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Rooted training for growth

by
15 November 2013

Mixed-mode training for ordination is increasingly in demand. Jemima Thackray  considers some of the options

SHUTTERSTOCK

THERE was a time when all you needed to be ordained was to have an MA and a bishop who was willing to lay hands on you. But with the rise of the professional classes in the 19th century, the practice of equipping ordination candidates with a theological and pastoral education began. Then, for a long time, the prevailing model of training was residential. Students lived where they studied, like under­gradu­ates at university.

More recently, non-resi­dential part-time courses, com­prising even­ing and weekend classes, have become an important route to ordained ministry. And both full- and part-time study routes provide practical experience through place­ments in parish con­texts. 

Lately, a new training model, "mixed-mode", has emerged. The term has several dif­ferent defin­itions - at Ripon College, Cuddes­don, for example, mixed-mode refers to a flexible style of training for part-time, non-residential stud­ents. But, at most colleges, it refers to full-time courses that require ordinands to spend at least half the week in a ministerial context throughout their entire course, not just gaining work experience through short-term place­­ments.

The model attempts to shift the focus from the classroom back to the real world, blending tuition with on-the-job training. The aim, the Principal of Wycliffe Hall, the Revd Dr Michael Lloyd, says, "is for the two 'modes' to be mutually nutritious, academic theology and practical expertise each enriching the other".

The Vice-Principal of St John's College, Nottingham, the Revd Dr Andrew Angel, says: "Many felt there was a need for a practical focus for ministry right from day one. In some ways, mixed mode is like doing the academic training and curacy at the same time." 

 

A SIMILAR reason why mixed-mode was introduced is given by the Assistant Dean at St Mellitus College, the Revd Dr Andrew Emerton: "I liken it to the way doctors and teachers are trained: you wouldn't dream of letting them qualify without having been exposed to the realities of their profession during training."

Context-based training is now so popular, particularly among the under-35s, that eight out of the 12 residential colleges offer mixed mode: Cranmer Hall, The Queen's Foundation, Ridley Hall, Ripon College, St John's College, St Stephen's House, Trinity College, and Wycliffe Hall. 

There are at least three courses provided by non-residential insti­tutions: St Mellitus College, the South East Institute of Theological Education, and the Yorkshire Min­istry Course. Several mixed-mode courses are not yet formally vali­­dated by the Ministry Division,  however, and candidates on these need approval on a case-by-case basis.

Interest in mixed-mode training led to the establishment of St Mellitus College in 2007, by the Bishops of London and Chelmsford and St Paul's Theological Centre, which the Regius Professor of Divinity in Cambridge University, Dr David Ford, called at the time: "One of the most important ex­periments in church theological education for a long time."

 

St Mellitus, which is now based in Earls Court, London, has ex­­perienced rapid growth since it began, and, as well as now training more ordinands than any other college (currently 142), also has the largest number of mixed-mode ordinands in training (82), who travel in from different parts of the UK to attend one day of lectures per week; supplemented by a day of personal study per week, seven weekends, and one residential week of further tutoring per year.

Many other mixed-mode training courses require students to be present two or three days a week to participate in study and community activities, and most provide ordin­ands with a room throughout their course. The Queen's Foundation, Birmingham, is an exception, as students start the course living mainly in college, and end it spending most days in their context placements, concentrating on the learning which they then go on to apply.

But, usually, there is no stipu­lation to live in college, and therefore no need to relocate, a fact that has added to the popularity of mixed mode. St Mellitus College conducted some research which showed that 75 per cent of their ordinands would not have con­sidered training, or would certainly not have considered it at the time when questioned, had it not been for such flexibility. 

The approach also benefits congregations in several ways, Dr Emerton says. "Not only does it enable ordinands to stay rooted in their parish communities, where they may already be involved and depended upon: it also encourages awareness of vocation within the entire Christian body, as the rest of the church witnesses the training and may be encouraged to think about God's calling in their own lives."

Since all mixed-mode ordinands must be selected as potential incum­bents rather than for non-stipendiary associate ministries, the "contexts" tend to be parish churches that have agreed to serve in a mentoring capacity. Placements can also be in youth work or chaplaincy, however, as long as the ordinand obtains sufficient min­isterial practice and guidance.Some colleges allow students to propose their own ministry con­texts, although help is available if required - these include St Mellitus, and the mixed-mode course at the Evangelical Wycliffe Hall, Oxford, which also has teaching input from the Anglo-Catholic St Step­hen's House.

Other colleges tend to get more involved in placement selection, often basing ordinands at desig­nated training churches. 

 

THE Queen's Foundation, Birming­ham, is one such college. Trinity College, Bristol, places all their mixed-mode students together in teams, in one of three area place­ments that students can choose between. Placements are supervised by the parish priest, and each ordinand is also visited for a mor­ning a week by a member of the college staff. 

"The tutor facilitates the inte­gration of theory and practice through regular corporate reflec­tion," Trinity's director of practical training, the Revd Sue Gent, says. "This encourages a collaborative mindset, and it is also a missional and incarnational model, because the students live together as part of their local community."

A similar approach is starting at St John's, Nottingham. The college already offers a mixed-mode course that prioritises group reflective practice, with ordinands' coming together during their time in college to share and pray about their experiences. But a brand-new course, the Community Mission Pathway, which the college hopes will start next year, will take this a step further, "to establish missional communities, not just individuals" Dr Angel says.

 

IN SEPTEMBER 2014, Cranmer Hall, Durham, will also launch a new mixed-mode course with a similar approach, basing groups of up to six ordinands in an im­­poverished area of Middles­brough, with a view to establishing further hubs in other needy areas in due course. 

