This is the fifth 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 we hear from Simon Archer who has spent time training at both regional and residential college.
Simon says of himself:
Simon says of himself:
About to hit the big 4 oh! I am an ordinand (trainee vicar) living and studying on campus at Ripon College, Cuddesdon. I’m sharing this surreal experience with my wife, four children and 2 cats. I have a feeling the legend of Marmite the Cat with live long after the memory of Simon the Ordinand has faded and that is as it should be.
A Tale of Two Modes //
I had been exploring my calling to ministry for some time, dragging my feet which seems to be the norm. After meeting with with a Vocations Advisor and voicing some concerns over my ability to deal with the academic demands of training it was suggested I speak to SEITE, the South East Institute for Theological Education. I did and signed up for a year with an option to continue if I wished to on a part-time course as an associate student. I would do all the work, write the essays but as I wasn’t an Ordinand so would not attend the weekend or weekly retreats.
Travel forward in time a few years and I have been recommended for training and am just coming to the end of my first term of full-time residential training at Ripon College, Cuddesdon. So the question that might be asked is why did I choose this mode over part-time? What was the difference?
Well let me be clear, my choice was largely practical. My full-time employment was linked to retail and this meant working weekends and being busiest at exactly the times when retreats would be happening. Training part-time was simply not possible without quitting my job and joining another industry. I am happy to say although the option of part-time training with SEITE was discussed I was supported in a decision to train full-time.
So what about the differences? Both modes are challenging. The rigour of the academic lectures and the expectations of the essays and work are equal. The lecturers themselves are all incredibly gifted in both their fields of particular expertise and their abilities in imparting their knowledge. I do not think the quality of the academic training is therefore that different.
Formation is perhaps an area that is worth looking at. It’s an odd term that many speak of at colleges whilst rolling their eyes but in fairly simple term it’s about preparation for public ministry and the transition and changes you go through. At SEITE there were the retreats, church placements and the like but at Cuddesdon there is a great deal more attention paid to this. In a single term I have been and am continuing a placement at a local hospital, I have a church placement on Sundays, I have spent two weeks as Chapel Assistant and then Duty Sacristan, a preaching themed study week. I am in a worship group whose responsibilities change weekly from preparing and leading worship corporately or individually to serving dinner to the college or running the bar. There are the Daily Offices and Eucharist as well as supplementary groups offering Ignatian Spirituality or Rosary Prayer and meditation. There are guest theologian speakers both at the college and in Oxford who are leaders in contemporary thought. In January I will be spending a week in L’Arche community, something I am incredibly fortunate and privileged to do. This formational experience is something I could never have imagined or managed part-time.
Which is harder? I think this is an important question because I think actually the answer is part-time. With everything I do now I have immense support, academic staff on tap and my days, although full, are planned to be able to incorporate family time alongside all the work and experience. We have a part-time and mixed-mode students here and if I am absolutely honest I don’t know how they cope and I do know that many struggle. Many are holding down full-time work with all it’s demands, family responsibilities, travel and their training. And I know a few are pleading to move to full-time as soon as possible.
If it was my decision to make it would be that as many as possible are encouraged to train full-time but nobody should be prevented from responding to God’s calling so we certainly need the different modes. How we support the formation of those in other modes by offering the depth of experience seen in full-time training may be the area we need to focus on in the future.