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Questions about the Resourcing Ministerial Education exercise

16 January 2015


From the Principal of the College of the Resurrection, Mirfield

Sir, - As we await publication of yet another report, Resourcing Ministerial Education, from the five task groups, an important matter needs careful attention.

The TEIs (colleges and courses training people for ordained ministry) collectively represent significant theological wisdom and experience. Over the past twenty years, that wisdom has, it seems, been effectively sidelined. There are two main causes.

First, the constant stream of reforms and changes from "London" have drained the energies of staffs, and even deflected them from giving their best to their students; and, second, governance has been restructured to separate it from practice, removing principals and others working at the coal-face from membership of policy-making bodies such as the Ministry Council - leaving the latter with a partial understanding of the task that it is seeking to manage.

Significantly, no representative of the TEIs was part of the Resourcing Ministerial Education task group; the consultation that has taken place so far has been carefully controlled and reduced to a limited response to selected parts of the mass of material gathered as "evidence". It can be said, of course, that this is only one view of the matter, and a picture could be presented of the practitioners engaging with enthusiasm and showing support for the project. All of that can be said, but cannot airbrush out the serious concerns of the practitioners.

The matter that is really at issue is something else: is the process being driven by God or by human beings exercising power? What is at work: theology, or an essentially secular picture of what it is to be human beings? The answer is shown in an increasing reluctance to engage with the treasures of the theological tradition in corporate thinking and planning. Instead, participants are invited to engage in "theological reflection" in a way that risks trivialising what that term ought to mean, besides deliberately ignoring the living spiritual tradition in which we all stand.

"Theology" here seems to be understood as complex intellectual constructions that will serve only to confuse. But theology has to be the heart of the matter: nothing other than a willingness to seek the mind of God and to desire to do God's will, discerned from a rooting in the sources of the spiritual life.

To set theology in this fundamental position is to say that in a worshipping, praying, and reflecting Church, God's very self is revealed to us, and that is the first thing we need: all our strategies and plans are worthless unless we have first set aside our own will and the temptation to take the Church by the scruff of the neck and control it.

No one doubts the seriousness of the challenges facing the Church of England, but planning for success and efficiency will be a disaster if it takes the form of one group pushing another group around. Those entrusted with the formation of candidates for ordination need to be able to share truly and effectively with the Church's bishops and officers in sustained attentiveness to the spiritual and doctrinal realities at the heart of the Body of Christ.

It is not enough to make such orientation to God and his revelation a gloss on a humanly proposed strategy: it has to be the foundation for the journey. And because we are Christians, that has to be really corporate - brothers and sisters listening to one another.

Peter Allan CR
College of the Resurrection
West Yorkshire WF14 0BW

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