New name and radical change for theological training at St John's

20 November 2015

St john’s school of mission

Principal of St John’s: Dr Hilborn

Principal of St John’s: Dr Hilborn

ST JOHN’s College, Nottingham, has renamed itself St John’s School of Mission as it prepares for a radical shake-up of teaching and the end of residential theological training.

From September, the 152-year-old institution will no longer offer residential or full-time education. Instead, students will be placed with a church, and study for only two days each fortnight at St John’s. For the rest of the time, they will be employed as “student ministers” with the church.

The Principal, the Revd Dr David Hillborn, said last week that, although change had been in the air for several years, the sweeping overhaul was a result of the report Resourcing Ministerial Education, which was released in January (News, 16 January).

The report called for a 50-per-cent increase in the number of candidates for ministry by 2020, but also proposed devolving the training budgets to individual dioceses.

The name change was to signal to the outside world that St John’s had changed significantly, Dr Hillborn said. “The default has been traditional full-time residential training. We are moving away from that into something new and exciting. Since mission is the priority, we thought it would be appropriate to reflect that in the name.”

St John’s had pioneered “mixed-mode training” in the 1990s, Dr Hillborn said, and now felt it should intensify placement-based education as the “best mode of training for the future”.

“It’s not just about reshaping ordination pathways — we are going for a much bigger integration,” he said. “A third of their curriculum will be shared between our youth ministers and ordinands.”

Part-time study and distance learning without a local church placement will also continue to be on offer.

While there would be a “youthful vocation” around the college, Dr Hillborn said that the 50 per cent increase could not rely on young people alone, and older students would continue to be a part of the college’s plans.

“We are not closing the door on them, but we recognise that a Church which is going to be relevant in the future will need to franchise the rising generation, who will be leaders of the future C of E.”

Dr Hillborn said that training at St John’s would still be full-time and fully-funded, but divided between the national Church and the local church. “For the students, it is full-time. It’s split between being a student minister and the more formal academic work, with things overseen from the learning centre.”

This shift mirrored trends seen in other denominations and around the world, he said. “If there is a global trend, it is towards this context-based model. Whether it is within Pentecostalism or Presbyterian churches or Anglican training in other provinces, there’s a move towards . . . tend[ing] to be at the coalface, in dialogue with the classroom.”

None the less, academic theological rigour would remain, even if St John’s was abandoning the traditional academic approach. “St John’s has always been innovative since it was founded — this is a new form of that.”

The college is about to apply for planning permission to redevelop the old student accommodation into housing, which will generate cash to pay for some of the transition. There  have already been some job losses, however, and there would be further “restructuring” to come before the first students arrive at the new St John’s in September, Dr Hillborn said.

The college began life in 1863 as the London College of Divinity, but moved from Northwood to Nottingham in 1970. It counts two former Archbishops of Canterbury, Donald Coggan and Lord Carey, among former staff members, and the current Dean of York, the Very Revd Vivienne Faull, was the College’s first female ordinand.

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