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Reform and Renewal proposals — a further exchange of views

by
01 May 2015

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From the Revd Hugh Bowron

Sir, - For this New Zealand Anglican, Resourcing Ministerial Education has an eerie and ominous déjà vu feeling about it.

Just such a devolution of ministerial education to the dioceses has been the norm here for the last few decades. Many of our clergy have never attended a theological college or completed a serious theological degree from a tertiary educational institution.

The downwind consequences have been considerable: liturgical confusion and lack of competence, superficial preaching, amnesia about the Anglican spiritual tradition, a reluctance to engage in any kind of serious theological debate at synodical level when it comes to crucial issues, and a lack of perception in recognising the theological issues, difficulties, and opportunities for belief in a secularised Western society with rising educational standards. The Church's ministry has dumbed down at a time when more people than ever have been to university, and when many of the bien pensant perceive the Church to be a soft target.

This is not the fault of the clergy trained in the devolutionary model. They volunteered to serve in the Church's ministry, often at the invitation of the Church itself, and did what they were required to do in the formation process. Responsibility lies with the flawed training process.

Looking back on 35 years of parish ministry, I wonder if I would have survived or thrived without the formation I received at the College of the Resurrection, Mirfield, in the 1970s, with its emphasis on liturgical excellence, the disciplined search for holiness, a strong community life, and serious theological reflection. It wasn't perfect, and I accepted that it was my responsibility to pick up the extra skill sets required. But this ministry formation process has been a life-saver, and I would be sorry to hear that it had become a rarer possibility.

I don't see a disjunction between academic theology and front-line ministry. Currently I am doing a part-time Masters in systematic theology at the local university as a complement to my parish ministry. I find it to be consolation, animation, and inspiration that sustains the fire in my belly in the long haul of faithful parish ministry.

HUGH BOWRON

57 Baker Street, Caversham

Dunedin, New Zealand

 

From Dr Phillip Rice

Sir, - I am writing as a member of the church-growth advisory panel to dispel any thoughts that the work underpinning Anecdote to Evidence is weak or unfocused, or goes beyond the evidence base. In particular, my contribution to the advisory panel was to bring a wider context of methods used in growth-studies current across the social and economic field, and to interview the contractors around their technical ability. The key theme for such studies is to tackle when the evidence is causative as a step beyond being associative or correlative; and recent advances in methods are around "causes".

Quality academic studies are most particular about how the statistical evidence stacks up in a technical sense, and in all the precursor steps about cleaning the data and checking for errors. It was in the former area that Professor David Voas was a most judicious research analyst, and in the latter area that Bev Botting, head of research and statistics for the Archbishops' Council, has done sterling service in checking the numerous data files on parish data accessed by the teams.

As to the claim that self-declaration introduces bias, surveys are all about self-declaration. But what good research does, and the team also did, was to look at the non-respondents. So even the non-respondents were followed up to look for bias, and the evidence was that the non-respondents did not look out of line.

This was a high-quality piece of research.

PHILLIP RICE

23 Christchurch Square, London E9 7HU

 

From the Revd Dr Mark Hart

Sir, - It suffices to address one paragraph of the letter (24 April) from Bev Botting, head of research and statistics for the Archbishops' Council, and Kevin Norris, senior strategy officer for the Church Commissioners, written in response to your report on my paper From Delusion to Reality.

Contrary to what I had claimed, they assert that From Anecdote to Evidence does, in fact, make the point "on the back cover of the report" that, according to the church-growth research, "the factors associated with growth account for only a small proportion of the difference between growing and declining churches".

That assertion is categorically false, as anyone may determine by inspection. This significant gap in the findings is reported neither on the back cover nor elsewhere; neither as quoted nor in "non-technical" language. I am lost for words.

MARK HART

The Rectory,41 Oaklands, Guilden Sutton,Chester CH3 7HE

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