people come with preconceived ideas which as I said are not aways formed in facts! This is my concern that people continue to talk about the fact the regional training is a lesser option with no actual research to back it up. IF there is I would genuinely love to see it.

        : In terms of the educational issues I can speak only for my own place of study but 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. A recent report on the college gave very high feedback including on the staff teaching.

        : On our course we have a mixture of students some full time, some part time, some SSM, some stipendiary and I don’t think it’s really fair to talk about the ‘logic’ of it in that sense. From personal experience I know that people greatly appreciate that diversity in our college and the way we learn from each other as well as from our studies. After all we will have to work with a range of people once we are in official (paid or unpaid) ministry life.

        : Of course, you are right, if you are trying to work full time as well as complete the training it does place pressures on you, but then it can be said that residential training just puts different pressures on people, including the fact of having to up sticks and move families across the country, for just a short space of time before they move them again into curacy. Separating from friends and family, the stresses of moving etc – these are the main reasons why I didn’t do residential training. So whilst I have the ongoing battle of fitting everything in, in the whirl of family, work and study I at least am surrounded by people who can support me on a daily basis. I’m not saying there isn’t support at residential college but there is something to be said for being supported by people who really know you. That’s not even mentioning the support of your sending church in which you remain to be based.

        : I actually agree that more thinking should be done on this, but it needs to come from a place of openness to listen and learn from each other. And whilst I love the CofE the church’s thinking is far from robust in many areas!

        : On the back of this and other conversations I’ve had recently, I’m also planning a series of guest posts on my blog, from students at different institutions, just in case you are interested or want to participate? 🙂

  17. Having studied at both St John’s and St Mellitus…

    I could say much, but shall write only this, quoting you:

    “First, being part of a residential community gives opportunities for intense formation and accountability which, done well, is not available in other forms of training. I am increasingly convinced that when things go wrong in ministry (at any level) these are very often linked to fundamental issues of self-esteem, self-awareness, and whether or not the ministers in question are rooted in a confident sense of call from God… full-time training gives the best chance of addressing them.”

    The concern with this ideal is that it is an ideal. Also that, even “done well”, it is incorrect.

    Should there be institutional dysfunction which hinders these formational needs being met then it is even more concerning in a residential model where the disciple has fewer contexts – and the relationships they provide – to be formed by. Formation doesn’t happen during ‘formation groups’; it happens as the community lives life together. The culture of a residential college (within which the disciple is formed) is set overwhelmingly by its leadership and their gifting and character. Unless the leadership of a residential college has a full range of giftings (e.g. not simply pastor-teachers, academics) and a healthy culture of relationship then the ‘formation’ the college offers is inevitably skewed and insufficient. A non residential pathway finds the disciple in numerous contexts which, whilst themselves shaped for formation by others (and thereby carrying the potential for dysfunction), offers the widest opportunity for the disciple to be formed by diverse, life-giving contexts.

    The ‘formation’ here at St Mellitus has been second to none, not only due to the calibre of the institution but also due to the course content and structure itself. Disciples cannot leave this college without a deep awareness of the darkest corners of their hearts and a gracious confidence to carry on through healing and obedience. The faculty represent a full range of gifts and are able to work together. We are taught to be ourselves in relationship with those who are in themselves different to us. A confident sense of call from God is engraved through constant experience, rigorous input and reflection. We know that we are called because we are fulfilling the calling to make disciples week by week.

    The reality is that even if the ideal is realised, it is still limited in what it can offer.

    Based on an experience and reflection of both, could it be that full-time training does not offer the best chance of addressing these issues; rather, the best chance of leaving them unchecked or even exacerbated.

    May such crises of identity, confidence and subsequently finance across the Church force our hands towards a continually evolving method of training as we rediscover who the Church is called to be: not an institution, not even a Sunday school + day centre for adults, but a family on a mission.

    Ian, you’re an amazing man with much gifting and character still to lead the wider Church towards health in her mission. Your ability to analyse, critique and expose is a gift. Here’s to a way forward.

    Anyone else on here studied at both SJC & SMC?

    All the best,


  18. I read the news with sadness as I have known St.John’s since I came to Nottingham in 1982 and found it a wonderful college and many of my friends over the years have studied there. I have done a few course at ST.John’s and the Library was excellent Up to 2013 I found the college easy to deal with but with so many change of personal it has lost what it once was and something of the ETHOS has been lost as well.
    I went through the part time option and it does not give you the same degree of grounding that a residential college did and mine was in the death throes anyway because the University pulled the plug.


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