What are the issues in ministerial training?

In the modern era there have been three major reviews of ordination training in the Church of England. All three have tried to address some important structural issues; all three have been controversial and have been (to some extent) ideologically driven; all three have had unfortunate unintended consequences.

The first was the imaginatively named ACCM Paper 22 in 1977. This moved the Church away from having a General Ordination Exam, and instead invited each institution to describe how it understood ordained ministry and therefore what training provision it would offer. Both parts of this understanding was then reviewed by an inspection process. The benefits were creativity and innovation; the legacy was an unmanageable diversity which allowed different expressions of training in different traditions but lost commonality.

The second was the so-called Hind report, named after John Hind, then bishop in Chichester, properly known as Formation for Ministry in a Learning Church. (You can still buy a copy on Amazon…) This was shaped by the bruising experience (particularly for John Hind, then principal) of closing Chichester Theological College as well as Lincoln, and the attempt to close Oakhill, which met with rebellion. The most notable effect of Hind was to remove unwieldy central structures of support and decision-making about institutions, and in effect to create a competitive market for training, under which St Mellitus started up and (eventually) St John’s Nottingham ceased ordination training. Because this was done by the market, no-one at the centre could be blamed.

The third was the report on Resourcing for Ministerial Education from 2015. Coming as part of the Renewal And Reform process, the ostensive reasons for this process (led by Stephen Croft, now bishop in Oxford) were the unwieldy nature of ‘bishops’ regulations’ governing training, and the need to allow greater flexibility to encourage a required growth in the number of ordinands entering training to offset the large numbers of clergy due to retire. Though RME included some sensible proposals, there were clearly major issues from the beginning: there was a lack of proper research on the question of effectiveness of training; there was no proper theological thinking about what training is doing; and the warnings about the impact on residential training were ignored.

We are now in the third year of RME. The number of ordinands entering training has indeed increased—by around 14% in the first year, and around another 7% in the second (though it looks like things might have slowed down this year). But the concerns about the impact on residential training have all been realised: in the first year of RME the numbers of candidates entering residential training dropped by 8%, and in the second year by another 6%. If a third year like this follows, we will have lost something like a quarter of the residential provision in the C of E. Despite my question at Synod last month, it is not clear what the financial mechanisms are for helping institutions weather this kind of storm—but St John’s Nottingham has now ceased ordination training, and in that we have lost what was until recently the largest ordination training institution in the Church without anyone asking any serious questions. In the meantime, the take-up of context-based and part-time training has skyrocketed, and several diocesan bishops now refuse to send anyone to residential training at all.

RME is going to be reviewed, but the review process cannot be completed and implemented before September, so we will have a fourth, potentially damaging, year of RME before anything changes. The challenges for the review are significant; these are the issues that I think need considering in thinking about ordination training.

Can we recover a consistent national framework for training? One of the boasts of RME was that it put responsibility back to dioceses. But the problem with that is the one that the Church had 150 years ago—every bishop doing what was right in his (or her, now) own eyes. This ignores the fact that training for ordination is a national activity, for a national body of clergy, where there should both be national standards for training as well as consistent national processes. Training decisions have always been susceptible to local bias, shaped by the particular interests of bishops and DDOs, but RME has let this tendency run riot. And proper theological training requires a critical mass of those involved in teaching, which can only be achieved on a national scale, treating training institutions as a national resource. If training continues to focus on the diocese, it will make it even harder for flourishing dioceses to assist those who are struggling by means of the transfer of ministry resources.

Can we establish an honest and integrated assessment of the cost of training? One of the reasons for the rapid shift to context-based training has been the widespread perception that this is a cheaper way of training clergy, since the maintenance costs of supporting the ordinand and his or her family is hidden in the costs allocated to the local church context. Again, a question at February’s Synod reflected this. It is an illusion! Shifting costs around in this way is not only robbing Peter to pay Paul, but then declaring that Paul is a better class of chap because he is well off! If we believe in stipendiary ministry, then we should believe in stipendiary training (of whatever form) for this ministry. And for anyone training in their late 20s or early 30s, we might anticipate 35 years of ministry. Adding two or three years of stipend at the beginning as an investment is a relatively small price to pay, all things considered.

Can we agree a common syllabus for training? I once did a presentation to the support, admin and cleaning staff at St John’s, trying to explain the complexities of the current training set-up in the Church. I simply began by asking the assembled group: ‘Ordinands are training for the same ministry and will take the same ordination vows. Do you think they ought to have the same training?’ To a person, they chorussed ‘Yes!’ There are several concerns that pull training in different directions, and they include different theological traditions in the Church, different convictions about pedagogy and what makes for the most effectively learning method and context, and different convictions about what is needed in ministry in our current context. I am not sure that the first should be allowed, as it simply embeds tribalism for the next generation; I think there is something of a consensus emerging in the second; and I have never found the arguments on the third convincing. For example, if you are working in a new cultural context, do you need to know less or more about the historic debates on key doctrines such as the Trinity? Without understanding how context shaped the past, how can you understand the process of contextualisation in the present?

But we are now in the bizarre situation, having adopted the so-called Common Awards programme validated by the University of Durham, where not only do different institutions offer courses with very few modules in common—where they do teach the same module, it is possible to have zero overlap in content due to the Durham modules being ‘shells’ rather than specifying content.

In fact I don’t think there should be too much difficulty in deciding what training needs to include:

  • In biblical studies, we need to engage with the Old Testament law, wisdom and prophetic writings, and understand the interpretative and theological issues in each. In New Testament, we need to engage in general and in depth with the gospels, Paul and the other epistles including Revelation.
  • In doctrine and history, we need to understand key doctrines of Christology and atonement, and understand developments in the patristic and mediaeval periods, the Reformation, and the modern era. We need to understand liturgy, and have enough philosophical background to make sense of the modern world.
  • In practical theology, we need to understand evangelism and mission, how to lead worship, how to preach (including why we are doing it!), issues around discipleship, learning and education, and the importance and practice of pastoral care.

