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The trials of a curacy are part of the training

28 February 2014


From the Revd Ian L. Johnson

Sir, - In response to Matthew Caminer's article on curacies (Comment, 7 February): I was a student at Wells Theological College in the late 1960s. At least half of the 40-plus students seemed middle-aged to me at 23 to 26. Many had come from the professions, commerce, or industry. I had spent more than two years working overseas, but my life experience was as nothing in comparison with many of my fellow students'. This life experience was ignored by our trainers. With 40 years of hindsight, I am sure that it was seen as a threat by many of the college staff.

The talk was always of breaking down to build up the priest. Towards the end of the second year of the residential training there was, for many, an emotional change, when the light dawned about the process. Past experience of business, people, or management was of little worth in relation to the need to develop a spirituality and learning to serve, guide, and comfort. It was only as a working priest that I recognised that the process of working through anger and frustration into humility and service was a process of formation (a word that never occurred in my training), which enabled me to exercise the entirely different authority that the priest exercises in the world.

The prescriptive nature of IME 4-7 seems more designed to reduce the influence of the training incumbent than to encourage growth in the new priest. The paperwork and management-speak have diminished the ministry of the new priest from an exciting exploration of possibilities to the completion of a defined task. (Perhaps I should take some responsibility for this, as I conducted one of the first surveys on post-ordination training for the newly formed Anglican Ordinands Association in 1969-70).

I had four training incumbents over five years of curacies, including two interregna, and have always been grateful for the freedom to make mistakes, explore the impossible, and learn to be priestly. Yes, relationships were dysfunctional at times, often bruising, always exciting, but I cannot remember a single pro forma, written report, or assessment during the whole time.

We seem to have lost sight of the truth that we are training men and women for a life of priesthood rather than to be managers or academics or whatever. Coping with the broken relationship between curate and incumbent is as much part of the training as passing an examination.

I need some convincing that, apart from gender, the quality or range of experience that the ordinand brings into his or her training is any different from the late 1960s. What has changed is the quality of the training "experience" and the fear of getting it wrong.

71 St Andrew Street
Tiverton EX16 6PL

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