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General Synod digest: funding to stretch lay ministry

15 July 2022
Sam Atkins/Church Times

The Bishop of St Edmundsbury & Ipswich, the Rt Revd Martin Seeley

The Bishop of St Edmundsbury & Ipswich, the Rt Revd Martin Seeley

Resourcing ministry

FIRST steps in revising the funding and delivery of theological education in the Church of England were endorsed by the General Synod on Monday.

The new framework, Resourcing Ministerial Formation (RMF), is still being finalised, but the Bishop of St Edmundsbury & Ipswich, the Rt Revd Martin Seeley, introduced the main elements of the proposals so far.

Theological educational institutions (TEIs) were an “extraordinary resource for learning we want to see available more and more widely” — for ordinands, lay ministers, and the whole Church, he said. The work had, therefore, been focused on how to increase access. There was a need for more funding, but not all the existing funding had been spent: currently £1 million a year had been left with dioceses because of ordinands’ choosing different pathways.

The pandemic had complicated both the work of RMF and the work of TEIs, although there remained both opportunities and challenges through the subsequent growth of online learning.

The national Vision and Strategy had been shaping the work of RMF, in a focus on increasing ordinand numbers and rebalancing towards more lay ministry, Bishop Seeley explained. RMF would propose a block grant for each institution, with a smaller element tied to each student. This should reduce the age-banding element, with fewer restrictions for candidates on pathways regardless of how old they were.

When it came to maintenance, the aim was to create a simpler and more transparent model, to make it clearer to candidates what they would have to live on while studying, and encourage a greater diversity of candidates, he said. There was also going to be clarification of what was expected in initial ministerial education (IME1) and the training that followed ordination (IME2), Bishop Seeley said, before formally moving the motion.

Ros Clarke (Lichfield) recalled experiencing a call to lay ministry 20 years ago. Since then, funding had been limited solely to Readers and licensed lay ministers, she said. When students had to fund their own studies, only the wealthy could afford to serve, she said. Funding should instead be available for lay people on the same basis as for ordinands.

Professor Joyce Hill (Leeds) backed the idea of block funding for TEIs, which, she said, would allow for longer-term planning, and less competition and more collaboration between different colleges. She questioned, however, whether the timetable of bringing in RMF by autumn next year was realistic.

The Revd Dr Sara Batts-Neale (Chelmsford) said that maintenance funding for training must not be based on the “mythical” average ordinand, but able to flex around the actual needs and backgrounds of candidates. There were invisible financial barriers to taking part in training which must be broken down.

The Bishop of London, the Rt Revd Sarah Mullally, praised the Peter Stream at St Mellitus College, which offered training for people without the typical educational background. She felt that RMF was not ambitious enough in expanding access to training to people from varying backgrounds. Processes for discernment should be simplified, she argued.

The Principal of Trinity College, Bristol, the Revd Dr Sean Doherty (Universities and TEIs), introduced his amendment, which would require the RMF working group to return more developed proposals back to the Synod for consideration before implementation. Dr Doherty supported the motion, but said that some work was ongoing, and so the Synod could not endorse it without reservation.

The current system had exacerbated the trend towards shorter pathways, which should be avoided, he said, and also expressed concerns about the possibility of the working group’s endorsing a standard maintenance grant, replacing the current means-tested model.

Bishop Seeley accepted the amendment.

The Revd Mark Miller (Durham) also backed the amendment, sharing Dr Doherty’s fears of the abolition of means-tested maintenance grants. He knew of an ordinand, who was getting into debt just to heat his home, and who had asked for help from the diocese, only to be told to expect to suffer hardship for Christ. How would new standard grants be determined, he asked, and how could the basic needs of ordinands be met without recourse to charitable grants?

The Revd Dr Ian Paul (Southwell & Nottingham) also supported the amendment and the change of tone in discussion about ministerial training. He pleaded for more biblical emphasis in training, a shared curriculum for all ordination training, and equalising hours of study for all pathways.

The amendment was clearly carried.

Dr Doherty then spoke to his second amendment, which asked the Ministry Council to support the capacity of TEIs while RMF was being implemented.

Bishop Seeley accepted the amendment.

The Revd Mark Bennet (Oxford), honorary treasurer of Westcott House, Cambridge, spoke of how fragile TEI finances were, as the final number of ordinands, and thus funding, was not known until the academic year began. A good plan for a transition period was needed, rather than an ad hoc arrangement for the current year. He backed both the amendment and main motion.

Professor Helen King (Oxford) also supporting the amendment, argued that the capacity of TEIs would be further challenged by increasing investment in lay training in future years. It was also time to consider the tension between different diocesan patterns of lay ministry and the national picture, she said. Did anyone actually know which lay ministries existed in which dioceses, let alone what training they had received?

Alison Coulter (Winchester), the vice-chair of the House of Laity and a trustee of Wycliffe Hall, Oxford, said that much of her time had been spent worrying about not having enough money for the college. And, from a national level, was it efficient to have 21 TEIs for the 600 ordinands each year, she asked. Could TEIs not be at the cutting edge of higher education rather than worry about how to pay their bills?

The amendment was carried.

The Bishop of Leicester, the Rt Revd Martyn Snow, who is the lead bishop for lay ministry, said that RMF was hugely significant: it was the first time that the national Church had sought to place serious funding behind lay formation rather than rely on the “trickle-down principle” of funding the two per cent of the Church who were ordained and hoping that they would train the others.

The Bishop of Dudley, the Rt Revd Martin Gorick (Southern Suffragans), said that the Church needed more self-supporting people coming forward to serve as ministers in their own areas. He backed the motion, but asked how those innovative local schemes could continue.

Clare Williams (Norwich) said that there was more work to be done to develop more vocational pathways for lay people. She had fully funded her own undergraduate and postgraduate training as a lay minister, to serve the Church. But was a lack of paid posts in the Church holding many others back? More funding for lay training was welcome, but not enough.

Kenson Li (UKME co-opted), an ordinand at Westcott House, said that inspiring priests and lay people were necessary to bring forward more ethnic-minority candidates like him.

The Revd Dr Miranda Threlfall-Holmes (Liverpool) asked the Church to be considerably more generous to ordinands in maintenance and childcare. She fell pregnant a few weeks into her own training 20 years ago, and was told by her then bishop that she should have “thought about it” before getting pregnant, when she enquired about financial support. It was known that there were not enough women under 30 entering training, she said, and that would not be solved until there was realistic childcare included in maintenance.

The Revd Chantal Noppen (Durham) spoke of her own trials in managing to afford training. She also condemned the pressure on women candidates to choose self-supporting ministry. More boldness and investment was needed to encourage younger women into training.

The Revd Elizabeth Hassall (York) said that she had benefited from three years’ full-time residential training as an ordinand, which the Reader students whom she now taught were unable to enjoy. She longed to tell her students that the Church truly valued them by investing in their ministry.

The Revd Jack Shepherd (Liverpool) said that a great deal of time had been invested in the discernment process, but very little had been invested in helping successful candidates to decide where to study. Was there mental and well-being support available for such people, he asked.


The motion, as amended, was clearly carried:

That this Synod:

(a) affirm the aims of the “Resourcing Ministerial Formation” in seeking to create a more sustainable and responsive accountable framework for ministerial formation within the calling of the whole people of God;

(b) welcome the principles of reform set out in GS 2271;

(c) request that Synod be invited to consider and endorse more developed proposals prior to their implementation; and

(d) request that Ministry Council closely monitors and supports the capacity of TEIs through the RMF implementation period.

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