There needs to be connection and integration between all this—but shouldn’t these things form the core of all training?

Can we do some proper reflection on the different modes of training? The previous ‘research’ on training prior to RME simply asked people whether they thought their training was effective; tribal defence of my own form of training is hardly the basis for strategic thinking. Having taught on part-time courses, at a residential college, and on a context-based programme I am aware of the advantages and disadvantages of each.

  • Residential training can involve costly upheaval and relocation, with all the distraction and disruption that involves (though with fewer people entering the property market early in life, some of the practical challenges are reduced). But it creates a critical mass of a learning and teaching community, allows depth formation in community, and creates the opportunity for in-depth study which can lay foundations not easily acquired anywhere else.
  • Part-time training is flexible and affordable and makes training accessible in a local context that residential training will never be able to. It is economical for the Church since residential costs are avoided—though of course this means the candidate in training is bearing that cost.
  • Context-based training encourages strong partnerships between the training institution and the local church, and allows the possibility of continuity in ministry prior to, during, and after training. It mainly avoids the issues of deskilling and dislocation that can come with residential training, and is highly motivating for those in training, since ministry immersion offers an immediate reason for learning. But this approach as currently practiced does not allow the same depth engagement as residential training, and students have too many pressures on their time.

The major current issue between these pathways is the artificial mechanism by which Durham has allowed about one third fewer learning hours for ordinands on context-based training compared with residential training, which has created a disparity both across and within institutions (how can I do so many fewer learning hours and still end up with the same award?) and relies on a pedagogical fiction that church contexts provide equivalent learning to full-time teaching. This anomaly must be resolved.

Theological training is not merely about the acquisition of skills (though it does involve that). It also includes centrally the question of personal and spiritual formation, as well as the induction of ordinands into both a theological tradition and a body of knowledge, as well as involving (for good or for ill) issues of institutional socialisation. All of these needed to be attended to in thinking about training provision.

Can we establish an integration between ordination training and lay ministry training, and (most importantly) between pre- and post-ordination training? The latter will depend on having a more-or-less common syllabus for pre-ordination training, but would be a significant gain in actually delivering coherent training across both stages of initial ministry formation prior to first incumbency.

There are two final questions which are implicit in all this, but which I think need articulating. The first is: is there a way to review and revise training which will not itself need undoing in ten years’ time? To my knowledge, all the problems arising from previous reviews were articulated at the time, but by and large brushed aside or avoided. This raises questions of process and governance, since RME was pushed through on a ‘divide and rule’ basis, each stage of scrutiny being told that another stage would pick up that issue—and vice versa.

The underlying and (for me) the most important question is this: will theological training in future not simply equip our clergy to be aware of issues of critical reflection and the wider context in which we sit—but will it give them confidence in the gospel and the Christian faith as the Church has received it? Will their training shape them as confident Anglican ministers of the gospel?

These are all large questions, so those involved need our prayers, our reflection and input, and our support.

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60 thoughts on “What are the issues in ministerial training?”

  1. Ian, you speak about ‘the artificial mechanism by which Durham has allowed about one third fewer learning hours for ordinands on context-based training compared with residential training’. We’ve had this argument before (several times). Four comments.

    (1) Can you please stop making this claim, which you should know by now to be misleading. We do not accept ‘one third fewer learning hours’ for context-based students. Context-based students have exactly the same total learning hours as every other kind of student. What you are referring to is the fact that we count towards that total hours that context-based students are required to spend in practical ministry on matters directly related to the learning outcomes of certain modules.

    (2) Not only do I think we can and should count such hours, I know that we *have* to. That is not a Durham invention, or an artificial mechanism: it is how the counting of learning hours is supposed to work across the whole HE sector. If students are asked to undertake placement work that contributes directly to their learning for specific modules, we are (rightly) supposed to count those hours towards the totals for those modules.

    (3) I know that you don’t want to count those hours towards students’ formal learning. That is a disagreement about pedagogy. Those who *do* think that context-based ordinands learn a lot (and can be expected to learn a lot) that is relevant to their modules while actually practicing ministry are not obviously suggesting something ‘artificial’.

    (4) Finally, it does not seem to be the case that different modes of training lead to noticeable differences in student performance. So, for instance, it does not seem to be the case that context-based students, assessed in similar ways to residential students, do noticeably worse in any of the subject areas you mention above (biblical studies, for instance) than, say, residential students. You think that it has to make a difference, but what evidence we have (which I admit is noisy – numbers are small, and the confounding factors many) doesn’t seem to support your hypothesis.

    • Mike, thanks for commenting.

      I think I need to offer you (and MinDiv) a more detailed comment on the issue, and in particular on the paper setting out this policy.

      I don’t think my claim is misleading; I think you and I disagree about the case that has been made. Of course context-based students learn when in their placement—as do full time students on placements, for whom these hours are not actually included in their programme learning hours in the same way.

      There are both structural and practical issues with the learning that happens in contexts, and my observation of context-based students is that the commitment to learning (rather than practice and delivery of ministry) is not comparable to the commitment to learning in a teaching-focussed content (e.g. in the classroom), and so counting these hours as equivalent is not justified. The inconsistency here is felt, pragmatically, by many people.

      On the question of ‘student performance’, it seems to me that it matters at all sorts of levels whether a clergy person actually understands e.g. the Trinity, or ‘missio dei’, or engages well with the details of biblical texts in their sermon preparation, or understands effective models and strategies of pastoral care. It matters to their ministry, mission and the health of the Church. But I am not aware of any regime of assessment which actually explores these things.

      That suggests that our measurement of ‘effectiveness’ in training is fundamentally flawed. The assessments which say ‘all training is equal’ don’t appear to be measuring the right things—as was painfully evident in the ‘research’ prior to RME.

  2. The claim that is misleading is the claim that we accept fewer learning hours for context-based students. We don’t. The total is the same. You disagree with what we count towards that total.

