Renewing Ministerial Education

by
26 February 2016

Geoff Crawford

The Bishop of Sheffield

The Bishop of Sheffield

THE General Synod devoted most of Wednesday afternoon to debating the Renewing Ministerial Education (RME) strand of the Renewal and Reform process.

This was not about reducing expenditure, the Bishop of Sheffield, Dr Steven Croft, said, as he opened a debate about “five objectives . . . for achieving the vision of a growing Church with a flourishing ministry” as set out in the task group’s report GS1979.

Under one of the proposals, expenditure for ministry training passed from the Archbishops’ Council to dioceses, in the form of a block grant. “The block-grant system is about more than the distribution of funds for training,” he said. “It has the capacity to build strong relationships between dioceses on the one hand and TEIs [theological training institutions] on the other, to bring them into conversation about the formation which is needed and offered, to increase trust across the Church.”

He acknowledged the “significant amount of anxiety around these proposals in certain sections of the Church over the last week or so”, which was “understandable”.

“The proposals are still being adjusted, and there is more work still to be done, particularly on implementation. Safeguards and reassurance and clarity are needed. But at the root of the anxiety is a deficit of trust. That won’t be remedied instantly. But it will grow over time, as we bring colleges and courses and dioceses into ever closer conversation, which is exactly what these new arrangements do.”

He said that the vision of “a growing Church with a flourishing ministry” included both ordained and lay ministers. “We have listened carefully to what dioceses have told us about the qualities required in those ministers,” he said. “We need ordained and lay ministers who are collaborative, missional, and adaptable. We need ordained and lay ministers from a wider range of backgrounds, with a better balance of gender and ethnic background.

Advertisement

“We need ordained and lay ministers who have been deeply formed into the likeness of Christ, learned in scripture and tradition, able to be apt ministers of word and sacraments, agents of God’s love in the world, sharing in the oversight of the Church, delighting in its beauty and rejoicing in its well-being.”

The TEIs did a remarkable job with scarce resources, using highly skilled staff, working long hours. “Our dioceses are wanting to invest in this area,” he said. “Bishops and dioceses and parishes know what kind of clergy are needed. Dioceses are not wanting to cut costs on something which is vital. The Church gives sacrificially so that formation and training can happen year by year, and, I believe, is willing to make the resources available.”

He urged the Synod “not to be paralysed by anxiety”, and asked them to “encourage trust” by supporting the motion.

The people of Israel, Palestine, and Jordan were suffering from a shortage of water, Canon Jonathan Alderton-Ford (St Edmundsbury & Ipswich) said, and the Church was facing a “similar challenge” of limited resources. “We want all forms of ministry to flourish and grow, and for every ordinand to have the right access to education wherever they are.”

This was a difficult place to come from, he said, and there would be antagonism, however the move was funded. The current motion did not work yet, but it would if the Church put “the past behind us and builds trust” with future ordinands.

Barry Hill (Leicester) had been moved by the Archbishop of Canterbury’s speech in the morning. He said that his concern about the motion was “more about tone than content”, and urged the Synod to use the medium of “the message”, as Jesus had. There was a fear of having fewer clerics in the Church, who were getting busier and busier: “Given that fear is contagious, and everywhere, how do we face it?” he asked. The Church needed to have a system that trained the whole clergy for the future, to resist fear and spread the message to their neighbours, he said.

The Revd Dr Emma Ineson (Universities and TEIs) warned that, if the motion were left unamended, the Church would be asked to take delivery of a “shiny new set of proposals of training” without knowing what they were about, or the consequences of their application. Amen, she said, to a guiding vision of growing Church with a younger and more cohesive hoard of ordinands.

But some elements of the motion were likely to damage good work already being done, further stretching the “already overstretched budget” of the TEIs. She concluded that the details of the motion need to be more carefully worked out before, and not after, they had been delivered.

Quoting Margaret Thatcher, Anthony Archer (St Albans) said that “there is no such thing as public money,” and hoped that the Church was spending parishioners’ contributions more wisely, because they “pay the lion’s share”.

He welcomed the proposal, and called for increased flexibility and transparency concerning funding across the whole Church, which should not “straitjacket” dioceses with fixed tariffs. The Church should maintain a closer relationship with TEIs, he said.

The Revd Andrew Dotchin (St Edmundsbury & Ipswich) commendedthe task group’s intention of ensuring “that the Church provides three ways of nurturing future ministers”, but questioned whether this was being delivered in the right way. “If we do not handle the crisis carefully, we risk producing two types of priests; full-time young, under-30 males, and part-time priests, over 40, and of both genders,” he said.

