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Theological education put under the spotlight

14 June 2013

by Pat Ashworth


Concerned: the Bishop of Argyll and the Isles, the Rt Revd Kevin Pearson, in the chair

Concerned: the Bishop of Argyll and the Isles, the Rt Revd Kevin Pearson, in the chair

Theological education

THE findings of an inspection report on the Theological Institute of the Scottish Episcopal Church (TISEC) must be taken seriously and acted on, the College of Bishops and the Primus told the Synod in a lively debate on Friday.

TISEC was not previously part of the Quality in Formation (QFP) process used to assess Regional Training Partnerships in the C of E, and the SEC requested an inspection to see how the college - a constituent part of General Synod, and with limited resources - ranked alongside programmes in England.

It was judged fit for purpose, but, of the 16 criteria assessed, two important areas were judged "No Confidence". These were ministerial, personal, and spiritual formation; and government, management, constitution, and organisation.

The Primus, the Most Revd David Chillingworth, acknowledged that the complex structures of TISEC had, in practical terms, made it "difficult if not impossible for significant change to be proposed, considered, and carried through". There had been a Church-wide feeling that change was needed, but different people had seen different things.

"The arrival of this report changed things considerably. This is an objective statement from an outside body, written by sympathetic people with recognised expertise," he said. He emphasised a future need to share aspects of training with ecumenical partners, but acknowledged that this was proving "difficult to foster".

As significant change has been called for by September 2014, a governance and formation working party, convened by Canon Anne Dyer, has already been set up. The Synod also voted for a change to resolutions to broaden the make-up of the Ministry Development Committee.

Dr Peter Smart, convener of the Ministry Development Committee, was keen to emphasise that the two No Confidence ratings "do not mean abject failure, but that aspects of our life show unsatisfactory practice. Of course it was disappointing. But TISEC is not a freestanding institution, and the speed of decision-making cannot be as responsive as desired."

Jim Gibson (Glasgow & Galloway) welcomed the report, and asked the blunt question: "Do we have the resources? We have to find a budget for this." The Very Revd Dr Emsley Nimmo (Aberdeen) emphasised the importance of academic theology in the Churches, and urged the encouragement of students to "study theology at our universities".

Dr Andrew Baron (St Andrews), a TISEC teacher on contemporary issues, described the report as "a bit like a newspaper story on something you have witnessed yourself: you wonder whether the journalist was quite at the scene." The inspectors had wanted to bring out that TISEC was shackled by being run "as a sub-committee of a sub-committee". Formation was a matter of indeterminate definition: four Methodist colleges had once been described as respectively producing "preachers, pastors, priests, and prigs".

The Revd David Mumford (Brechin) considered formation to be "deeper than learning skills of the ministerial craft". He was concerned that the inspectors had taken students' views at face value: a wider and longer view had been needed. Sari Salveson (Edinburgh) said that the Church appeared to have lost ministries such as NSMs, who used to train at TISEC. Graeme Hely (Glasgow & Galloway) relayed to the Synod some feedback on a church placement: "Can we keep the student, and send the rector back to TISEC?'"

Anne Jones (Standing Committee) wanted assurance that TISEC teachers - "who are working their socks off" - were being given all possible support. She would hate to see low morale among staff. The Revd David Richards (Edinburgh) urged the Synod to take the report seriously, and not to dismiss the words and feelings of the students. "They feel it, live it, give what they have. Please do not deride them."

He also called for the Church to be clear about what it was looking for in future ministerial candidates: "Look at different types of candidates, who will do things differently. Otherwise, we are just rearranging deckchairs on the Titanic."


Retirement Age

CLERGY in the SEC will retire at 67 instead of the present 65, to take effect from 1 January 2014. Increases in future pensionable stipend or salary will be no more than the increase in the Retail Prices Index.

Andrew November, chairman of the Pension Fund Trustees, said that the recovery plan put in place by the Trustees in 2008 to address a deficit of £8.9 million had been effective in reducing it to £3 million in 2011, and to £600,000 at the end of 2012, despite the value of liabilities' increasing, owing to a fall in bank yields. The "riskiness" of the Pension Fund had also been reduced, with less money now in equities and real assets and more in bond yields and real cash.