    You say that your ‘observation of context-based students is that the commitment to learning … is not comparable to the commitment to learning in a teaching-focussed content …, and so counting these hours as equivalent is not justified’. This is the pedagogical disagreement I mentioned. Your observation would be an interesting one to explore further, so that we could get beyond your (or my) subjective impressions – but in the absence of that further research, we can look at the best proxy we have, which is the measurement of students’ actual educational achievement.

    You say ‘it seems to me that it matters at all sorts of levels whether a clergy person actually understands e.g. the Trinity, or “missio dei”, or engages well with the details of biblical texts in their sermon preparation, or understands effective models and strategies of pastoral care.’ Yes, obviously. Which is why various forms of assessment (essays, projects, theological reflections, oral presentations, assessed conversations and so on) are used to assess things like how well students understand the doctrine of the Trinity, or the missio dei, or their ability to engage well with biblical texts in sermon preparation… That’s the bread and butter of student assessment in theological education – and it is in those assessments that we don’t appear to see the differences that you hypothesise we should.

    (I’m heading in to a series of meetings now, so won’t be able to carry this on until later.)

    • Thanks again Mike. Yes, I do think I disagree. The reason is that learning hours which count towards an award surely need to be properly accounted, need to have content specified, ought to be enabled by someone qualified, and have learning outcomes specified. I am happy if you can inform me that this happens in relation to each module with reduced hours, by having the additional hours connected to that module by means of this kind of process happening in context—but so far no-one has said this is happening.

      And it is not clear how this can happen. For example, suppose I teach a 20-credit module on Issues in Biblical Theology, and we are considering the issue of Providence, and whether or not open theism is a persuasive idea. I have no doubt that exploration here will affect the practice of ministry when dealing with issues of suffering and loss in the future—but it is hard to see how specific learning in this area can be arranged for the week in question, or even during the context placement at all.

      On the question of assessment, I think we both know that summative assessment of a module functions as a way of sampling, and testing and acquisition of skills and knowledge. But it cannot assess whether all the module content has been engaged with. That comes down to the question of syllabus, and so the major weakness emerges that there is not only no common syllabus across the Common Awards programmes, but not even a common syllabus for a module taught in different institutions.

      Under the current system there is no guarantee that ordinands will have understood the New Perspective on Paul, engaged with the Synoptic Problem or understood Pentateuchal criticism (to pick three topics in biblical studies). Nor will they necessarily have explored models of faith development, learning styles, or models of pastoral care, leadership or the church (though these last are much more likely than the first group!).

      I have not heard a convincing argument as to why these should not be specified, rather than being left up to individual institutions and even the preferences of tutors.

      I should add that none of this is an argument *against* context-based training in any way. I can see the benefits for myself, and others testify for it. What I am questioning is rate at which this form of training accrues academic credits.

      • Hi Ian,

        We expect TEIs to communicate clearly to students and to the churches that they are working with what learning the students are supposed to be pursuing in their context, and to connect that to the learning required in their modules. Most TEIs have some kind of process for drawing up formal learning agreements covering all this.

        Of course, we don’t expect TEIs or students to be able to say ‘for this hour of ministry I am pursuing this learning outcome in relation to this module’ – because we know that learning outcomes overlap, that different activities relate to multiple different outcomes, and that life and learning are in general very much messier than that. We simply expect TEIs to confirm that students are being enabled to spend roughly the right amount of hours in total in ways which together meet the right learning outcomes for their modules.

        I’d have to go back and check, but my memory is that the claim made in most context-based programmes is not that every module has a similar proportion of its hours in context-based learning and in independent study time, but that some modules (typically the more traditional academic disciplines) will be fed mostly by traditional forms of independent study, and that modules with more of a practical focus will draw a lot more on context-based ministry hours.

        And whilst I do, of course, agree that academic assessment only measures certain things, it is our way of checking whether students can demonstrate that they are (whatever they have spent their learning hours doing) meeting the formal learning outcomes of their modules, with appropriate breadth and depth. That is what the assessment is for, and is what markers, moderators and external examiners are asked to confirm. And it is by demonstrating the meeting of those learning outcomes through such assessments that students gain academic credits: so the rate at which they gain credits is tied to the rate at which they can be prepared for, and undertake, these assessments. The evidence we have from that process suggests that context-based students, however they are spending their time, are being enabled to meet those learning outcomes as well as residential and part-time students.

        There is, I’ll admit, one bit of fudging that does concern me – but this is one that affects context-based, residential, and part-time students alike. For pretty much all of them, we expect them to do too much – and so we bake in busyness as a core dynamic of ministry from the start. The number of hours that we formally count towards the academic programme is fixed, and isn’t unreasonable – and it is quite possible to build that around some other activities without overwhelming people. But I think most students do spend much of their time overwhelmed, and learning habits of ‘getting by’ while overworked. So, whilst there may be a notional sense that there is a dividing line between the hours required for the academic programme and the other hours, I think that is in practice a very blurred line indeed – which is one of the reasons why it is difficult to count how many hours students are actually spending in practice on independent learning and on learning in context, or to see how the formal account TEIs give us of those numbers relate to the real experience of students.

        As for the common syllabus – I think that’s a separate question. We validate what was proposed to us by Ministry Division, after extensive consultation with the TEIs (a consultation which, as I understand it, pushed the process away from rather than towards a common syllabus). I’d be very happy to be a spectator for a renewed conversation about a common national syllabus. Just let me know when it’s starting, and I will buy popcorn.

        Best wishes,


        • Thanks again Mike. I was part of the conversation about Common Awards and common syllabus, and unfortunately the decision to avoid a common syllabus was the result of one or two loud voices controlling the agenda. I think there is, in fact, a broader consensus that a common syllabus makes sense. Part of the dynamic was that the process of moving to Common Awards was so demanding administratively that is was easier to agree shell modules, and in effect allow TEIs to continue teaching what they had before. But things have moved on now.

          And if you do sit as a spectator, I would be very happy to buy you the popcorn.

  3. Thank you for this Ian. I am currently training with Sarum on the LLM course. We train with the ordinands, it is a comprehensive overview of all of the criteria you mentioned and takes 3 years. I have friends who have trained with other dioceses who have not had to study for so long or as in-depth but as you say gain the same qualification.

    My husband trained at St John’s and it was an amazing time as the whole family were involved and we all have fond memories of our time there. it was important for us as a family unit that we were all included and I feel this is something that is missing from distance learning.
    God bless, Karen Gomm

    • Thanks Karen—he did indeed train at St John’s. I think the family involvement is a very interesting questions.

      But the fact that there are so many inconsistencies nationally, in all sorts of ways, raises a major question about the processes of decentralisation, whether arising from ACCM 22 many years ago, or in the latest move in RME.

  4. Really interesting discussion – thanks Ian (and Mike). I’d love to get Richard Peers’ take on all this from the perspective of pedagogy.

  5. Not an anglican but think there is cross over with the discussion and debate about training and equipping imdependents and particularly in terms of the cknversation going on about possible vocational training for urban priority psstors/ planters. I think it has to start from outcomes so think of how teachers and other roles have agreed set of standards/ competencies … I think this is the key thing … – what is it you are looking for in a pastor who has been through primary training. I think alongaide formation type stuff we would mainly be looking at able to teach, pastoral care, able to lead well and some others. How are those things best assessed and what actually goes into equipping them.

    I’m relaxed about what happens to residential places. I think how we train can be more flexible. But maybe the real underpinning question is whether we recognise and value the role of the full time theologian amd contribution of academic theology. If we do (and i think we should) then we need to think about how we encourage/ support theologians, how we provide for a flow of Masters students and PHDs – do we just leave that to universities but then theology depts are closing down and there may be other hurdles for evangelicals. How do we ensure the preservation and growth of good library resources too?

  6. Typo, but a repeated one on your blog: ACCM 22 was 19*8*7 not 1977 (if what you are referring to is Advisory Council for the Church’s Ministry, Education for the Church’s Ministry: The Report of the Working Party on Assessment of the Committee for Theological Education, ACCM Occasional Papers 22 (London: ACCM, 1987).

    • Thanks Justin. I am a bit torn here, since I started training in 1989, and I don’t remember ACCM 22 being so recent. And as Ian Hobbs comments below, the GOE ended in 1977. I also put this date on an earlier post and was not contradicted.

      Perhaps we need to dig around in the history a little more…?

  7. Hi Ian, Mike,

    Thanks for the article and these comments. I try to follow the various training developments as best as I can.

    As an Ordinand on a local part-time course that also offers contextual-training (St Hild College), in a sense I find myself ‘in the middle’ of certain aspects of the residential-contextual arguments, acknowledging of course the distinction is not quite that ‘clear-cut’.

    If I focus my brief comments on the award ‘Theology, Ministry and Mission’. Of course the point of the award (which I agree with hugely) is to encourage us to think critically about the links between these areas. But nonetheless practically the learning objectives for some modules will have a necessarily more overt ministry / mission focus.

    Consequently, it seems perfectly logical that some of these modules will have learning objectives met by the main contextual placement as Mike highlights. I suppose though Ian your argument is that in residential training this will happen in addition to classroom hours addressing those objectives? I’m not sure I can add anything though to that discussion given the expertise you both bring to it!

    Just an additional brief comment from a part-time student. Having a number of family members (including my wife of course) that are ministers, I’m fairly self-disciplined about time management, as it is a lesson well instilled into me! Our college tutors are very good at encouraging our part-time students not to over-exert themselves with say placement hours.

    One issue though can be the radically different expectations of placement supervisors. Again our college tutors are very good at stepping in and trying to standardise expectations, but I suspect that is a challenging thing to do.

    My circumstances are by no means the most challenging (I help look after our son as Jo is back in full-time ministry), but another aspect of these discussions is the challenge part-time students have fitting in placement and study hours. My life allows that more easily than for some colleagues, but I remain full of admiration for the incredibly busy professionals I see thriving in their ministerial formation. The time and life management skills they show can only prove invaluable in their future ministries, which include a mixture of stipendiary and self-supporting pathways.

    I certainly don’t envy the difficult and challenging decisions yet to be made with regards to ministerial training!

    My prayers and blessings, Che

  8. I was one of the last cohort to take the GOE in 1977. On reflection your suggestion about current content is a reasonable match to the GOE course which was over 3 years at Oak Hill. It was pushed into 2 terms each year withthe third term giving college arranged inputs on a whole host of other topics. (Education, psychology sociology etc.) Sunday was also a placement day in a variety of contexts. ” Missions” in parishes were also part of what was, expected. FWIW I think you are still on the button.

    What I cannot see is how any part time course could achieve both the amount of input or experience that this gave. Being residential the discussion and debate (particularly as my time was within the growing discussions of the renewal movement…) continued “at all times and in all places”. Day start was chapel at 7.30am, all meals in college and finishing around 9.00pm. It wasn’t unbroken by other activities… college maintenance, gardening duties…. err popping home to see the family at tea time. But it was a long day and thoroughly good preparation. Was it too long? Maybe. But surely impossible to match with part time or distance learning methods. It does demand a different commitment for those with families. That’s not a simple debate.

    Was it too costly? One cannot compare easily. Students were largely responsible for finding their own costs whether married, single, with children or without.

    However if we deem God is calling folk to ordination to cut the cloth smaller than the coat needs to be does not honour God or the person.

      • It was intense.. (I forgot to mention the 2,years compulsory NT Greek for those of us under 30) Smiles….

        Though to satisfy those”some folk at a well-known residential college in a university city. Their low opinion of GOEs was such that they treated them as a bit of a joke.” I’d acknowledge that it wasn’t academic enough to satisfy them. Whether such views show the maturity suited to ordination us another issue.

