Book Review: The Trials of Theology

“Wherefore, then, do you allege that you had not time
to learn how to cultivate my field?”

This question is one that St Augustine feared from God, as he says in a letter to his Bishop that makes up chapter one of The Trials of Theology. Augustine was convinced that he was unready for ministry and needed to take time out for further study and prayer in order to be fit for purpose.The trials of theology

Yet the study of theology can be a controversial issue, as well as a dangerous one! Some feel there is a tension between acquiring knowledge of God and growing in a relationship with him, as if we must choose to do one or the other. This is not the case, although there is a danger that the student of theology will be tempted to separate the two. For example, during my first year of college, I often felt guilty about using my morning quiet time to finish off a last minute essay, or trying to get my head around a particularly hard lecture and missing the prayer meeting. On the flip-side, I have found myself sitting in chapel worrying that I wasn’t working as hard as I should be, or praying long rambling prayers to ward off the moment I’d have to begin an assignment I didn’t want to do!

The Trials of Theology is an excellent little book which has helped me navigate my first year. One of the quotes which has stuck with me and helped me is from Warfield:

Why should you turn from God when you turn to your books, or feel that you must turn from your books in order to turn to God?

Here Warfield makes the point that reading and prayer are not ‘either-or’. Rather, both activities contribute to our spiritual growth and can be used for God’s glory. Although it is obvious, for me this remains a difficult thing to remember.

Of particular encouragement is the editors’ decision to include ‘voices past’ and ‘voices present’, going as far back as St Augustine and coming forward to modern theologians like Gerald Bray and Carl Trueman. It is a particular privilege and comfort to read the wisdom of respected theologians of the past, and find that many of the issues that theological students face today are not new, and not unique to us. St Augustine brings home for us of the sheer weight and difficulty of ordained ministry and the need to be learned in the Scriptures and well prepared; C.S Lewis warns us against our propensity to want to make it into the ‘inner circle’, the ‘in crowd’; Carson reminds us that unless our study of the Word is changing us and growing our love for God and his people, it is pointless; maybe even dangerous. These and many more wise voices in the book have much to offer us in the way of warning and encouragement.

The book as a whole does an excellent job of outlining some of the pitfalls of studying theology, whilst at the same time commending it as both a joy and an essential task for those who would be sent out into the harvest field ready for the Lord’s work. Ian Chidlow (2)I would thoroughly recommend it to all Christians (it is good for those who aren’t currently studying theology to understand and pray for those who are!) but especially to those embarking on theological study of their own. I pray it will be as useful to future students as it has been for me.

Ian Chidlow is an ordinand from Chester Diocese, just beginning his second year of training at Oak Hill College in north London.

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Survey Results 2017

Earlier this year, 250 ordinands took part in our national survey – with helpful and interesting results.

Between them, these ministers-in-training represent a dozen different training institutions (TEIs), and virtually every diocese (including the Diocese of Europe). Three-quarters are in full-time residential training, and 90% are training for stipendiary ministry. 37% of those who took part were in their first year as an ordinand, 38% were in their final year, and around half had done some prior theological study before commencing training.

Training and Care

When ordinands reflect on the quality of the training and care they receive, there are some clear encouragements for dioceses and TEIs who work hard to provide these things. But meanwhile, there are some clear pressure points that come out of our survey.

10ministry life85% think their course is preparing them “well” or “very well” for ministry life. But only 63% say the same when it comes to weighing up how well their course is preparing them to engage with modern culture and people outside of church.

85% have found their course “enjoyable” or “very enjoyable”, and the same percentage find it academically “suitable” or “very suitable” for them.

13emotional and spiritual needs

16 of the 250 respondents have a physical disability, 32 have a specific learning difficulty, and 30 are living with mental health needs. In each case, around two-thirds say their needs have been met “well” or “very well”. Only one person with a physical disability felt their needs had been met “poorly” or “very poorly”; for those with a specific learning difficulty or with mental health needs that figure was higher, at around 20%.

Transition

This year we asked first-year students about the discernment process and their transition into training. Support from dioceses was rated highly during the discernment process itself; but sadly it seems this can sometimes evaporate soon after the BAP is completed.

9diocese support in discernment6diocese support during training

In particular, during the crucial time of transition into training, only 29% said they felt they had all the information they needed. 43% would have liked more information about finance, and 42% felt they did not really understand what the nature of the relationship between themselves and their diocese was now supposed to be.

We must not forget how challenging the transition into training can be, not least for families:

7adjusting to training8family adjusting to training

Placements

Ordinands are clearly undertaking a wide variety of placements and generally finding the experience very positive.

