CONCERNS OVER PLAN TO HOMOGENISE CLERGY TRAINING

Serious concerns are due to be voiced at next week’s General Synod over a plan to homogenise pre- and post-ordination training.

The Phase 2 Report of the Ministry Council Working Party into the Church of England’s Higher Education (HE) and Initial Ministry Training (IME) practices was approved by the House of Bishops last December. The report is to be examined at the upcoming Synod in London.

There were concerns that the report was going to be ratified by Synod ‘under the radar’ in the midst of the main business of women bishops. But according to Anglican evangelical campaign group, Reform, one of the parties concerned about the proposals, the report is not going to a vote at this Synod and will be properly scrutinised.

Just to explain the report’s terminology, IME 1-3 is theological training at college or on a course before ordination; IME 4-7 is post-ordination training for curates.

The Working Party’s stated vision is as follows:

We believe that there are compelling reasons for the Church of England, with our partner institutions, to develop a suite of HE Awards with a single validating HE partnership which would provide the main highway of training and formation for IME 1-3, which would also provide dioceses with an option for IME 4-7 and for Reader training; and would also make provision for independent students pursuing a variety of vocations in discipleship and ministry.

The Working Party, chaired by the Bishop of Sheffield, Dr Steven Croft, who was Warden (head) of the evangelical theological college in Durham, Cranmer Hall, from 1996 to 2004, recommends that

the Church of England, with our partner churches establish a single suite of HE awards suitable for IME 1-7, Reader training and independent students, with a single HE set of validation arrangements as outlined in this report.

The report’s bustling timetable presupposes ratification at this month’s Synod. May 2012 is cited as the target date for identifying the validating university for the new awards through a tender process. With the vote delayed until at least summer’s Synod, that date is presumably having to be put back. The report states September 2015 as the target for transferring all accredited Church of England training institutions to the new regime.

The concern over homogenised clergy training is essentially this: currently ordinands who wish to be trained in line with the doctrine of the Church of England as expressed in Canon A5 can be theologically educated at Oak Hill or Wycliffe Hall.

At those colleges, the Reformed theology of the Church of England’s 39 Articles of Religion is clearly upheld. The perspective expressed in the Book of Common Prayer that the atoning death of the Lord Jesus Christ propitiated the wrath of God on sin is clearly upheld. Rigorous and responsible biblical studies, including biblical theology, are taught in line with the Church of England’s doctrinal stance that the Bible is the Word of God written. Pro-active biblical evangelism and apologetics, in line with the Ordinal’s stipulation that clergy are called to seek out Christ’s sheep dispersed abroad, are also positively taught.

What will happen to these confessional Anglican emphases under a homogenised training regime?

Perhaps such fears are groundless but they cannot be dispelled until the new homogenised curriculum and syllabi are published.

What should be non-negotiable in clergy training is the New Testament fact that Bible teaching is at the heart of pastoring the precious flock of Jesus Christ.

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