        What OH did supremely well was to take men from a huge variety of backgrounds, mostly non academic or disciplines far removed from theology , and prepare them for ministry in response to God’s call. Some were from work class backgrounds and… wait for it… estates. Bell ringing anyone? I’d gone the long route… left school at 16, City and Guilds, HNC Electronics etc and was doing a Chartered Engineering course when God moved me on.

        Was it too intense? No. Perhaps I could have managed it better. But the sheer range of input and experiences served me well. If course one does not stop learning and I trust I’ve developed since being ordained at 27. I could not have done it without my wife call with me. There’s a moot point…

  9. Ian, Thank you for clarifying in your amended post that St John’s ceased ordination training, not that we have closed.
    We are very much alive and kicking! Indeed, St John’s currently has around 220 students studying through our Distance Learning and MCYM programmes.
    We are actively recruiting to our distance learning suite of Common Awards from levels 4 (Foundation Award) through to Level 7 (MA), as well as our own St John’s Certificate for those who prefer to take longer than university validated programmes allow.
    MCYM, part of St John’s, is also well into the recruitment cycle and offers thriving undergraduate and postgraduate courses in Children and Youth Ministry, Contextual Ministry and Practical Theology and Chaplaincy, indeed we have an open day on Wednesday and others are planned through the next few weeks.
    St John’s has a new online multimedia Lent resource which starts on Wednesday on our website – Lent with St John – https://stjohns-nottm.ac.uk/lent-reflection/introduction/
    Looking to the future the St John’s Trustees continue to explore possible new partnerships building on the excellent, and at times groundbreaking, work St John’s has undertaken in theological education for over 150years.
    Full details of all our programmes, short courses, Open Days etc can be found on the website https://stjohns-nottm.ac.uk/

    • Thanks for the information Jane.

      It doesn’t undermine the point that an institution which used to train 125 full time students, nearly 100 of those (i.e. one fifth for the C of E) were ordinands now doesn’t—and there has been very little discussion at a national level about this.

  10. I did my MA research based around the theme ‘what’s theological about theological education’. This was prompted by the publication of the ‘Hind’ report which came out during my ordination training. Three things stood out for me.

    1 The ordinal is crucial for creating a shared vision for ministry. It already is the national benchmark, but seems underused.

    2 The bible’s wisdom tradition provides the pedagogical model for learning/formation. Trace the meaning and purpose of wisdom through the OT and NT and you discover how discipleship for ministry happens.

    3 pre and post ordination training has often been moulded to fit passing trends in education and formation. This often creates a round hole/square peg mismatch. The key for leaders in theological education in every generation is to let the aims (e.g. the ordinal) lead the enabling structure (selection process, context, assessment, accountability, funding, syllabus, recommendation, deployment…), not the other way round.

    For me the major revelation was seeing ordination training as a category within the overall discipleship and servant ministry of the church. I’d like to think that the quality of discipleship and formation offered in every church is taking people towards or beyond the standard expected for ordination.

      • No, but exploring this topic has been hugely helpful to me when working with ordinands on different training pathways and with curates as a tutor and training incumbent. At one point I felt the regional training partnerships offered a way forward, with the potential to join up the benefits of the different training pathways and forge strong links to secular academic centres. The Durham award has, I would think, removed the motivation for the latter.

        I still feel that good relationships and collaboration within the regional training partnerships, or similar groupings, could bring out the best of the different pathways, and expose those training to different learning styles. However, the St Mellitus option has, perhaps unavoidably, changed the landscape of training for the while and integrating it with regional training partnerships is, I would imagine, very difficult.

        I would say that all these twists and turns in the provision of ministerial training are normal for a church which validates training initiatives rather than administers a national training structure. I don’t think I could answer the ‘which training pathway is best’ question. But we should be investing time and energy in helping those training answer the questions, How do I learn? What is training for? What is successful training? How will I continue to learn? The answers to those and similar questions provides the integration and transformation that equip us to serve.

    • Thanks Stephen – that is very interesting and your point in the last paragraph is exactly what I tell new college and course staff at the induction day we run – glad to have some real research backing!

  11. Ian, you say: ‘For anyone training in their late 20s or early 30s, we might anticipate 35 years of ministry. Adding two or three years of stipend at the beginning as an investment is a relatively small price to pay, all things considered.’

    Out of interest, has anyone done any analysis of how many years of service the Church does typically get from the clergy it trains? It would need to take into account the age profile of accepted candidates, the ages at which clergy retire, and the rate at which clergy leave (or take extended breaks from) ministry.

    • The Stats department at Church House do a good job, and I have asked them for this info. But there is a big gap because all the figures are compiled locally in dioceses, who are independent legal entities, and so it is difficult to track longitudinal cohorts. They only give out their figures voluntarily!

    • Average age at ordination is now around 45 years,which surprised me when I read it in The Church Times. So without adjusting for early retirement from ministry, or time spent with a PTO post-retirement, doesn’t that point to an average of around 25 years of licensed/beneficed ministry?

      • Yes, but the average doesn’t tell you much. You need to know the distribution. By your calculation, someone being ordained at 30 will offer 40 years of ministry. Is that really now worth three years of full time initial training…?

      • Roughly a third of ordinands are training to be self-supporting ministers. I suspect that these are mostly older. Also, about a half are women, and the average age of female ordinands is significantly higher than that of the men. There is probably overlap between these two categories.

  12. Thanks Ian – I am not a fan of context based training unless the ordinand in question already possesses a degree in theology. Context based training is what a curacy is surely?! Context based training is what most ordinands have had several years worth of, as lay members, deeply involved in their churches prior to offering themselves for ordination. The greatest need I see in curates is deep theological foundations and spiritual formation. I believe full time, college classroom training is the best place for these. The move away from them is largely pragmatic and cost driven.

    • I did Context-based training – no theological degree previously – and it was an amazing formative experience, and offered something very different to curacy.

      This was 2 years in a rural context, living on a farm complex in Wiltshire, building relationships and worshipping in the group of churches. In terms of theological formation the highlight were the corporate theological reflections with the other context students – bringing academic & practical theology up close to ‘live’ knotty issues in the parishes or in our personal experiences…..we would often see God move powerfully not just in the group but in the situations we were exploring.

