A NEW theological college is to be established in the north-west of England, replacing the cross-regional partnership with St Mellitus College, bishops in the region have announced.
The decision was made based on the results of a review of theological training in the region, commissioned last year by the bishops of Blackburn, Carlisle, Chester, Liverpool, Manchester, and Sodor & Man. It was conducted by the former Bishop of Norwich, the Rt Revd Graham James.
The new college, due to be in action by September 2021, will offer part-time and full-time vocational lay and ordination training for up to 250 people, becoming the “sole regional theological educational partner for the north-west dioceses”, the Bishops said in a joint statement on Wednesday.
St Mellitus College was founded by the dioceses of London and Chelmsford in 2007. In 2013, St Mellitus North West was established in Liverpool Cathedral, in partnership with All Saints’ Centre for Mission and Ministry and Cumbria Christian Learning, bringing full-time ordination training to the region for the first time in more than 40 years.
St Mellitus North West was led by the Revd Dr Jill Duff until 2018, when she was consecrated Bishop for the see of Lancaster. The current director is the Revd Dr Michael Leyden.
Recent concerns, however, suggest that the colleges are under-used, and struggling for students, finance, and survival. The Bishop of Blackburn, the Rt Revd Julian Henderson, who chairs the north-west bishops, said: “After prayerful consideration, wise counsel, and under the guidance of the Holy Spirit, the bishops of the north-west are overwhelmingly committed to pursuing this exciting vision and so we have committed to working towards forming the new college.”
To do this, the bishops have established a “multi-disciplinary implementation team” led by the Bishop of Burnley, the Rt Revd Philip North, the Bishop of Warrington, the Rt Revd Beverley Mason, and the Bishop of Penrith, Dr Emma Ineson.
On Tuesday, the three bishops spoke about the plans. Efforts were being made to ensure continuity with the three existing providers in the region, they said. Although they expected savings to be made by unifying theological education within the six dioceses, it was not a cost-cutting exercise, Bishop Mason said.
The vision was for a new college that was “nimble” and “agile”, the three bishops said. Dr Ineson spoke of a “pop-up theological college”, using the lessons learnt in the pandemic about communicating over different media. The college would have an office; but they expected it to work in imaginative ways.
They expected the majority of ordination candidates in the region to attend — “They’ll want to go” — but they remained committed to residential training for certain students, and would still be sending them to existing colleges elsewhere in the country.
The spread of the bishops involved in setting up the new college was evidence of its “generous orthodoxy”, they said. “It will not be possible to place it in one of the C of E tribes,” Bishop North said. It would be for people “who really believe in the power of the gospel to change lives. . . It won’t be a flabby tub of margarine.”
They hoped to expand lay provision beyond Reader and LLM training, and mentioned lighter-touch lay-ministry training, youth work, and lay discipleship. Their vision was greater, however. “This could be the theological think-tank for the north-west, and raise the bar for theological education everywhere,” Bishop North said.
Dr Ineson said in a separate statement that, despite the difficultly of change, the team was “committed to building on the strengths of three current providers and the six dioceses they serve, so that the new college can be both an outstanding centre of excellence in theological education, and be better able to respond to the rapidly changing needs of the Church across the region.”
Bishop North said: “This is a once-in-a-generation opportunity to develop a new outstanding theological college in the north-west to serve the Church in the region and beyond.”
It also promises to offer training to disadvantaged groups. The Bishop of Manchester, Dr David Walker, said: “There are many people who are called by God, but who currently find it hard to access the training they need. My episcopal colleagues and I are determined that this new college will enable people from diverse backgrounds to pursue ministry in the Church of England.”
The Principal of All Saints Centre for Mission and Ministry and a former Archdeacon of Bolton, the Ven. Dr John Applegate, said: “This is an exciting vision for Theological Education in the North West. It has the potential to release the current three providers from structures which prevent us all from reaching our full potential to serve the mission of the North West dioceses. . .
“I thank God for the amazing people training with us. We have assured students that their rights to complete their courses will be respected and that All Saints will ensure a smooth transition to any new arrangements. Staff have demonstrated immense flexibility and resilience in response to the pandemic – key skills that will be needed in this transition.”
He continued: “A new structure for Theological Education and the potential savings of scale could help overcome some of the challenges the churches face in the North West, but that is far from the whole story. My real prayer is that the Gospel and values of the kingdom will be at the heart of this venture and help generate a genuine surge in vocations to lay and ordained ministries.”
Online theological library replaces St Mark’s Centre. St Mark’s Centre for Radical Christianity (CRC), in Sheffield, closed this week after 17 years. A new online library of theological and spiritual resources, CRCOnline, has been launched in its place, funded by a grant from the Jim Cotter Trust.
The former chairman of St Mark’s CRC, the Revd John Schofield, said on Tuesday that the centre had been dissolved “not because we felt the work it had been doing doesn’t need to be done, but because it needs to be done differently. . .
“There has been less interest in people attending day conferences and evening seminars, which were the organisation’s staple; membership was declining — an ageing membership demographic — and, therefore, keeping going financially was getting more problematic.”
The website, which was launched in February, now includes articles, reflections, book reviews, sermons, liturgies, and liturgical resources, as well as links to other organisations. The material is split into three topic areas: questioning Church, deepening spirituality, and world of diversity.