But he warned the Synod that, if the cost of future benefits continued to rise, it would reach a level that might be neither affordable nor sustainable. The amount paid by congregations had increased each year for ten years.

Some clergy detected flaws in the thinking where the retirement age was concerned. The Revd Professor David Atkinson (Aberdeen & Orkney) said that living longer did not mean being functional for a longer period of time. "You are asking people to work longer when they are ageing in particular ways," he said. He suggested a determining medical assessment at 65. The Revd David McCarthy (Glasgow & Galloway) wondered how ageing clergy were to be supported, and Christine McIntosh (Argyll & The Isles) questioned whether it was good for the Church to have "so many old people at the top".

But the Very Revd Dr Francis Bridger (Brechin) did not see the issue as one of affordability: this was a mission issue, where "we may be doing ourselves down" if clergy were to be seen by those in their congregations, or on the fringes of the Church, to be privileging themselves. The motion, presented byDavid Palmer, convener of the Standing Committee, was carried.

Hunger Summit

HUNGER had been coming closer to home,the Revd Val Nellist, convener of the Overseas Com­mittee, told the Synod. Globally, the issue is to be discussed at a hunger summit, instigated by David Cam­eron before the forthcoming G8 summit.

Two Malawian smallholders, Susan Ntende and Howard Msukwa, who export rice to Scot­land, were present to tell the me­­eting how much they appreciated the Scottish government's con­tinuing support of development aid for their country.

A motion that letters be sent commending Mr Cameron and the Scot­­tish government for their actions was carried unanimously. The Overseas Committee was also invited to consider ways in which SEC could develop its relationships with those overseas receiving church grants "beyond simply the rela­tionship of donor/recipient".

Living wage

A MOTION affirming the Christian values inherent in the concept of the living wage, and strongly encou­raging all SEC bodies and congre­gations to pay at least this figure, was carried with three abstentions.

Average private-sector earnings in Scotland were £23,999, the Very Revd Ian Barcroft, convener of the Church in Society committee, told the Synod. In one deprived area near Glas­gow city centre, Calton, the average male life-expectancy was 54, compared with a nearby area where the figure was 82 - a gap of 28 years. In 2012, there were 500,000 people in Scotland earning less than the living wage, which he described as "a rallying cry against low pay". The living wage ensured a basic but acceptable standard of living. The allure was its simplicity, he said. Few disagreed. Alan McLeod be­­lieved that, even though it had only 35,000 members, "our Church should be a conscience of the state." He urged it to engage with all po­­liti­cal parties.

There were warnings from the floor that firms forced to pay the living wage might cut jobs or reduce hours, and that young workers might be disadvantaged. But Graeme Hely (Glasgow & Galloway) thought the wording too weak. SEC bodies and congregations should not just be "strongly encouraged" to pay. It should be demanded of them.

In brief

The Revd Professor Annalu Waller presented three motions on behalf of the Church For All group. First was the desire that the Scottish Episcopal Church "should enable people with different abilities, and at different stages in their faith journey, to experience an environment where all people can worship and participate in the life of the Church, and feel themselves to be fully part of the Body of Christ."

The Synod also noted the Charter for the Safety of People within Churches of the Anglican Communion, and approved consideration of its application within SEC, and affirmed the continued funding of the Diaconate Working Group. 

The Revd Dr Harriet Harris visited the Synod to announce publication of the ninth Grosvenor Essay,The Art of Dying Well, which recognised the long tradition in Christianity of teaching people to die well. It was not a position statement on any matter, but was intended to bring comfort, and to challenge the Church to carry out "the teaching and practice that will help us to do that".

The Synod agreed to a quota figure of £658,837 for 2014. The figure represents a three-per-cent increase. Edinburgh has the highest rise, with a 6.6-per-cent increase from £234,176 in 2013 to £249,765 in 2014. 

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