Ministry Council officers say quality research is lacking

15 May 2015

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THE Church of England's Ministry Council is operating with a "paucity of quality information, analysis, and insight" about ministerial training, two of its officers said this week.

In a paper discussed with the Council this week, Dr Liz Graveling, researcher for ministry projects, and Dr Tim Ling, head of ministry development, say that the work of the Archbishops' task groups, including the one that produced the report Resourcing Ministerial Education (RME) (News, 23 January), has drawn attention to a "paucity of quality information, analysis and insight, and its need if the Council, House of Bishops, Dioceses and Theological Education Institutions (TEIs) are to be active agents in . . . Reform and Renewal" - the church-growth programme currently being rolled out in the C of E.

Dr Graveling and Dr Ling were given the task last year of researching the effectiveness of the Church's investment in ministerial training. This research proved to have "several key limitations", echoed in feedback from stakeholders, including TEIs, they write in their paper.

These limitations are, they suggest, "both conceptual and methodological". They include "a historical perspective" - the research covered clergy who had trained several years ago, self-reported data, a lack of consultation, and a failure to address ministry in contemporary society.

"There does not appear to be consensus on the objectives of ministerial education, partly because the picture of what ordinands' future ministry will (or should) look like is unclear," they write.

They call for a "longer-term approach" to understanding ministerial education. This would incorporate "both quantitative and qualitative methods with robust structures of validity and reliability. Central to this support and participation of all stakeholders is a spirit of openness and willingness to share and receive knowledge and resources."

They acknowledge that concepts of ministry, education, and society are "vast and complex topics, which will not be resolved in a short space of time".

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The Master of Trinity Hall, Cambridge, the Revd Dr Jeremy Morris, is among those who have expressed concern about the RME report (Letter, 27 March; News, 17 April). On Wednesday, he said that the admission of "several key limitations" was "very welcome indeed". He said that the authors were "reluctant to acknowledge just how disabling the criticisms are for the overall strength of RME".

He also questioned whether the new research proposed would solve the problems identified in the report: "The three core concepts they want to clarify are the nature of ministry, education, and the nature of contemporary society - vast and complex issues, indeed, which will not be decisively 'clarified' by the research they propose. . .

"What is necessary, first and foremost, is a vision of what theological education for the whole Church - for the whole people of God - ought to look like. The abiding impression that this document leaves, for all its good intentions, to my mind, is that we are not confident on theological vision as a Church, but much too trusting in the security and decisiveness of empirical research."

On Wednesday, the Director of Ministry, the Ven. Julian Hubbard, said that the RME report had acknowledged the need for further research: "It was always our intention to develop the research from the initial stage and to extend it so that it served not just in the area of ministerial education but also selection, deployment, and other areas which are closely related to formation."

He stood by the RME report's proposals, which "do not favour any particular pathway on abstract or ideological grounds. . . They allow the exercise of intelligent judgement about the needs of the individual candidate and the hopes and needs of the Church in relation to them. The intelligence about such decisions will grow as the body of data and information develops through the research."

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