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Reform and Renewal: further responses to the current initiatives

08 May 2015


From the Revd Charles Read

Sir, - I am glad that the three deans who wrote in (Letters, 10 April) benefited from their mini MBA in Cambridge. Nevertheless, this does not excuse the shabby process by which this training has been initiated. The lack of willingness on the part of those driving this development to consult remains a serious problem, and the success of the course is, rather, testimony to God's ability to bring good out of something rather disastrous.

The Deans themselves, however, inadvertently point to a weakness in what is being provided. They speak of the MBA as being "wholly complementary" to their "previous theological formation".

The model, then, is of studying theology in the past and now moving on to embrace learning from other disciplines without integrating the two. This is quite ironic, as the MBA was held just around the corner from Ridley Hall, which has a Christian leadership institute that does just that. What this mini MBA is in danger of producing is senior ecclesiastical technicians, when what we need is reflective practitioners.

Here, too, is the link with another debate in your letters column: that of the involvement of universities in ministerial training. Professor Elaine Graham ( Letters, 10 April) rightly points out that some university theology departments do indeed provide teaching and formation in theological reflection and contextual theology. The Revd Dr David Heywood ( Letters, 2 April), however, is also right to point out that some of our university departments of theology do not.

While we do need our ministers to be technically skilled in theology and in other appropriate disciplines, that is not the totality of our needs, and the central place of theological reflection on practice is what is missing in both the advocacy of certain forms of university-linked ordination training and in the dash to MBA-style training for senior leaders. (The training of lay ministers such as Readers is not able to opt in to either of these routes.)

Theological reflection can happen only when the minister has some theological understanding to use, and some ministerial practice to use it on. This is more about being formed than about applying a technical process.

Reader Training Co-ordinator
Diocesan House
109 Dereham Road, Easton
Norwich NR9 5ES

From the Revd David Berry

Sir, - Your articles (News and Comment, 1 May) about Reform and Renewal raise two important issues. One is the place of "management" in the Church. The other is how vocations can be increased.

Among the gifts mentioned in 1 Corinthians 12 are some particularly miraculous ones. Gifts of administration (v. 28), though not appearing very miraculous, are vital to the life and growth of God's people. These must include both day-to-day office work and strategic planning of the system we are to use in the future.

Vocations are God-given. They are not something to be extracted from among believers by beating the drum a bit louder. Thus the question "How are we to recruit more vocations?" is the wrong one. The right question should be more like: "What will attract more vocations?" We need to ask what set-up we are expecting vocations to be attracted to.

Might it be that God is not recruiting many ordinands, churchwardens, etc., because he does not want to support an out-of-date parochial and diocesan system? Is he waiting for our old system to collapse before showing us the system that he wants put in place? At that point we might expect his support in the form of plentiful vocations to leadership ministry.

The Church of England in the south-east may feel little need for radical renewal of the system. It is a very different scenario in the rural north of England, where the collapse of the parish system is much more advanced.

I have yet to feel that the deep roots of decline are being diagnosed, let alone tackled.

2 The Croft, Warcop
Cumbria CA16 6PH

From Mr Matthew Clements

Sir, - Dr Phillip Rice (Letters, 1 May) says that the the Anecdote to Evidence report is "a high-quality piece of research".Well, frankly, as he admits to being a member of the church-growth advisory panel, "He would say that, wouldn't he?" It would be more helpful if he would actually address the specific issues raised by Revd Dr Mark Hart (News, 17 April).

Those of us in the pews would like to feel that we can trust these reports that come from on high without prior warning, and which seem to assume that we will welcome them without any intelligent consideration.Has the hierarchy forgotten the need to carry us with them in such matters. Do we not count?

4 Church Street, Bicester
Oxfordshire OX26 6AZ

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