The revolution in patterns of stipendiary ministry agonised over in so many recent posts doesn’t appear to be on the agenda of the Church of England’s theological colleges.
I’ve just had another few days away, including twenty-four hours at Ripon College, Cuddesdon from where an ordinand is about to come to serve as Curate here. The opportunity was very welcome. We had a briefing about what the college does today, and receiving incumbents and their new colleagues were able to work at issues like expectations alongside each other. The hospitality was also excellent. I’m grateful to them for thinking of the opportunity and for the work involved in putting on the event. But I was surprised by two huge things.
The first was that the necessarily brief introduction to the training programme didn’t include anything which couldn’t have been included in a similar briefing at my own theological college in the early 1980s, which would in fact have had more of an emphasis on missiology and on the ecumenical and multi-faith contexts. I guess that a more detailed exploration would have uncovered subtle and important differences and filled in the apparent gaps. But both the ethos and modelling and the content and approach to teaching seemed to match almost exactly step-for-step what was being provided twenty-five years ago.
The second was that questions I raised about the rapid changes in stipendiary ministry received yesterday’s answers. The first time, I was told that placements in multi-parish benefices alerted students to the pressures incumbents are under. The second time, I was reminded that the language about priests exercising oversight of lay ministerial development has been around for a long time. But it wasn’t mentioned in either the outline of the sort of ministry for which the Principal thought its students were being formed nor in the presentation by a recent student now serving in rural parishes near by. Indeed the things emphasised in those two presentations were exactly the important things which incumbents of the future will not be able to provide to anything like the extent in which they have in the recent past in Lincolnshire and the present in Oxfordshire.
The most extreme form in which I ventured the question was this. We had been reminded that between fifteen of us we had hundreds of years experience. But in fact we will be helping prepare our Curates for a style of ministry as incumbents of which we have no experience at all. And this we did not get to discuss.