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Putting ordinands in touch with the tradition: responses to Dr Orford

15 February 2013


From the Revd Dr Ian Bradley
Sir, - Three cheers for the Revd Dr Barry Orford's eloquent and timely plea for more teaching of church history in theological colleges ( Comment, 8 February). I am quite convinced that the downgrading of this particular discipline across the academic and denominational spectrum has been a significant factor in the growth of the new tradition- (and reason-)lite fundamentalism to be seen in all mainstream Churches in this country.

As a Church of Scotland minister who is particularly concerned with the formation and education of ordinands, I share his concern that an increasing number of people are entering the ministry (in our case, especially from overseas) with no background in or understanding of the traditions and ethos of our national or Established Churches.

I am not sure, however, that a greater attention to the historical dimension in Christianity, and to the development and traditions of the Church of England in particular, would or, indeed, should have the effect of turning out more "committed Anglicans", as he appears to advocate and desire. Learning more about the past surely makes one realise just how contingent, accidental, and conditional are so many deeply held and parti-pris positions.

In the case of the Church of England, and of my own Church, I would suggest that, far from reinforcing "committed Anglicanism" or - God forbid - "committed Presbyterianism", historical study rather fosters a broad, eirenic outlook, and an understanding of the particular calling and opportunities inherent in being part of a national or Established Church.

I would commend to Dr Orford the Queen's observation, quoted in Cole Moreton's contribution to your fascinating and moving commemorative pages, that the role of the Church of England is "not to defend Anglicanism" so much as to serve everyone, principally through pastoral ministry exercised through the parish system, and protect the free practice of all faiths.

Reader in Church History in the University of St Andrews
School of Divinity, South Street
St Andrews, Fife KY16 9JU

From the Revd Mark Smith
Sir, - The Revd Dr Barry Orford rightly emphasises the need for ordinands to be thoroughly educated in the Anglican tradition. It may cheer his heart to know that, at Ridley Hall, there is a weekly discussion group that works systematically through the formularies of the Church, that is, the Thirty-Nine Articles, the Book of Common Prayer, and the Ordinal. It is a splendid way for students to en-counter the richness of the Catholic and Reformed tradition into which they are to be ordained.

Peterhouse, Cambridge CB2 1RD

From the Revd Timothy Evans
Sir, - The Revd Dr Barry Orford is right to insist on the importance of historical awareness as a key aspect of formation for ordained ministry today. Without a strong and developing sense of where we have come from both as the Church of England and the wider Church, it is impossible to minister with depth and wisdom in our rapidly changing world, in which "heritage" often masquerades as history. Without a secure understanding of our Anglican story, we easily become prey to the latest fad or passing initiative, or to a misplaced anxiety about the future of the Church.

He is also correct to reject the path of "eccelsiastical antiquarianism", whether in liturgy, forms of ministry, or the expectations of congregations: there never was a golden age of Anglicanism.

At the Yorkshire Ministry Course, preparation for ordained ministry centres on regular worship from Common Worship or the Prayer Book, together with opportunities to understand their historical origins, theology, and current use. Ordinands also encounter the likes of George Herbert, Jeremy Taylor, and William Temple, and complete a whole module exploring the Anglican tradition.

Additionally, the experience of participating in the worship of the Community of the Resurrection at Mirfield and of learning alongside those of many varying traditions of Anglicanism provides a rich historical perspective on the distinctive identity of the Church of England and what it means to be a deacon or priest within our Church.

Developing a historical understanding is central to the preparation offered to ordinands in at least one non-residential context.

Director of Pastoral Studies
Yorkshire Ministry Course
The Mirfield Centre
Mirfield, West Yorkshire

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