      Context-based training isn’t for everyone, and the motives for doing it need to go beyond budgetary requirements, but it’s an experience unlike anything I’ve had before or since, that couldn’t be done in curacy, that I still draw upon and wouldn’t swap for anything.

      • Peter, thanks for that interesting perspective.

        I think you highlight what seems to me to be the key advantage of context-based training: that it juxtaposes theological reflection with ‘live’ pastoral issues. Simon P might respond by saying ‘So does the placement experience in residential training’.

        I think you are right that the context of reflection is something distinct from curacy—but of course you are contrasting this with your prior experience before training, not comparing it with residential, and in residential training you would have even more of this!

        So the question is: what does having less ‘classroom’ contact time and more placement offer compared with having more ‘classroom’ contact time and slightly less placement?

        • Thanks Ian – I’d add that I was in residential training, so we’d have 2-3 days in college at Bristol, with all the lectures etc, and then back to the villages for the rest of the time. So the main difference was how the practical element was delivered.

          It seems to me that the phrase ‘context-based training’ means something different 10 years on, and implies non-residential.

          For me, the type of training I did was the best of both worlds, and gave a richer practical element than the traditional block placement, whilst retaining the academic & college communal elements as well. Certainly this type of training wasn’t for everyone, and I could well see how someone who’d previously worked in a church would like 2 or 3 years as a private citizen instead – a bit of time off for good behaviour! – but as a ‘real-time’ theological training experience it was excellent (and possibly closer to the type of training Jesus modelled, he says provocatively).

          To move onto some of the discussions above I certainly agree with your implication that residential training is a stronger and deeper type of training. We’re in an intensely people-centred role and need a community-centred training, formal & informal, as part of it.

          If it’s not viable to maintain residential training in some places there at least needs to be more support/ training post-ordination (both curacy & first incumbency) to make up for it. If the roots are shallow the plant won’t bloom as well.

  13. The mention of the General Ordination Exams took me back to the mid to late ’70s when I knew some folk at a well-known residential college in a university city. Their low opinion of GOEs was such that they treated them as a bit of a joke. Some got together and invented a theologian, as if a tutor had a pet research topic, and invented quotes for them to produce: “As Bluch states in his unpublished work, ‘truth is the antithesis of reason.'”

    I suppose the point of this for today is to ask what do present-day ordinands and those recently ordained think of their own training? Which parts of it are seen as just something they have to do, and which are seen as of value?

    I guess the same applies to getting honest appraisals from those doing post-ordination training, training incumbents and then how people get on in their early non-training posts. Perhaps congregations have opinions as well!

    • David – “I suppose the point of this for today is to ask what do present-day ordinands and those recently ordained think of their own training?”

      These are important questions, the latter more so. I would add “what do the training incumbents & the congregations who work closely with the new curates think of their level of training, knowledge & spiritual formation at college & CME”?

  14. I trained Part Time at STETS and my local tutor trained at a full-time institution. He related how the theological mix on a full-time course resulted in horrendous rows ultimately reconciled. At STETS, despite huge variations in background and theology, we were not together enough to really fall out, and be finally reconciled. It might seem odd to suggest that having sharp disagrements before being brought back together is important but somehow I think it is! Otherwise these things simply remain as the proverbial elephants in the room.

  15. I trained at St John’s Nottingham in the early 1990s (and am greatly saddened by what has since happened to the college), so have ministered full time now for nearly 25 years. I needed full-time residential training – I had no prior post-16 education, and I’m temperamentally averse to part-time study. Had I not had the opportunity for residential ordination training, there is a strong chance I would never have been ordained, and the Church would have missed out on 25 years of ministry (some might say that would have been a blessing!) My wife more recently trained with St Mellitus, which suited her well, and gave her an equally excellent foundation for ministry. My point is that there is a strong element of ‘horses for courses’ when it comes to the mode of training needed for each ordinand, and a significant move away from residential training restricts that necessary element of choice. If, as you suggest, some bishops are refusing to send anyone to residential training, what does that say to people like me?

  16. When training for ordination at St. John’s years ago I used to notice the stress that residential training placed on families and also what seemed to me to be a stressful, excessive workload which led to the local doctors receiving more visits from St. John’s students than they ought to. I personally had an amazingly happy time in training because I was able to negotiate an easier workload on the basis of my previous theological training. At that time over twenty years ago it seemed to me that residential training fell between two stools in trying to to be a mixture of a monastery and a university and in ending up being neither. So I became an advocate of context based training.

    Looking back now over twenty years I feel a little differently but for different reasons. In the intervening twenty or so years it seems to me that we need more, not less serious theological reflection and training in the church as it faces ever more complex issues going forward into the future. And for that we also need a larger pool of training theologians and educators also – especially as we see theology departments axed in favour of departments of religion in our secular universities or even world-class departments such a Biblical Studies in Sheffield merged with the Philosophy department [sob!] As I approach retirement in a month’s time I will leave all you clever younger people to sort this out!

    • Thanks Clive for these two reflections–both of which I think are spot on. I remember one student I taught at St John’s who thought that you *had* to do every one of the 100 hours learning expected from a module, and nearly killed himself doing so!

      Interestingly, I was at a meeting yesterday looking at the role of TEIs in relation to the LLF project, and one widespread feeling was that the issue of sexuality highlights just how complex these issues are, and indicate the need for more and more careful training, not less and more practical.

  17. I wonder what those called to pastoral ministry in the priesthood can learn from the spiritual formation of novices in the religious houses?

      • Well I was just wondering, Simon. I suppose all those things, but I think the whole journey of community, and ‘Rule of Life’. I sometimes feel like the religious houses are undervalued resources, and yet there are huge reserves of prayer, daily rhythm, lectio, and the realities of surrendering to God in the context of community – including people we really find hard to get on with – that perhaps our whole Church can learn from in parish life.

