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Reimagining Ministerial Formation, by David Heywood

09 July 2021

Christopher Irvine looks for constants in an area of changing models

DAVID HEYWOOD has now written the third volume of his trilogy of “reimagining” (Books, 24 May 2011; 15 September 2017). It is now a familiar word, and, here, Heywood turns his attention to ministerial formation, an area in which he has a notable track record.

The book comprises four chapters, tellingly called “An Emerging New Paradigm”, “Moving on From an Academic Model”, “Adopting the New Paradigm”, and “A Different World”. These are followed by expansive appendices. The final much shorter chapter fast-forwards 20 years and imagines a Church that is fully committed to, and resourced for, encouraging and enabling the whole Church, ordained and lay, to work together in witness to the coming Kingdom of God: through worship, pastoral care, and social action.

There is much in these pages over which the reader could not demur: seeing the whole baptised people of God animated and engaged in the missio Dei; pastors’ attaining a measure of emotional intelligence; and seeing learning and formation as a lifelong enterprise until we all attain to the mature humanity exhibited in Christ — to name but three aims. These aims are forcefully and optimistically articulated, but the real argument is about how all this might be achieved.

It is a little ironic that a book that seeks to distance the Church from the domain of academic scholarship is crammed full of the apparatus of academic endeavour, namely, footnotes and summaries of research papers and supporting articles. The basic premise is that ministerial training has for too long focused too narrowly on a style of ministerial education which is modelled on that of the academy. Heywood concedes that there is a place for scholarship, but he insists that ministerial education needs to refocus on collaborative ministerial practice.

In this, we see a clear shift from education to training, a trend that this reviewer first encountered when a round-robin letter from the Ministry Division arrived on his desk some 18 years ago and began: “Dear trainer”. At that time, theological reflection, the primary method promoted by Heywood, became one of the compulsory building-blocks in the theological curriculum. Since then, one of the main players in this area has expressed the opinion that theological reflection is methodologically flawed.

I certainly wonder whether this method of doing theology rather narrows one’s sense of God to the limits of one’s individual experience. Theology is Trinitarian-shaped, something inherited and shared, and often (and sometimes uncomfortably) expands one’s horizons of meaning.

A further question is whether sufficient theology is marshalled by the reflective practitioner to reflect adequately on those critical incidents encountered in the exercise of ministry. Admittedly, there are different ways of reflecting theologically, but these are the frames rather than the lenses that help us to recognise the divine.

Quite simply, theology matters, not least for the sake of mission. It is not that most people in this country are atheist: it is more that they have not even considered that Christian belief and practice could make any difference to their lives. That is why we need both lay and ordained people who not only have a theological sensibility, but are able to speak of God, and the things of God, intelligently and compellingly.

Heywood insists rightly that what is required, above all, is Christian wisdom; and, without doubt, such wisdom can be acquired only as we build habits of prayer and are formed, and constantly re-formed, into the people God wants us to be and to become. In the final two pages, Heywood speaks briefly of theological colleges and institutions as resource hubs for more locally dispersed centres. For this to be realised, we may need to think more strategically, not least geographically.

Finally, if we want our theological institutions to be places where Christian wisdom is encountered, then they most certainly need to be praying communities: communities of people who physically gather in “the laboratory of the spirit” to be engaged by the reality of the triune God in whose name we worship.

The Revd Christopher Irvine is Priest-in-Charge of Ewhurst and Bodiam, and Rural Dean of Rye, in Chichester diocese, and teaches at Sarum College and the Liturgical Institute, Mirfield.


Reimagining Ministerial Formation
David Heywood
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