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Reforms to ordinands’ funding are welcomed by Synod, though costs are queried

08 February 2023

Max Colson/Church Times

Professor Joyce Hill (Leeds), a former university vice-chancellor, addresses the Synod

Professor Joyce Hill (Leeds), a former university vice-chancellor, addresses the Synod

TUITION costs for ordinands may have been underestimated by up to 40 per cent in proposals to reform the financing of ministerial formation, a General Synod member warned in a wide-ranging debate on Tuesday.

“We need to price everything,” she said.

The paper being debated, Resourcing Ministerial Formation, details a new funding strategy for Theological Education Institutions (TEIs). Each will be allocated a core set of ordinands, within which it will receive full payment for the actual rather than the estimated numbers — to eliminate annual concerns about their intake (News, 23 January).

The existing system is acknowledged to have had the unintended consequence of the amassing of significant funds which dioceses have been unable to spend — an estimated £4.5 million in total. That surplus will establish an innovation fund to enable new initiatives in response to Vision and Strategy. The proposals include a Service Level Agreement (SLA) between each TEI and the wider Church. The arrangements are hoped to be in place by this autumn.

Speaking to the motion, the Bishop of Chester, the Rt Revd Mark Tanner, described the Church as “supremely well served” by its ministers, lay and ordained, and the TEI sector as “remarkably healthy”. He likened the process of progressing four workstreams at speed to “rebuilding an aeroplane while in flight”, and called on Synod to “welcome and endorse the work we agree we need to do”, with continuous monitoring of and care for the TEIs.

The Synod eventually passed the motion. But Professor Joyce Hill (Leeds), a former university vice-chancellor, said that the proposals failed to reflect the cost of tuition, especially for non-residential students — which she described as an injustice. Clearly, the intention was to test the current situation against the reality, but had this been considered too difficult, she asked. “It’s not good enough, if so. We need to be able to price everything.”

The general view among many TEI principals, she said, was that tuition costs had been underestimated by between 30 and 40 per cent. “The continued use of the old formula is discriminatory and unjust, and hides from the Church the true cost of ministerial formation. . . Serious engagement is needed.”

The Revd Jeremy Moodey (Oxford) welcomed the proposals but said that the sector would need continued careful support. “They [TEIs] still feel they are competing with one another for business. Hopefully this will enable them to survive — but will they flourish? TEIs are constantly teetering on the financial brink.” Ordinands’ debt problems began during ordination training, he suggested: why was the same provision not being made for people in training?

Max Colson/Church TimesKenson Li (UKME Co-opted)

The Revd Dr Sean Doherty (Universities and TEIs) had canvassed a range of TEI principals. He welcomed the reiterated desire for an increase in the numbers of ordinands in training, which the improved stability of the proposal would bring, and the allocation of national resources to lay ministry training; but he looked for further work on differentials around study: “We don’t want a cushy number, but we want to know what it costs to train somebody and how this can be met,” he said.

The Revd Ross Meikle (Oxford) wanted to highlight the work of parish administrators and to ask whether this training was regarded within the Church of England as a lay ministry. Was there scope for those who saw it as a vocation to be recognised?

Kenson Li (UKME Co-opted) was disappointed that aspects of reform previously mentioned had disappeared, especially provision for funding BAME candidates.

The Bishop of Leicester, the Rt Revd Martyn Snow, described funding for lay ministry as “the most significant ever.”

The Bishop of London, the Rt Revd Sarah Mullally, drew attention to the paragraph on residential accommodation payment. “It is not for accommodation but for other related costs: for example term-time meals, and study space. It’s unfair for non-residential students not to receive this,” she said, describing the proposals as a “lost opportunity to resolve this discrepancy”.

Ros Clarke (Lichfield) wanted a set of guidelines to ensure that lay ministry training didn’t become a postcode lottery: “It matters so much — we want to be equipping lay people properly for their task.”

The Bishop of Burnley, the Rt Revd Philip North, believed it would be reckless to oppose the proposals, but described them as nuanced. “It feels too like a block-grant system,” he suggested. “This is a sector in need of reform — it needs to be more accountable; it’s often tradition bound. The inspection method is clumsy and burdensome. We have a status quo funding principle here.”

Rosemary Lyon (Blackburn) was pleased that the proposals would bring greater financial stability to TEIs but was concerned that the focus on residential training in future seemed to be under threat. She described the benefits as considerable in the depth of formation received, the daily rhythm of saying the office together, and friendships built. She urged that these continue to be available to all.

The Revd Dr Christian Selvaratnam (York) hoped for a reimagined pathway that wouldn’t rely on academic prowess .The Revd Fr Thomas Seville (Religious Communities) said: “If we want good mission and ministry, we need to pay for it and pay well. Good training costs money.” The Revd Neil Patterson (Hereford) wanted to flag up the brevity of the paragraph on maintenance, which he said “conceals a large elephant trap”. Sarah Finch (London) advised Synod to leave enough time for implementation planning.

The Synod approved the motion that it:

(a) welcome and endorse the proposals set out in GS 2286 for implementing the Resourcing Ministerial Formation Review principles of reform previously endorsed by Synod;

(b) affirm the importance of further work in relation to ordinand maintenance and the funding of training for lay ministries, and request that synod be updated on this and invited to discuss proposals as appropriate within 12 months; and

(c) reaffirm its request that the Ministry Council closely monitor and support the capacity of TEIs through the RMF implementation period.

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