Is there a future for the Anglican Church based on the training of those who will lead her? Sally Hitchiner, currently training for ordination, investigates.Who will be leading your church in 20 years time? Have you ever thought what they will be like? What will they believe in? Will they be young; will they be well trained for the task? What will future Anglican Bishops be like? Will they believe in miracles? Will they believe in Jesus? Will they still wear purple dresses? Will the next generation provide leaders like John Stott and Nicky Gumble? Will they invent other courses named after Greek letters or do something we can’t even imagine now?
The future leadership of the Anglican church is critical – whether you are an Anglican or not – it affects us all. So what is the training like for the next generation of vicars? And how will this shape those who will lead the C of E?
Venerable Dr Gordon Kurt has just retired from ten years as head of the C of E Ministry Division (which includes the selection and training of future vicars) and he seems optimistic about the future. There are huge variations from college to college and year to year, but there are clearly some very positive trends emerging. Who is training?There are a few misconceptions about trainee vicars. Firstly, the number of people interested in priesthood in the C of E is not declining. A recent study of the Ministry Division figures found that after a low patch in the 70s and 80s, the numbers of people applying for and being accepted for training are steadily rising. So we expect 740 candidates at the final stage of the selection process this year compared to 727 last year with similar increases over previous years.
Secondly, although the gender split is now roughly 50:50, there are a disproportionate number of ordinands in their 40s and 50s. A Church spokesman suggested this was due to more pro-active recruitment by dioceses with a greater population of older churchgoers.
There are many examples of God calling older people into ministry (not least in the Bible) but this proportional increase is highlighting other problem areas in the church. Less than 15% of ordinands are currently under 30. In a Church that is shedding young people this needs to be addressed. Gordon’s successor, the Rt. Rev. John Gladwin, highlighted this in one of his first press releases where he was quoted saying, “Attracting young people to ordained ministry is key for the Church’s present and future mission and ministry…” Gordon agrees, “I’m delighted to welcome ordinands of any age but I would like to see more young people. Interestingly, when I’ve spoken to ordinands in their 40s and asked them when they first heard God call them towards this, they almost all reply that it was in their teens or twenties. However then they say ‘but…’ and it’s those buts that we must take responsibility for.”
“Isn’t there an argument for people going to get some life experience before they go into the church?” I ask. He closes his eyes, exhaling. I’m not sure if it’s frustration or sadness; either way I’m suddenly glad I asked as an ordinand in my mid-20s. “Around 20 years ago we went through a brief spell of thinking that and it’s somehow got into the church blood stream. All the recent Archbishops, Runcie, Carey and now Rowan Williams, have publicly said that they want younger ordinands. We’re doing everything we can... The challenges of adapting to life as an ordained minister are just greater the longer you wait. Younger people need encouragement to explore God’s call on their lives. The Church needs them to be encouraged.”
So what are the positive trends that are emerging?
1. God outside of our boxesI had breakfast with Elaine Storkey last week. Best known as a writer, broadcaster and in her role as President of Tearfund, Elaine sits on many senior church committees as well as lecturing at Wycliffe, so amid the general chitchat of college breakfast I asked what she thought about vicar training. “I think theological education needs to catch up with the church,” she said, suddenly becoming animated. “We need to ask ourselves what is working in the real world. The churches that are growing, helping people to come to know Jesus are the ones that are open to gifts of the spirit and charismatic worship whatever their tradition.” I asked her if she thought it had anything to do with our modernist approach to training. “Absolutely!” she said “We are often so convinced that our way is the only way, whether that’s evangelicals with our ‘Biblically based models’ (though I don’t know what that means besides ‘if you disagree with my interpretation then you’re disagreeing with God’), or extreme liberals who make similar sorts of claims.” She slams down her toast. “We’ve just got to get some humility!”
You don’t disagree with Dr Storkey when she’s going full throttle (a much better policy is to wait for a quiet moment to contradict her in a national magazine!) But maybe her vision is taking hold.
Take the New Wine Ordinands (NWO) network for example. We recently widened our vision from just supporting those who come on our national conferences to every ordinand in the UK having access to effective training on issues like healing, prophecy, evangelism etc. Within a couple of months of launching we had Area Coordinators in almost every college and course in the UK covering every tradition and background. They are trained and supported by the wider network of ordinands and work with their course staff and local New Wine church leaders to discern what God is already doing in their course/college community within these areas and organise seminars that join in with this. Less “What Would Jesus Do?” more “What is Jesus Doing?”
Some colleges have become increasingly open to charismatic experiences and gifts over the past few years. However recently it has taken off on a new level. Ordinands throughout the UK are finding the same God of the Bible and church tradition in surprising places and are willing to show considerable humility to be open to this.