        I think that unless relationship and spiritual deepening are at the heart of formation there is a risk that priests may be sent out to serve with knowledge, cleverness, theological theory (all fine in their own right) and yet still be inadequately equipped to face their huge challenges.

        I commend ‘Living in Hope’ written by Martin Smith and developed by the Society of St John the Evangelist. A deeply helpful resource for those exploring ‘Rule of Life’ and spiritual formation within community.

        But it was more of a query. I imagine there must be opportunity for ordinands in training to draw upon the wisdom and experience of our religious houses. I’m just curious about that link. Spiritual growth and deepening are hugely important. Of course, for a priest, much of that will happen when her ministry begins. But I imagine that preparation for ministry must prioritise that formation of the person, and their openness to grace, and practice of community.

        I write as an individual who has explored vocation as a priest, and as a nun. Different callings, but in both, the heart of it seems to be personal growth in God.

  18. Working on the basis that the only type of really stupid question is the one that doesn’t get asked, can I ask what ‘spiritual formation’ is? If it is important for ordained folk then why isn’t it offered to lay folk?

    • TJ
      I see it as Conformity to Christ
      And the shepherds must lead by example. So robust theology is necessary, skills for the role but above all work on character

    • Good question, TJ. The image I have is that of a cycle wheel: when I was a lay person I was something of a ‘spoke’ – I went to work, I did church activities that ‘interested’ me, I turned up for church & homegroup etc. As a parish priest I’m much more of a ‘hub’…..not that everything’s got to go through me, but there’s a sense I ‘carry’ or ‘oversee’ a lot more. To do that I’ve needed to build up spiritual muscles, and explore theological areas, that I didn’t have to before. That’s what I understand by formation.

    • The reason that I am happy with this language is that corresponds to the language of Paul in Romans 12 ‘be transformed by the renewal of your minds’ and also his language in Eph 4 about ‘growing up into the head, who is Christ’, as well as 2 Cor ‘being changed from one degree of glory to another’.

      It is language about Christian maturity, and so does apply to all. But as Peter notes above, it is intensively important for Christian leader. So it is both/and, and I hope it happens for all in every church…

  19. Thank you, Ian, for another interesting article.

    Under the title “What are the issues in ministerial training?” you write “Can we establish an integration between ordination training, and (most importantly) between pre- and post- ordination training?”

    The Church of England suffers from “clericalism” or “sacerdotalism”! The biblical model of ministry and of leadership is surely shared. Would it not be better for the CofE to acknowledge this both in word and deed.

    In some Dioceses non residential training is provided for Ordinands and Readers ( aka Licensed Lay Ministers) together. That may have been done for costs saving reasons; but it is surely a cause for blessing.

    What lies behind the question posed is how all God’s ministers are trained…

    William H

    • Yes, I would agree, and so it does need addressing. But one difficulty is the diversity of understandings of ordination! Someone on Twitter and another on Facebook commented on how training is important as preparation for the ontological change to being a priest!

    • William “The Church of England suffers from “clericalism” or “sacerdotalism”! The biblical model of ministry and of leadership is surely shared. Would it not be better for the CofE to acknowledge this both in word and deed.”

      Clericalism and sacerdotalism are two very different things and neither should be confused with God particularly appointing and anointing individuals from the community to serve and lead the community as ministers do. Paul says ‘honour your leaders in the Lord’s work’ – but my experience of 30 years in ministry is that honour is often with-held.

      Not every disciple was appointed to be an apostle – not every member a deacon or elder. There are those whom God sets apart for leadership, and leaders need help in leading.

  20. Thanks Ian
    Some years ago I went on a CPAS weekend on the title “You and ministry”. It was looking at vocation to ministry. I asked the question “What is a priest?” Partly as a result of the answer or (as it seemed to me) non answer I am now a Licensed Lay Minister! The CofE has not in my view answered the question.


  21. We deacons have been struggling for decades with the fact that there is not a consistent national framework for training. Our ministry is entirely at the mercy of the diocesan bishop. If s/he’s supportive of the diaconate then more attention is paid to it. If that bishop is replaced with someone who has no or little time for it, the whole thing goes to the wall. A national framework would prevent this happening, and would underpin and enable the national policy that we’re asking +Martin Seeley to consider. PLEASE!

  22. Thanks, Ian, for your reflections. A few comments/questions from someone at the coalface:

    Are you aware of any approved ordination training pathways that do not include all the elements you outline? The ‘Formational Criteria’ for ordained ministry effectively provide the central control, and the PER process scrutinises the extent to which pathways will enable fulfillment of them. So it’s not that curricula choice is a free-for-all.

    Modes of training continue to evolve, so there is a risk of any analysis rapidly becomes partial. For example, it is now possible to train full-time non-residentially at St Augustine’s College (as a distinct option to the mixed-mode pathway, which is also offered), thus combining the benefits of both. The key word in your appraisal of residential training is ‘opportunity’ – but as I have highlighted in previous comments, there is no guarantee that it will be taken up. What needs to be clear is that the same opportunity is provided in other modes of training – it just looks different and is not so readily described. In the therapeutic professions, there is a current grappling with the ‘reality’ of online interactions. One researcher, Aaron Balick, has said ‘For most younger people, these are just online expressions of real life. I think that many non-millennial therapists are making this faulty distinction, often implicitly or unconsciously, in ways that are not helpful – for example, by dismissing people’s online experiences as “less than”‘ (cited by Sally Brown in Therapy Today, 30.2, March 2019). There is not a direct analogy with spiritual formation, but we do need to broaden our thinking about how, when and where formation can happen, and therefore how it can be facilitated and shaped. And let’s not forget that all modes of ‘non-residential’ training always include at least 19 nights of residency per year.

    Finally, integration between pre- and post-ordination training is possible. St Augustine’s works in partnership with three of our regional Dioceses to deliver accredited Phase 2 programmes. There is close liaison between college staff and Diocesan officers, and a carefully articulated understanding of how they two phases relate.

