Thursday, 8 April 2010
Education? Not so much.
Fr Ed Tomlinson http://sbarnabas.com/blog/ 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.