Smaller dioceses would suffer from this division unless his amendment was supported, he said. He urged the Synod to take another look at the plans before going again to produce “a loaf that contains all of the goodness and all of the flavour for a healthy Church”.

Canon Mark Tanner (Universities and TEIs) said that TEIs had concerns about the funding package, not the overall direction of travel. They were passionate about the “vast majority” of RME, but “wary of unintended consequences”. It would allow vastly differing practices between dioceses or repurposing of funds on purely financial grounds. He was anxious about the Synod’s agreeing this funding package on the assumption that "safeguards will be implemented later”. Safeguards were within the remit of the Synod, which was here for good governance.

The Revd Professor Mark Chapman (Oxford) spoke in support of Canon Tanner’s amendment. He had taught in TEIs for the past 24 years, and welcomed the consultation process to date. But he said that the proposals were “not yet ready”: there was “too much unfinished work” for the Synod to approve them. The money currently received did not cover the cost of training for TEIs, which had a “very hand-to-mouth existence”. He could not welcome a proposal that might mean a “significant cut in funding” for them.

Angela Scott (Rochester) welcomed greater support for lay training. Rochester’s vision for lay ministry included a new training process. She wanted to encourage the Ministry Division to widen its current focus to include licensed lay ministry. “Those called to lay ministry are often fulfilling pastoral, evangelistic roles, as well as teaching.”

Advertisement

Dr Croft urged the Synod to reject the Dotchin amendment, but he welcomed the Tanner amendment. He emphasised that 36 per cent of candidates under 30 did not train residentially, which created capacity for funding. The wording “not yet satisfactory” moved the Synod back a “very long way” from the current consensus. He wanted to affirm the progress made, and the direction of travel, but acknowledged that there was further distance to travel. “Prolonged uncertainty would not be good for the Synod as a whole.”

The Revd Damian Feeney (Lichfield) spoke as a former vice-principal of a theological college (St Stephen’s House), and parent of a current ordinand. He suggested that the debate had been constructed “in an unhelpful way”, given that, despite the claim that TEIs were in agreement with the proposals, the principals had issued a statement expressing concern.

“In spite of the reassurances from the Bishop of Sheffield, there remain concerns with a number of the aspects of the proposals.” TEIs would be “burdened by the inability to plan and resource strategically as decisions about pathways are further delayed, as students may have to apply for three separate pots of funding.” He supported the Dotchin amendment.

The Bishop of Manchester, Dr David Walker, said that the funding proposals amounted to a formula. “We may not have got them absolutely perfect yet, but the search for the perfect formula is probably impossible and will keep us going far too long.” The formula was to achieve a block grant. “What I, as a bishop, will do with however much money comes from it is: I will, with the DDO and colleagues, plan what we think, along with the candidate, is the best pathway. If there is enough money to cover it, brilliant! If not, we are not going to muck up their future ministry for the sake of the marginal costs over the formula figure. We will train people the way they need to be trained.”

He also argued that, “if the formula does not work, we will change it.” He ended: “Let’s get on with it.”

The Dotchin amendment fell. Dr Croft said that he was very content to accept the Tanner amendment.

The Revd Dr Sean Doherty (London) spoke as a tutor at St Mellitus, a non-residential college. He shared concerns about the RME proposals, despite supporting the goals behind them. They did not yet adequately address the need to resource context-based training properly.

Mixed-mode or context-based training had shown “significant growth” over the past ten years, and he welcomed steps taken in RME to recognise it. As a priest in an estate-based church, he would find it very difficult to afford a mixed-mode, context-based ordinand training with them. More needed to be done.

He also expressed concern that the proposals would create a system “where there is lots of diversity across the C of E without a common national framework to channel that diversity”.

The Tanner amendment was clearly carried.

The Revd Dr Ian Paul (Southwell & Nottingham) praised the “important and excellent proposals” of the original motion, and said that it was sad to see that so many had been abandoned. He disagreed with Dr Croft that there was no “accountability and flexibility” in the current system, and moved his amendment.

“What are the limits of diversity and decentralisation?” he asked. “We are not a Church of dioceses: we are a Church of England, partners in mission, and not competitive rivals in experiments of church growth and shared understanding.” His amendment, he said, was not asking for more detail or scrutiny, but to make sure they had the same coherent national vision. Training is not about the acquisition of skills but of the “deep transformation” of the candidate. He urged the Synod to reject the proposal should they believe a theological perspective was not important.

