Thursday, 8 April 2010

Education? Not so much.

Recommended reading:
Fr Ed Tomlinson has a disturbing three part post on the subject of contemporary ministerial education in the Church of England.

As Fr Eric Mascall among others pointed out a generation or more ago, the university theology faculties and, because of the way theology is studied in Britain, by extension the theological colleges themselves, have long been in thrall to prevailing and fashionable notions of 'academic respectability' and, most worryingly of all, to an almost totally extra-ecclesial practice of the study of theology, particularly but not exclusively as regards the Scriptures. Yet at one time we could rely on the theological colleges, from whatever tradition in the Anglican spectrum they sprang, to attempt in some way to redress the balance theologically and, if we were lucky, provide some kind of priestly or ministerial formation into the bargain. We don't need to be told that that is very largely a thing of the past. As to the almost complete lack of the study of specifically Anglican history and theological writings, that's another story.
CME or post ordination training, as it used to be called, was always something of a mixed bag and done on the cheap by diligent but overworked and harrassed parish priests. But the more 'professional' approach adopted today seems to have done very little but develop a kind of self-serving CME bureaucracy and career structure and merely put before the newly ordained and those rather longer in orders the latest fashionable 'quick-fix' pastoral  and evangelistic methods.
I was particularly proud as a deacon of somehow managing to evade the then over-hyped and ridiculous Myers-Briggs phenomenon, but 'in my day' (only a little while before the ordination of women, the rise of the normative late vocation and part-time training courses) there was nothing approaching the horrors of Fr Tomlinson's relatively recent experiences, which would be richly comic if they were not describing the consigning of  a recognisable strand of Christian orthodoxy to oblivion.
But if his experience is not unusual (and all the anecdotal evidence I've heard suggests it isn't) then we have to admit that the game really is up, that orthodox teaching and formation within the British Anglican provinces (perhaps, with one or two honourable exceptions, in western Anglicanism altogether) is rapidly becoming a thing of the past, and it is just as well we have the opportunity to transplant our ecclesial life to a more appropriate and, frankly, more Christian setting before there is nothing left in the way of Anglican Patrimony other than that documented in unopened books on increasingly dusty library shelves.  Even at the moment, we are at risk of having to give the ecclesiastical equivalent of George Orwell's famous Who's Who entry: 'educated during the holidays from Eton.'  Sociology, semi-literate scriptural and historical revisionism, gender awareness, pseudo-psychological determinism and an ability to cry in public don't really count as patrimony, but they are an inescapable part of the new feminised hermeneutic which seems set to dominate the ecclesia anglicana.


  1. Oh dear. How did it all come to this, eh?

    Very sad indeed. I feel for all those good, loyal, traditional Anglican priests who have to live under this new regime.

  2. I have also found Fr Ed Tomlinson’s “Potty Training” articles to be fascinating. Oh to have been present at the “sniff my bush” session!! Apart from the widespread dumbing-down of the education system (despite the ever increasing numbers passing A levels with A and A* grades) there are a number of particular problems related to the training of clergy. First, the number of potential seminarians is plummeting, so bishops are only too pleased to accept most people who offer themselves for selection. Second, the school system no longer prepares students for the rigors of a university education, so most degree courses are dumbed-down, taught by handout with little or no emphasis on hard work, reading and personal development. Having achieved a watered-down degree (or diploma) in theology, which is no different from the old GCE O level in Religious Education (no exaggeration here, because I’ve compared the exam papers!) the candidates embark on further training at theological college. What are they taught? How to survive in front-line ministry in parish? No. The essentials of conducting dignified, ordered public worship? No chance – look at how often these ordinands arrive in parishes on placement, or to serve their title, and they can’t set an altar for the Eucharist, proclaim the Gospel correctly or lead Morning and Evening Prayer.
    The fact is that in today’s theological colleges ordinands are taught a liberal wishy-washy form of glorified social work which ill-prepares them for the stark realities of front line ministry, e.g. visiting the death bed of the doubly-incontinent Mrs. Evans at 3 o’clock in the morning and staying there with her family until she finally dies at 10 o’clock.
    After these modern priests have been trained and they experience a little of parish life what happens? They leave the parish and get appointed to trendy diocesan mission jobs telling more experienced, orthodox clergy how to “manage” their parishes. What a joke!
    Modern seminarians require four things: a Bible (a scholarly translation); a Prayer/Office Book; mentoring from a priest who is still and work in a parish; and a damn good kick up the backside if they get it wrong!


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