Are the theological colleges being phased out? I ask this because a correspondent has reported a situation where a potential ordination candidate has been told that anyone over 30 will not be allowed to go on a full-time residential training course as it is too expensive. Instead, candidates will have to undertake a part-time training, either on a regional course or at St Mellitus college.
Moreover, this person has been told that ‘in four to six years’ no one will be going to the traditional full-time colleges. Instead, all theological training will be part-time or ‘on the job’. The only people who will have undertaken a full-time theological degree in the Church of England will therefore eventually be people who did a course at a ‘secular’ University.
Now I was already under the impression that anyone over 30 would only be given a maximum two years residential training, and that even this would be curtailed if the candidate were substantially older, but I had not heard of this scheme to phase in the requirement for under thirties.
If this is happening, however, or even being considered, it is time to ask some serious and searching questions.
In the 1945 report Towards the Conversion of England, we find this consideration of the same topic:
During this acute post-war shortage the temptation will be for the laity to demand, and the Bishops to allow, a lower standard of training and of personal qualification, in order to save parish priests from breaking down under an impossible strain. We are convinced that were the Church to succumb, and to lower instead of raising the ordination standard, fatal and far reaching damage would be done to the cause of true religion: above all, to the cause nearest to our Saviour’s heart—evangelism. 
In other words, intensive training was seen not as a luxury but a necessity.
Now part of the problem, I suspect, is that there is too little correlation between training and ministry. Some of what goes on in the colleges has little bearing on what is required in the parishes.
Speaking for myself, however, I need every bit of the academic theology I have imbibed over the years, especially from my one-year post-graduate degree at Moore College. Indeed, on my return from Moore I wrote a short booklet called A Little Knowledge (pdf file) in which I confessed the error of my earlier ways in thinking that such intensive theological training was indeed unnecessary for the clergy. (Actually, looking at this again, I'd urge you to read it!)
Furthermore, as I explained to my correspondent, the current generation of 30-somethings in training for ordination are going to work at least five years longer than was the expectation when I was a 20-something in the same position. In all likelihood, they will be working until they are 70, not 65, and therefore a 35-year old graduate is facing a 35 year ministry.
In the present climate, will a two year course be enough, let alone a couple of years of part-time courses? On the matter of the biblical languages alone, it is instructive to compare what goes on now with what John Wesley required of his clergy:
Do I understand Greek and Hebrew? Otherwise, how can I undertake, (as every Minister does,) not only to explain books which are written therein, but to defend them against all opponents? Am I not at the mercy of every one who does understand, or even pretends to understand, the original? For which way can I confute his pretence? Do I understand the language of the Old Testament? critically? at all? Can I read into English one of David's Psalms; or even the first chapter of Genesis? Do I understand the language of the New Testament? Am I a critical master of it? Have I enough of it even to read into English the first chapter of St. Luke? If not, how many years did I spend at school? How many at the University? And what was I doing all those years? Ought not shame to cover my face? (An Address to the Clergy, 1756)
And if this is true of the languages, how much is it also true already of the deep issues of theology which lie beneath so many of the issues we face in our ministry?
But there lies the rub, doesn’t it? For a lot of what passes for ministry is not a ‘theological’ ministry at all. ‘Pastoral’ ministry in the Church of England is ‘helping people with their problems’, not bringing people to the knowledge of God in Christ. And who needs in-depth theological education to be a listening ear and a practical help?
Still, there is one piece of good news. If the evangelicals resist this pressure and find the money to send their own people on full-time courses (however few this may be) then one day in the future they will be the theological elite of the Church. Whether there will be much of the Church left is a moot point.Please give a full name and location when posting. Comments without this information may be deleted. Recommend: