These proposals cause us to fear for the future of ministerial training

by
27 March 2015

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From the Revd Dr Jeremy Morris and 16 others
Sir, - The proposals contained in Resourcing Ministerial Education are out for a second round of consultation. It is clear that decisions of great importance - possibly decisive importance - for the future of Anglican theological education depend on the outcome of that consultation.

We the undersigned wish to express our great concern that, should core funding from central funds disappear and be replaced altogether with diocesan funding, a casualty will be the strong links built up over many years with university theology and religious studies departments, and that the public, intellectual engagement of the Church of England with pressing contemporary issues will suffer accordingly.

None of us disputes the importance of alternative modes of educational delivery to the full-time residential one. Mixed-mode and context-based training schemes, alongside part-time study, have already contributed enormously to the development of new ways into ordained as well as lay ministry, and there is no doubt that they have much more to offer the Church in the future. The Church of England needs a diversity of forms of theological education if it truly desires a diversity of ordination candidates.

We are alert, too, to the differential costs of all these various ways of pursuing study. Nor are we blind to the potential that exists - though arguably it is severely underdeveloped - for constructive relationships between university departments and the newer forms of training.

But there is a particular advantage to the pursuit of theological study in a full-time setting that can serve well the deepest engagement possible with the challenges of contemporary theology, and especially the development of an active research culture. All of our universities have contributed significantly to that in the past, and would hope to do so in the future. A key element is the involvement of universities in the education of clergy and laity, both through the contribution that academic staff make to teaching and to debate in the wider Church, and through the participation of students in graduate as well as undergraduate courses.

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It is essential that future proposals contain safeguards against cost being the most important factor in determining an ordinand's pathway of training and formation for ministry.

This will all be at risk if the present mode of supporting students in colleges and courses is not sustained. We are particularly concerned that shifting the burden of financial support for students to sponsoring dioceses will widen the existing disparities in educational provision across regions and dioceses, undermine the selection of academically able, Church-sponsored students for university study, and discourage diocesan boards of finance from investing in what will inevitably look like a higher-cost training route.

The Church of England has an impressive tradition, rooted in its educational history, of being at the forefront of contemporary theological scholarship. Is that all to come to an end? We strongly support the maintenance of core, central funding for both academic fees and maintenance, in order to protect the inclusion of Church-sponsored students in university theological education.

JEREMY MORRIS, Master of Trinity Hall, University of Cambridge
NIGEL BIGGAR, Regius Professor of Moral and Pastoral Theology, University of Oxford
SARAH FOOT, Regius Professor of Ecclesiastical History, University of Oxford
ELAINE GRAHAM, Grosvenor Research Professor of Practical Theology, University of Chester
DOUGLAS HEDLEY, Reader in Hermeneutics and Metaphysics, University of Cambridge
CHRIS INSOLE, Professor of Philosophy of Religion, University of Durham
DAVID LAW, Professor of Christian Thought and Philosophical Theology, University of Manchester
DIARMAID MACCULLOCH, Professor of Church History, University of Oxford
JUDITH MALTBY, Reader in Church History, University of Oxford
DAVID MAXWELL, Dixie Professor of Ecclesiastical History, University of Cambridge
JOHN MILBANK, Professor in Religion, Politics and Ethics, University of Nottingham
SIMON OLIVER, Nottingham University, and Van Mildert Professor-elect, University of Durham
MARTYN PERCY, Dean of Christ Church, University of Oxford
CATHERINE PICKSTOCK, Reader in Philosophy and Theology, University of Cambridge
BEN QUASH, Professor of Christianity and the Arts, King's College, London
ALEC RYRIE, Professor of Church History, University of Durham
GRAHAM WARD, Regius Professor of Divinity, University of Oxford
Trinity Hall, Trinity Lane, Cambridge CB2 1TJ

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