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Wanted: young priest theologians

by
01 July 2022

John Inge appeals for new members of a theological support network

North Wind Picture Archives/Alamy

Coloured woodcut (1508), Typus Grammaticae, which depicts the medieval liberal arts. Peter Lombard, representing theology and metaphysics, is at the top

Coloured woodcut (1508), Typus Grammaticae, which depicts the medieval liberal arts. Peter Lombard, representing theology and metap...

I HAVE often heard it said that the Church of England does not take theology seriously any more. I beg to differ. My experience is that theology is taken very seriously indeed by large numbers of clergy. I have been fortunate enough to witness this, and to be greatly encouraged by what has become known as the “Young Priest Theologian Network”.

More than 12 years ago, I was invited by the then Archbishop of Canterbury to convene, on his behalf, a network of young Anglican priests with a continuing commitment to the study of theology beyond first-degree level. (Young, in Church of England terms, I should add, means under 40.) The idea was to offer them affirmation, and encourage them in their theological as well as their priestly endeavours, particularly if they felt academically isolated in parish life.

I was not sure how many such people there were; so I wrote to all the other diocesan bishops, asking them to nominate priests in their dioceses who would qualify. I was delightfully surprised when 100 or more were suggested.

I have repeated the exercise every year since, and the network has met for a day in the autumn at Lambeth Palace, during which we have worshipped together and engaged with some cutting-edge theologians of our time, as well as high-profile figures in our nation — I think of Neil MacGregor and Lord Hennessy, for example — as we seek to reflect on theology, particularly in the public square. The present Archbishop is very supportive, and usually joins us for at least part of the day. Like me, he finds it an invigorating and encouraging experience.

We are now on to at least the third generation of participants. Some of the earlier ones have gone on to posts crucial for the theological future of our Church, and have returned to address us.

 

ALTHOUGH the pressure on departments of theology in higher education and, indeed, in schools, is a cause for great concern, theology is alive and well among the younger clergy of the Church of England — more so, I venture to suggest, than it was in my generation. There is no shortage of nominations of well-qualified and motivated people.

It has been good to see the group become more diverse over the years, although there were suggestions on Twitter, after last year’s meeting, of priests who should have received an invitation but did not. At first, I reacted rather defensively, but soon came to realise that the network needs to be more widely publicised.

With that in mind, this year, I shall write to directors of ministry as well as bishops, but if you, dear reader, know of anyone who fits the criteria — ordained, under 40, with more than a first degree and a continuing interest in theology — please let me know. The only constraint on numbers will be the size of our venue.

Long live theology, queen of the sciences!


Dr John Inge is the Bishop of Worcester.

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