Dr Croft responded by urging Synod to resist the amendment, because “it adds complexity to the argument.” Context-based training worked well within the dioceses, and the Church was not talking about a “radical change in engagement of dioceses with TEIs,” he said. “We are already undertaking theological work, including the development of shared discipleship and Christian understanding.”

The Revd Charles Skrine (London) was in favour of amendment. He said that his task was to work with universities and young graduates to raise up an extra 50 per cent of new ordinands. The decision to come to ordination was a “finely balanced one”, and where candidates trained was a significant factor in this decision, he said. The motion did not offer freedom of choice for the candidate. Rather, this decision would be placed in the hands of the dioceses and their budgets, and candidates would look elsewhere, he said.

Tim Hind (Bath & Wells) resisted the amendment, agreeing with Dr Croft that it would “over-complicate things”. He questioned whether the financial implication of the amendment had been discussed: it was unlikely to amount to nothing.

Advertisement

Canon Simon Butler (Southwark) feared that if the amendment was accepted the Synod would come back to the debate again, but have “a different conversation”, which would diverge from the issue of ministerial education. “The wider concern in Renewal and Reform is that we haven’t quite grasped a compelling theological vision of what we’re doing,” he said. He urged the Synod to reject the proposal and recognise that they would have a chance to ask more questions later.

Dr Paul’s amendment was voted on and lost by 202 to 154, with five recorded abstentions.

Christine Corteen (Salisbury) said that increases in lay ministry should not be seen as a way of “plugging the gaps” and developing and increasing numbers. Lay people were ministering as volunteers, and dioceses should think of lay minsters not simply as a replacement, but as providing a wider range of ministry. “The change of culture and contribution of lay people requires more work,” she said. “Let us keep this on the radar, and conduct a report on how this is progressing, and how the dioceses are engaging.”

Dr Croft warmly welcomed Mrs Corteen’s amendment: it was helpful to bring items back to the Synod for proper scrutiny and governance.

Mrs Corteen’s amendment asking the Archbishops’ Council to report back to the Synod by July 2018 on dioceses’ progress in securing “a step change in both the number and variety of authorised lay ministries” was carried.

Vivienne Goddard (Blackburn) agreed with Dr Croft that there was “a problem of scrutiny” in the entire Synod. Ten years ago, there had been more members, she said, and there should be more staff on the Council, as few had the right to vote. TEIs were now invited to speak, but not vote. “I do feel that we need to extend grass-roots membership on the Ministry Council if we are to properly scrutinise and make changes,” she said.

The Bishop of Chelmsford, the Rt Revd Stephen Cottrell, was in favour of the motion, but only in its amended form, which was a clear way of producing more ordinands, and “not simply shuffling the pack”. But the move urgently needed developing. The dioceses need more freedom and to be more experimental and daring, he said, and these amendments were the way forward. “Some that we try may fail but we need to try,” he said.

The motion as amended was carried. It read:

 

That this Synod:

(a) reaffirm the five objectives set out in GS 1979 for achieving the vision of a growing church with a flourishing ministry;

(b) note that work on Resourcing Ministerial Education and on enhancing quality in all stages of ministerial development, set out in GS 2020, contributes to these objectives;

(c) welcome the proposed new funding arrangements for initial ministerial education, agreed by the Archbishops’ Council following wide consultation, set out in GS 2020; and, recognising the vital contribution of TEIs and the importance of their full involvement in developing with dioceses a shared understanding of ministry and ministerial education and in implementing as set out in Annex F of GS 2020 the funding arrangements, request the Archbishops’ Council to report to the Synod by July 2017 on progress towards achieving these objectives;

(d) request the Archbishops’ Council to report back to the Synod by July 2018 on the progress being made to secure both a step change in the number of ordinands and continuing improvement in their quality and deployability; and

(e) request the Archbishops’ Council to report back to the Synod by July 2018 on the progress made by dioceses to secure a step change in both the number and variety of authorised lay ministries.

Forthcoming Events

5 September 2019
Church Times Cricket Cup Final
Join us at the Walker Cricket Ground in London for the Cricket Cup Final.  More details

8-10 September 2019
The Festival of Preaching
Tickets have now sold out.  Join the waiting list

Welcome to the Church Times

​To explore the Church Times website fully, please sign in or subscribe.

Non-subscribers can read five articles for free each month. (You will need to register.)