A fundamental feature of residential training is the way in which it facilitates spiritual formation.
Residential training exposes men and women to the disciplines of daily corporate worship, living in community, and coping with others who are different — besides confronting issues within oneself which might never be addressed where contact with tutorial staff and the learning community is less frequent.
It is important that future church leaders in training experience grace in their day-to-day relations with others, to be able more fully to understand it, live it, and communicate it; and close, extended exposure to the lives of people whom the Church recognises to be good examples of Christian discipleship is vital for the development of mature and stable priests and lay leaders.
Residential training enables ordinands to become theologians who can articulate the Christian faith from a position of integrated knowledge.
Residential training normally offers more contact hours and the possibility of a more intensive academic programme. The gifts of time and space have a financial cost, but this represents value for money for a Church committed to identifying, training, and releasing a generation of pastor-theologians, along with those who will become the theological educators of the future.
In addition, residential colleges working in relationship with a university ensure academic accountability and intellectual integrity. Such a relationship offers a way into the resources and opportunities of the university, has the potential to spark imaginative engagement with contemporary ideas, and ensures that students do not unintentionally collude with an anti-intellectual approach to Christian faith. A Church that downgrades or dismisses the importance of Christian scholarship will soon be a Church with shallow disciples and little of worth to contribute to public debates on the complex issues of the day.
Residential training offers a supportive environment for individuals and families to prepare for a way of life that is likely to involve regular disruption.
Participation in a residential college can mean that an individual or a family may have to move. Christian leadership involves regular disruption, however, including a move after curacy, and probably every five to seven years or so thereafter. Part of the unwritten curriculum of residential training involves immersion into the pressures and stresses incurred in ordained ministry. Many find it better to learn to cope with some of these issues with the support of a residential community than to experience them for the first time on their own in a curacy or first incumbency.
Residential training can offer a window into the “real life” of what a community of grace can become.
The clichéd description of residential training as isolation from “real life”, de-skilling, and offering a lack of integration of life experiences is not borne out by those in residential training. “Real life” is wherever people are. Ministry is not just something that a person in residential training will eventually do, but is an ongoing, everyday experience of living in Christ with others.
A majority of residential colleges also prize creativity and innovation, and all ensure that students have regular weekly involvement with a range of people through parish or chaplaincy attachments, as well as immersion in community services through hospices, hospitals, prisons, and other facilities.
Residential training offers value for money.
For many, the most powerful argument against residential training is cost. But a Church that trusts God to provide abundantly for its needs refuses to weigh the future in terms of the financial bottom line. This is untheological and unchristian. The Church is called by Christ to think and act in line with the coming Kingdom. The Church of the future will trust God for the resources necessary to ensure the continued flourishing of ministerial training, because we are committed to giving our future leaders the best possible preparation for mission and ministry.
The Revd Dr Michael Volland is the Principal of Ridley Hall, Cambridge.