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Monday, 8 December 2014

Residential vs Regional: Ministerial Training in the Church of England: A Regional View

This is the second post in a series on Ministerial Training in the Church Of England. To see the intro to it all click here. I have asked a selection of people to write on their own experiences of training, in different environments.

Today Stacey Rand, gives us her experience of training part time at a regional college. Stacey is a second year Ordinand at the South East Institute for Theological Education (SEITE). She lives in Canterbury and works as a researcher in the field of social care policy.  

The phone rang. It was the call I’d been waiting for, and the answer was a yes…  I’d been recommended for training! Once the feeling of shock passed (really, me?!), then came the difficult choice of where to do my pre-ordination training. There were two options – either residential training (‘theological college’), or non-residential training (‘course’).

After much thought and prayer, I felt that non-residential training would be a better fit for me.

Why? Well, first of all, I don't really have a particular ‘tradition’ that I feel I belong to. I've worshipped in Evangelical, Anglo-Catholic and ‘middle-of-the-road’ churches. Theological colleges tended to focus on a particular church tradition or style of worship. Instead, I was looking for somewhere where the diversity in the Church of England was reflected and celebrated.

Also, I’d only recently moved from Cambridge to Canterbury. My husband had been studying for his PhD and we had been very involved in Cambridge college life. It felt quite important at this stage to move on into the next phase of our life together as a married couple ‘in the real world’, outside of the sheltered environment of a college (which feels at times a bit like a boarding school for adults!)  

Asburnham Place, taken at a
recent residential weekend

So I chose to study non-residentially at SEITE - and I’ve not regretted this decision for one moment. I really value the diversity of the students, in age, background and church tradition. There is a real sense of unity in the love of God, as well as our shared purpose for coming together. And I haven’t felt ‘de-skilled’ like I’d expected to. Instead, I’ve felt the freedom to bring prior learning to integrate into what is being taught. It feels less like being broken and re-made in conformity with a particular image of a ‘vicar’, and more like a gentle re-shaping that allows space for individual diversity.

Importantly, the course emphasises that it isn’t about teaching us everything we’ll ever need to know, but to equip us with the tools for lifelong learning. The regular residential weekends have been an opportunity for an extended time of learning in community - both in the classroom and the bar!

Finally, there’s an emphasis on learning by experience. My home church and placements have offered space to explore important issues and to learn through real life situations. Placement supervisors have been generous in sharing both the joys and challenges of their ministry, for which I am very grateful.

Ashburnham Place
There have, however, been some compromises. I would have really liked to have studied for a full degree, but that has not been possible. Instead, I am self-supporting through my work as a researcher to study part-time for an undergraduate diploma. My ‘day job’ is fulfilling, stimulating and interesting. My work colleagues have been really supportive. And there are aspects of my work that I would describe as part of my vocation. That said, it can still sometimes be challenging to balance the demands of employment and part-time study.

It might be said that the monastic spirituality in the community rhythm of residential training is essential to prepare the future leaders of the Church for the challenges ahead. However, this route may not be right for everyone. A strength of the current system is that there are a diversity of routes to allow for the diversity of people who are training for lay or ordained ministry.   

Non-residential courses may also equally offer a ‘spiritually-grounded’ model of training – in the mendicant rather than monastic tradition. Unlike monastics (monks, nuns) who live in a monastery, mendicants (friars, sisters) go out and live among the people. The mendicant tradition is a call to be outward-looking and working to seek God in all things and all situations - to have the ‘bible in one hand, the newspaper in the other’.

My experience so far of training has been both challenging, rewarding, confusing, exasperating, exhausting, joyful, humbling (especially to know the love and support of the people around me), and full of blessings – and it has really made me know what it is to trust God in all things. Hopefully, a good preparation for a lifetime of ministry?

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