12placement experience

Curacy

Many feel well supported as they come to their last year of training. However, 17% have found the process of getting a curacy “difficult” or “very difficult”, and several questions were raised over a lack of clarity in the process. Moreover, there was a concern expressed by some about an apparent shortage of curacies with missional leaders who will best train them to be effective in reaching a post-Christian culture.

14curacy

Learning Lessons

Of course, the graphs reproduced above give simple, headline results from multiple-choice questions. But the survey also provided scores of longer responses to more open questions. We can’t reproduce these here, but again they threw up both encouragements and challenges for dioceses and TEIs.

One of the key roles of the Ordinands’ Association is to represent ordinands to the Church of England’s Ministry Division, and to aim to ensure that every ordinand receives the best possible training and care from their diocese and TEI. Our Standing Committee have already discussed the survey results with those at Church House responsible for training, with whom we have a very constructive relationship. In addition, the results will be very helpful as we monitor the effects of changes to training and finance which are coming into play this September.

A big thank you to every ordinand who took the time to participate!

 

An Apology

The Ordinands’ Association sincerely and unreservedly apologises for a tweet that was posted from our account on 8th June. This tweet commented on a recent event in a way which was inappropriate, and which was wrongly presented as an official position of the OA and the ordinands it represents, who come from across the breadth of the UK Anglican churches. The tweet was later deleted and replaced with an apology, which we reaffirm now.

A meeting of the committee of training institution representatives was held on the 29th June. There it was agreed that, as an association, we are not competent to make statements which affirm or reject any one theological position. These events have highlighted a need for codes of practice governing our use of social media and the circumstances in which, as an Association, we make any kind of public statement. These, we trust, will guard against such things happening in the future. A thorough review of our constitution is taking place and will be presented at our November meeting, which will give us further opportunity to clarify the way we work together to achieve the Association’s objectives.

At our meeting, it was made clear that a number of Ordinands have felt alienated from the Association as a result of what happened. This is a source of great regret for us. Our representatives are elected by the ordinand body of each represented training institution; as a result, a wide variety of views are represented on the committee itself. We want to reaffirm our commitment to representing the needs and best interests of all those in training, and hope this will go some way towards reassuring those who have been following these events with concern.

Resilience, and how to get it

Contemporary ministry brings a whole variety of stresses and strains. So how can people be Kirsten Birkettbest equipped for the long haul of evangelism, discipleship, pastoral care, leadership and ideological conflict?

We asked Kirsten Birkett, who has recently carried out academic research on secular models of building resilience, to consider what ordinands most need in their training if they are to keep strong in serving Christ and his church.

It is a great second instalment in our Training Matters mini-series, and you can read it here.

Taught what to believe 1

What is a “Distinctive Deacon”?

jigsaw-pattern-rectangle

For many clergy, being ordained “deacon” is simply an important step on the way to being ordained “priest” (or “presbyter”) about a year into their curacy.

But some people are called to the ministry of the “Distinctive Deaconate”, without any intention that they be ordained to the priesthood or serve as incumbent in a church in the future.
This is appropriate in a whole variety of circumstances, including for women whose theological convictions mean they would not want to be ordained priest or serve as a vicar.

Distinctive Deacons frequently have a key role in teaching, leadership and pastoral care in their churches.

The process and criteria for discerning Distinctive Deacons’ vocations are broadly similar to those used for potential incumbents, and their training is funded and provided on the same basis.

Ian McIntosh, Head of Formation for the Church of England, writes:

Amongst many different types of ministry which the Church calls women and men to is that of the Distinctive Diaconate.  This ancient ministry embedded deeply in the Christian Tradition combines elements of being a deacon within the Church, within the wider world and especially in the boundaries between the two.  Individual deacons may vary as to which of these areas their ministry might focus upon but it remains a vital and essential ministry within the Church. More can be found on exploring a vocation to the distinctive diaconate at http://vocation.churchofengland.org/distinctive-diaconate/.

Free Church Times subscription!

ordinands offer

 

Anglican ordinands in the UK are entitled to a free subscription to the Church Times for the duration of their training. Published every Friday, the Church Times features professional reporting of church news from the UK and abroad, wide-ranging features on faith, arts and history, varied comment pieces, book reviews and more.

Ordinands receive the paper delivered free every week as well as full access to the website, online archive and iPhone/iPad app. There are no strings attached and the offer is open to those training full or part-time, in residence or on a recognised course. To apply call 01603 785911 or email subs@churchtimes.co.uk

(Please include your course start and end dates, the name of your college/university and your postal address.)