FOR five years, I was Oxford Diocesan Adviser on Continuing Ministerial Development. We produced a programme of training events, and clergy and lay ministers signed up to come. Inevitably, on the day, there were those who never arrived. Others pulled out at the last minute, or turned up unexpectedly. Some of the things that we did, especially putting on residential conferences for new incumbents, were, I think, really useful. These were regarded as mandatory, although there were always some who managed to slide out of them.
Some dioceses are pretty prescriptive about CMD, others less so. But the trend, as in so many aspects of church life, is to look for a national consensus, and there is a gradually tightening expectation of what CMD should mean. The section on ministry on the C of E’s new website states that the purpose of CMD is to “strengthen a culture of lifelong learning in the Church”, and it is recommended that ministers set aside at least five days a year for their own development as well as an annual retreat.
I have no problems with that in theory, although I find the nannying tone of “at least five days a year” irritating. But then, reading on, I found something more disturbing: “Good practice in both provision and participation is ultimately evidenced in spiritual and numerical growth.” Really? So, if I am not seeing growth as a result of my participation in CMD, there is either something wrong with me or with the programme provided. I find this extraordinary: a veiled threat to add to the burden of anxiety that many sensitive clergy already bear.
Unlike the national Church, I never quite knew what CMD should be, or felt sure that we were getting it right. When the clergy were asked in the course of their annual review what they thought they needed for their ministerial development, the main issue was time. Time to pray, time to study, time for the family, time to sleep. Taking time out to do a course on, for example, time management was not always the first priority.
In my last year in the post, I convened a group of clergy and lay ministers on a cold autumn Saturday at Ripon College, Cuddesdon. We came to refresh our knowledge of St Matthew’s Gospel: Year A was coming up. Dr Michael Lakey, the New Testament Tutor at Cuddesdon, reminded us of Matthew’s distinctive themes, and encouraged us to think about how we might take account of these in our preaching and teaching. It seemed to me to be exactly what CMD should be about: gathering around scripture, renewing our knowledge, listening and talking to one another, and deepening our insights.
As for numerical and spiritual growth, that is God’s business, and cannot be guaranteed.