Be boldly Christian, colleges told

by
02 November 2006

PARTNERSHIP with the church institutions of higher education was debated in the Synod on Tuesday afternoon, when it considered the report, Mutual Expectations.

The debate was about the 11 higher-educational institutions that were founded by the Church as defiantly religious, said the Bishop of Dover , the Rt Revd Stephen Venner. Since the last report on the colleges 12 years ago, they had diversified, and the quality of their work had been rewarded with university titles.

Lord Dearing's report to the General Synod in 2001 had encouraged both church schools and colleges to be distinctively Christian and inclusive.

The report's argument was that the institutions had much to offer the Church, and vice versa.

Rachel Beck (Lincoln), a former student of Bishop Grosseteste College, said that the vision of nurturing the individual had been a witness there.

The Bishop of Lincoln, Dr John Saxbee, emphasised that several of the institutions were located in areas where historically there had been little take-up of higher education. But it was hard to discover what the church basis was, and where it was apparent. Good appointments, therefore, were important, as was the mutuality of relationship between college and diocese.

The Revd Anthony Milner (Roman Catholic Church) commended the report. Some years ago, he had attended a church-colleges' conference, where he had noticed that RC colleges emphasised their heritage and ethos, but some of the Anglican colleges were playing them down. "We were frankly astonished." He hoped the Synod could encourage colleges to develop their distinctive witness. The RCs would be willing partners.

Dr Christina Baxter (Southwell & Nottingham) hoped that colleges might offer modules on Christian faith and living that were so excellent that many students would take them; she proposed this as an addition to the report's list of 20 aims.

The Revd Professor Paul Fiddes (Baptist Union) said the colleges could open the borders between theology and other disciplines. They could engage in interdisciplinary studies with theologians, engaging with modern culture.

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Canon Professor Michael Clarke (Worcester) said that the report had not said much about the pressures for the colleges from government regulators and the student marketplace. It was necessary to know what was distinctive about these colleges.

Canon Professor Anthony Thiselton (Southwell & Nottingham) said it was important that the theology departments were being supported by the colleges. He called for a better research base among the colleges.

The Bishop of Winchester, the Rt Revd Michael Scott-Joynt, said that dioceses must give time to the relationship. The Church had work to do in helping Christians to engage in an academic environment.

The Archdeacon of Birmingham, the Ven. Hayward Osborne, spoke of how it was getting difficult to recruit headteachers. The role of the church institutions was vital in training Christian teachers. But it was important that church people helped put their institutions on the map.

The Bishop of Chester, Dr Peter Forster, said that the Christian vision of an institution could be expressed through strong pastoral care for the students, and strengthening the relationship with the diocese.

There was no such thing as a presuppositionless approach, said Canon Douglas Holt (Bristol). "We must search for truth by all means, but if we want to make a distinctive contribution, we must ensure that the search is undertaken on the basis of the Truth."

The Bishop of Carlisle, the Rt Revd Graham Dow, spoke of how the Government had emphasised faith schools, but that vision had not transferred in the same way to higher education. The case still had to be made, and forcefully.

The Synod carried the motion from the Bishop of Dover:
That this Synod:
(a) welcome the report;
(b) endorse the report's statement of mutual expectations between the Church and church higher-education institutions; and
(c) call for further development in the partnership between the dioceses and higher-education institutions.

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