A PROPOSAL to devolve decision-making about ministerial training
to the dioceses, opposed by 17 theological educators in a letter to
the Church Times today, prompted one member to resign from
the task group behind it, it emerged this week.
The Revd Dr Sarah Coakley, professor of divinity at the
University of Cambridge, sent a resignation letter to the group
four days before the report - Resourcing Ministerial Education
- was published (News, 16
January). In it, she lists several reservations about the
report, warning that it is "anodyne and misleading". She describes
the devolution to the dioceses as "the most disturbing part . . . I
must be blunt: I simply do not believe there is sufficient
qualitative theological understanding in most of the dioceses to
protect the sort of aspirations that this report promotes."
Resourcing Ministerial Education, presented to the
General Synod in February (News,
20 February), proposes that "decisions about training pathways
for individuals should be made in the diocese, in consultation with
the candidate." A "standard level of grant for tuition" will be
given to each recommended candidate from a central fund, to which
all dioceses contribute. This grant "may be used in a range of ways
as the diocese sees fit, providing the training is from an approved
In her letter, Dr Coakley writes that she agrees "wholeheartedly
with all the goals and aspirations" of the report, which envisions
a 50 per cent increase in ordinations by 2020.
But she goes on to warn that devolution to the dioceses will be
"profoundly undermining of all these good goals. . . Indeed, since
there is no theology of ministry articulated in the report itself,
one can hardly expect one to emerge in the course of individual
bishops making decisions about 'flexible pathways', or taking on
over-50s candidates without a BAP.
"Further, as the report itself acknowledges (but does not
resolve), a huge set of problems can be envisaged about how to
deploy clergy around the country in places of greatest need or
effective pastoral abandonment, given the new plan for the
financial support of clergy training."
She warns that "Synod is likely to sign on to this report
without realising what its fuller implications are . . . Why is the
threat to the future of some residential colleges, often voiced
openly in the committee, hidden in the actual report?"
Dr Coakley's concerns echo those outlined in a
letter to the Church Times today, with which she
agrees "wholeheartedly". The letter warns that, if the devolution
to the dioceses goes ahead, "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
The signatories call for safeguards against cost being "the most
important factor in determining an ordinand's pathway of training
and formation for ministry", and warn that diocesan boards of
finance will be discouraged from "investing in what will inevitably
look like a higher-cost training route."
On Tuesday, the Bishop of Sheffield, Dr Steven Croft, who
chaired the task group, welcomed the letter. Previous reports had,
he said, "affirmed the high value the Church places both on some
ordinands engaging with university departments of theology and with
the resourcing of future theological educators".
He drew attention to a proposal in the current report for
"special national funds" to "continue to resource gifted
individuals", including in "foundational theological work leading
to teaching or research". He also offered reassurance that
"decisions made by dioceses about training pathways will not be
made simply on the grounds of cost but will prioritise the
formational needs of the candidate and the wider church expressed
through the new Bishops' Guidelines."
The Revd Dr Jeremy Morris, Master of Trinity Hall, Cambridge,
one of the letter's signatories, said on Wednesday that there
remained a lack of clarity about cost determining the pathway, or
safeguards for the future of residential training: "That is why we
feel it is very important to make this stand now."
The chair of the northern DDO group, the Revd Peter Clement,
said on Tuesday that "quite a lot of concern" had been expressed at
a recent meeting about "losing central expertise if things are
devolved to the dioceses". He pointed out that "people are
sponsored to be ordained in the Church of England as a whole, not
just for one diocese."
Alex Irving, an ordinand and DPhil candidate at the University
of Oxford, said: "Preserving the traditional form of residential
learning in collaboration with academic institutions will go a long
way to ensuring the stability of focused learning and research
through which the Church of England can contribute to, and be
shaped by, contemporary theological scholarship.
"Moreover, the established links between the training of clergy
and universities provides the necessary context for the development
of those who will educate clergy in the future across the global
Consultation on the report is under way, involving both the
dioceses and theolgical educatoinal institutions. Dr Croft said
that he envisaged there being "firmed-up proposals" by early
Autumn, and synodical scrutiny in February 2016.