We’re all learning this in one way or another. Here many students are encountering God not only in the traditional evangelical charismatic forms but in more contemplative traditions. “If you can show me Jesus in it, then I want in” seems to be the mantra. However, I’m most humbled by e-mails from ordinands who would never normally associate themselves with New Wine. Dave at an evangelical college tells his story. “Last Summer term we had a teaching series on 1 Corinthians. After the last lecture a group of us hung around discussing the material. The arguments we heard about prophecy, healing etc stopping with the early church just didn’t seem to hold water from the Bible. We were all very aware that how churches have applied these sorts of spiritual gifts in ministry has often been where the difficulty lies. Nevertheless, we felt strongly that pretending such gifts were not for Christ’s Church on the basis of the difficulty of knowing how they might apply Church was not a good enough reason not to use them. Each of us committed ourselves to continually praying and studying the Bible, asking God to show us how we might rightly exercise and encourage the use of these gifts in our churches in the future. Two days later we heard about a wider organisation of people wanting this in New Wine. As the NWO Area Coordinator for my college I’m excited to see what God will do through us here and in the churches we go to in the future.”
Prayer seems to be the key throughout. Emma, a second year on a regional course, shared her story. “Although there are a number of interested students here, [my course] is fairly traditional and we’ve never had training in things like ‘healing ministry’ before. We prayed (and e-mailed the NWO prayer network) then approached the principal. His first words were ‘I’ve been thinking of doing something like that for a while,’ I was blown off my feet!”
2. Formation not just information“Four decades ago, training wasn’t based in the real world at all,” says Gordon Kurt. “Our ‘pastoral training’ consisted of the local vicar being wheeled in to give a few tips on Baptisms. Now you actually have training in spirituality, mission, pastoral care and preaching.” I asked him if he minds that, in bringing these things in we will have to reduce other things, like… I hesitated, desperately trying to think of something less likely to be precious to an older clergyman than my advanced Greek verbs (Greek is no longer required for ordinands over 30 and Hebrew is rare even among younger ordinands).
He read my mind. “I do like Greek and Hebrew… However I think information must be our focus. Information is one thing but training for ministry needs to be more holistic. Perhaps the answer is in the Hind Report (a recent C of E paper suggesting on-going academic training throughout the life of a clergyperson). But without deep personal encounters with the God who heals, clergy crack within 10 years and leave a trail of wreckage behind them. I saw it time and time again. Spirituality must never be the poor relation of essays. Both must feed the other.”
His words reminded me of a latenight library session last year trying to decide if Mowinckle was right in that there are seven, not five classifications of the Psalms. I can now see the value of this but at the time I was close to reliving the scene from Dead Poets Society where they rip pages out of the textbook. Suddenly the student opposite me slammed down his books. “I’m sorry, I can’t read this any longer!” he exclaimed, “I’ve got to go and praise God!” He stormed out and a few moments later you could hear muffled singing coming from the chapel down the hall. Whether it’s in sung worship, advanced Greek verbs, or even Mowinckle, the more formational approach that is emerging in training can only be a good thing.
3. Mission and EvangelismThe ‘Mission Shaped Church Report’ is dramatically changing training. Last year a new item was added to the selection criteria for ordination. All candidates must now demonstrate ability in mission and evangelism. I asked Gordon Kurt about this.
“When I was ordained 40 years ago, the church was primarily pastoral but now we’ve realised we must have a missional edge… It was a very conscious decision that this should be compulsory for all ordained ministers. Whatever our gifts we need to be as outward looking as Jesus was.”
The Report also birthed an entirely new stream of ordination training. ‘Pioneer Ministers’ are assessed by the same criteria as ordinary candidates but in addition must show a track record for innovative Christian mission and church planting. They are intended to have basically the same training as other ordinands but do this “through mission spectacles” (as Gordon put it). Out of the 25 people currently training as Pioneers, some are based in traditional colleges, but the majority are at specialist church-based training centres run by Holy Trinity Brompton and St Mary’s Bryanston Square (with some lectures at Ridley Hall, Cambridge.)
The coordinator of the Pioneer Stream, Rev Steve Croft, is effervescent about it all. “Many courses, colleges and schemes are making rapid and good movements towards developing these areas of the curriculum and to develop specialised training for pioneer ministers” So how will it work out in practice?
“Vicars and the equivalent will increasingly exercise proactive missional oversight over ‘mixed economy parishes’”, says Croft. “That will mean not just looking after existing communities but encouraging the development of fresh expressions of church alongside the established services.”
“Sounds exciting” I say, recalculating what my future church might look like. He smiled at me, “It is a good time and an exciting time to be preparing for ordained ministry in all its forms. We are in the midst of re-imaging the church for the 21st Century with all that that means. There are many signs of encouragement.” Future Church? So if this is what is happening in the future leaders of the Church of England, what will the future church be like? From this evidence at least, the church seems like it will be more confident and creative about mission, more holistic and humble enough to find the Biblical Jesus outside our boxes.
As I left his office I asked Gordon Kurt what he thought about the future adding, “if there is any Anglican church left.” He looked disappointed at my cynicism. “Oh I think there will be” he said. “You only have to read our history to get a bit of hope and we have a God who can do miracles, don’t we?”
Sally Hitchiner is currently training for ordination at Wycliffe Hall, Oxford. She leads the New Wine Ordinands Movement and speaks at New Wine Summer conferences on prophecy and vocation.