  23. As an outsider, is there anything the CoE can learn from other “professions”, for what is set out in Ian Paul’s article seems to be something of a mess of pottage.
    1. If there is any aspect to this of “calling” and there is, it is a calling to what role?
    2 When I trained to be a solicitor, there were set professional standards and learning across the whole of England and Wales. They were:
    1 First degree
    2 If first degree not in law – a further year course in law (with exams to pass)
    3 A further year’s course in 7 law subjects (with no credits if subject studied a degree level ) leading to 7 Solicitors Qualifying exams of 3 hrs each over 4 consecutive days (except Accounts- 2 hrs). There were approved training courses around the country, but the exams were set and marked nationally, external to any course providers
    4 A further 2 years Articles of Clerkship to a Solicitor, (trainee) in a solicitors office/department.
    5 5 years minimum (6, without a law degree)
    It goes without saying, that the grounding, the formation, was in law, law, law, and uniform, standardised Law Society regulations and exams, so I’d support Simon’s comment on 4 March 6:52pm.
    Having said that there are some with a thorough and highly qualified grounding in theology who would not fare well as ordained ministers in a parish, or even in different types of parish, city v rural, or different class demographics.
    And none of that, of itself, transforms into the likeness of Christ and as Ian says from “one degree of glory to another.”
    Anyway, it’s good to know that ordained ministers in the CoE are ontologically changed, perhaps on a higher level than the rest of us. Perhaps its a “levitation” priesthood of the New Testament.

  24. There are some references in the article and the comments to ordinands and Readers/LLMs training together. In February 2017 General Synod debated the report “Setting God’s People Free”. In that debate, the bishop of Newcastle, Christine Hardman, shared:

    “I believe I am the only diocesan bishop to have trained on a course and not at college. It was not any old course. It is, of course, now sadly defunct but it was the St Albans Ministerial Training Scheme which, uniquely, admitted its participants before they had discerned their vocation and to which particular ministry God was calling them, so together all lay people, but all exploring whether we would be called to ordained or lay ministry to serve God’s mission.”

    This seems to me a very interesting model of training for ministry. It relates to that which Stephen shared above that every church member should be ‘trained’. This is discipleship, which it seems the Church of England is just realising should be done. It is a model which would take longer, but it should start earlier, as it were. It is also a model in which discernment is less dependent on the individual coming forward. Rather the community can see the possibilities for the individual. This seems a more biblical model for discernment (“set apart for me Barnabas and Saul” – and also recall those who had episcope thrust upon them). Then those found to be called to ordained ministry would already have the foundations laid.

    • “to which particular ministry God was calling them, so together all lay people, but all exploring whether we would be called to ordained or lay ministry”. Perhaps we ought to be more emphatic in seeing clergy as part of the laity not an advanced level in the craft. I think I’m right in ascerting that most of those who are ordained are historically “Lay clergy” and not members of a monastic order (?).

      Whatever, the divide between clergy and laity that still exists widely in congregational thinking falls rather short of Romans 12. One man bandism and weak teamwork.

      ” This is discipleship, which it seems the Church of England is just realising should be done”. I’d thoroughly agree and that some parts of the CofE have been doing this for many decades. (mainly evangelicalism?) Some 30 years ago a Bishop in South America described confirmation as the “ordination of the laity”. But then confirmation does not have the same importance or key moment weight anymore.

  25. Ian
    Apologies for not reading your article and all the comments in detail before making this observation, (maybe my point has already been made), but one phrase leapt out for me from your article, ‘ordination vows’.
    I assume (correct me if I am wrong) that the ‘ordination vows’ you have in mind include the Declaration of Assent and the Preface. If so I have to let the bee in my bonnet have another buzz. I have crossed swords several times with Andrew Godsall on what that Declaration commits the person making it to believe and preach. It is clear that Andrew regards it as a commitment to believe that the Church believed the doctrines of the Articles at the time of the Reformation (in particular Article 9), but not any longer. Also, if I am remembering Andrew’s posts correctly, it would appear that when Andrew trained the Articles were hardly (perhaps never) mentioned. And you yourself have explicitly rejected the doctrine that in his death Christ satisfied the wrath of God (‘But it does mean that we should be careful to deploy the language and metaphors that we find in the New Testament—and ‘satisfying God’s wrath’ isn’t part of it’) although that doctrine is clearly stated in the Homilies of Passion (‘And yet, I say, did Christ put himselfe betweene GODS deserued wrath, and our sinne, and rent that obligation wherein we were in danger to GOD, and payd our debt (Colossians 2.14)’), Salvation (‘God sent his only son our Saviour Christ into this world, to fulfil the Law for us, and by shed ding of his most precious blood, to make a sacrifice and satisfaction, or (as it may be called) amends to his Father for our sins, to assuage his wrath and indignation conceived against us for the same’) and Nativity (‘And because death, according to S. Paul, is the iust stipende and reward of sinne, therefore to appease the wrath of GOD, and to satisfie his Iustice, it was expedient that our Mediatour should be such a one, as might take vpon him the sins of mankinde and sustaine the due punishment thereof, namely death’) which are part (via Article35) of the ‘inheritance of faith’ to which the Church, ‘led by the Holy Spirit’ has ‘borne witness’ in the ‘historic formularies’, and to which the one making the Declaration is called upon to ‘affirm your loyalty to this inheritance of faith as your inspiration and guidance under God in bringing the grace and truth of Christ to this generation and making him known to those in your care?’.
    It really is time that the Church as a whole, and the ordination training agencies, ceased to ignore the elephant (woolly mammoth?,brontosaurus?) in the room of the Declaration and Preface and confront what the Declaration commits to. The debate centres around the meaning of the words used in the Preface and Declaration and in the historic formularies themselves, e.g. the phrase ‘Seeing now, dearly beloved brethren, that this child is regenerate’ in the Book of Common Prayer. I suggest again that a thread on your website would be useful in exploring this question of the meaning of these words.
    Phil Almond


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