"The choice of this area in Middlesbrough is entirely deli­b­erate, because it's somewhere the students can make a real difference. It's about being fully present and establishing a long-term com­mit­ment to a place," the director of mission at the college, the Revd Dr Michael Volland, says.

Cuddesdon has no context-based training for main­stream ordinands, but does offer a mixed-mode course for those selected for Ordained Pioneer Mini­stry. 

At Cuddesdon, Pioneers spend a day a week in teaching sessions provided by a partnership of the Oxford Ministry Course and the Church Mission Society (CMS). Jonny Baker, who co-ordinates the CMS side of the training, says: "This is not a compression chamber where they're just thinking about leading: they're actually doing it."

Most other colleges also offer training for Pioneer ordinands. Some offer a bespoke course, while other colleges absorb Pioneers into their normal mixed-mode course, but place Pioneers in ministry contexts outside of mainstream church.

 

THE outward focus of many mixed-mode courses means that they tend to attract candidates with a strong focus on church growth. "These are people who are passionate about seeing the church grow," Dr Emerson says. The Yorkshire Ministry Course, for example, has just implemented a new pathway, working in alliance with St Thomas's, Crookes, in Sheffield, which has a special emphasis on church-planting.Miss Gent, at Trinity, acknow­ledges that one drawback of a mixed-mode course is that students remain in the same context for their entire course rather than gaining insight into different Anglican traditions through dif­ferent short-term placements, as happens in residential training. 

"We are seeking to overcome this by providing placements within placements: short assignments out­side of ordinands' usual contexts, in order to gain a broader experience of Anglicanism," she says.

But a student at St Mellitus, Jude Greenfield, says that ordinands gain a wider understanding of the Church of England through contact with other students: "Everyone at college is in a different placement; it's so helpful to be able to discuss our experiences and learn from each other."

 

The Dean of the Oxford Ministry Course, the Revd Dr Tim Naish, believes that it is important not to see mixed mode as the only future for ordination training. "There's a question about maintaining the 'mixed economy' that Rowan Williams talked about. We don't want to lose the benefits of traditional training patterns, parti­cularly the rigorous academic dimen­­sion of residential training, which is really important.

"There is also the question about whether mixed-mode students are able to relate equally well to two communities - both college and context - at the same time. This is a real challenge, and yet it can be­­come an advantage, as learning how to bridge these gaps, as well as [to] juggle demands from different places, can be useful for future mini­stry." 

Dr Angel agrees that mixed-mode training does not suit every po­­tential ordinand. "It all depends on the nature of the learner, and the ministry for which that candidate is being set apart. 

 

"If you're training theological teachers, even potential bishops, they may need greater opportunity for immersion in the complexities of theology offered by residential study. But there are others who, quite appropriately, want their theology to hit the road of the realities of ministry much earlier. Either way, it has to happen eventually."

 

 

Jemima Thackray asks Jonathan Lawson about the process of discernment for ordination training.

What is the job of a C of E voca­tions adviser?

We are part of the team working with the Diocesan Director of Ordinands (DDO), who is, es­­senti­ally, the gatekeeper for the ordi­nation selection process. We are usually the first port of call before the DDO, and we tend to do long-term work with can­didates, ex­­ploring whether they have a sense of calling to priestly ministry. It's very much a col­labora­­tive discern­ment process. 

Typically, what kind of person comes to see you?

I am based at Durham University; so the people I see are gen­­­erally in their late teens and early twenties. I've seen a total of 70 students in nine years in the role. 

Other vocations advisers see all types of people, although, unfortu­nately, there is currently a shortage of young women coming through, and not many people from ethnic minorities, either - facts which the Church is not happy about, and is trying to address.

What kind of advice do you give?

I'll usually meet people in a café, so it's less formal. I make it clear that they are not on a conveyer belt to ordination, and I'm not on com­mission. 

I often ask them to reflect on how it feels to say they may be called to ordination. I find the Ignatian understanding of spiritual consolation and desolation useful; of things feeling right or wrong in our spirits; so it can be telling to find out how articulating a sense of vocation has felt. 

For some people, it's the first time they've said it out loud. It's a very fragile, hugely personal thing, and very humbling for me to be part of it. 

I also advise that they organise a week's placement in a church. Some candidates come back fe­­eling cer­tain, others completely put off; and I also observe their energy as they communicate this experience. And I tend to recom­mend that they see a spiritual director, as this can often help people find a language to arti­culate any sense of calling.   

What do you do if you're not sure about a candidate?

These things tend to reveal them­selves naturally, without the need for me to say "Yes" or "No". And, ultimately, I don't see it as my
role to say whether someone has a calling, but to journey with them
as they come to an understanding
of themselves. For some people,
it's just not the right moment; they may need to go away and come back.

That said, we don't want to send people on who we don't think will get through: I don't believe in using "process" to tell people something I'm afraid to say myself. So if, on the rare occasion, I really think it's not right, I'll say that I'm not sure they'd be recommended for training, and, therefore, my advice would be not to progress. But they're still allowed to carry on if they want to.

But, again, I stress that it's not a "no" in this scenario, because that would be saying someone doesn't have a vocation. My job is to encourage everyone to become what God has made them to be; for some, this might not be ordained ministry, but they still have a God-given vocation. 

The Revd Jonathan Lawson is the Chaplain of the College of St Hild and St Bede in the University of Durham, and the university's voca­tions adviser. His book on vocations Hearing the Call: Stories of young formation, written with Gordon Mursell, will be published by SPCK in January. 

 

 

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