14 May 2008

‘Challenging times’ in theological education

Philip McKinley and Stephen Dallas of the Hard Gospel Project at the general Synod this morning (Photograph: Patrick Harvey)

Patrick Comerford

The future of theological education and ministry formation came up for discussion at General Synod again this morning when we received the report of the Representative Church Body.

Introducing the report, Mr Sidney Gamble said “these are challenging times for the development of a new Theological Institute … The RCB will have to make available substantial additional funding as the changes now being undertaken in theological training take effect. These changes will have considerable cost implications for parishes and dioceses as well as central church. At this stage I should let you know that at the request of the House of Bishops the concept of situating in Dublin on a single site the functions of clergy training, the library and the administration of central church is currently being explored by the RB [Representative Body].”

He said “the views of various stakeholders have been obtained. Possibilities are now being explored, but this exercise is still at a very early stage.”

Seconding the report, the Archdeacon of Down, the Ven Philip Patterson, described the Ministry Formation Project and the plans for the new Church of Ireland Theological Institute as “one of the most exciting things to happen in the Church of Ireland in recent years.” But he was critical of the way the costs involved had been presented, and predicted they would continue rising.

“Last year we were presented with the vision and currently this vision is being transformed into a reality. Although many details still have to be worked out, one thing is quite clear there are to be cost implications attached to the new project. Page 19 of the report tells us that already in 2008 the allocation for training ordinands has risen from almost €1.3 million to just over €1.6 million a rise of 26%. The likelihood is that this cost is likely to continue to rise and that is quite apart from capital costs, which in a best-case scenario could be neutral, but may not be.

“Some aspects of the project – particularly the internships – still have to be finalised and decisions taken as to where the costs should be charged. The important thing in such a venture is that the ‘new ship’ should not be spoilt for a ha’peworth of tar. It may well be that the general fund cannot bear the full cost of the project. The bishops may have to come to General Synod to ask for an assessment on the wider church to meet the full cost. We should not shrink away from such action.”

He also described the regulations requiring No Smoking signs in churches, particularly churches that are Grade A listed buildings, as “a piece of overkill legislation.”

“Thank you archdeacon,” said the Archbishop of Armagh. “The synod notes the issue by which you are incensed.”

During the debate, Bishop Richard Henderson of Tuam repeated his plea for a “place apart,” which he said was necessary for the development of the spiritual life of the Church of Ireland and our life in the Trinity. It’s a plea he’s made so many times before. But it’s a plea I fear the Church is ignoring ... and ignoring at its peril.

Dr Alan Acheson wanted to know how much the bishops cost the Church. Even the bishops accepted (unanimously) that we should know from next year on.

This morning we also heard about the need to develop a spirituality that is appropriate to environmental change and global warming, about the need for the Church to invest in the young people and in youth work and about our failure in invest in children’s ministry, which the Revd Ted Woods (Rathfarnham, Dublin) described as the foundation for youth work.

“There is no-one doing children’s ministry, even on a part-time basis,” he said, adding that in many parishes Sunday Schools are non-existent while those that do exist are often under-resourced and badly resourced. “Why are we so blind?”

Yet there was ray of hope in that corner when Mr Billy Kingston spoke of the work of the Rev Isabel Jackson in children’s ministry in the Diocese of Cashel and Ossory.

Today in the church calendar we commemorate Saint Matthias in our opening worship and prayed the Collect of the Day:

Almighty God,
who in the place of the traitor Judas
chose your faithful servant Matthias
to be of the number of the Twelve:
Preserve your Church from false apostles
and, by the ministry of faithful pastors and teachers,
keep us steadfast in your truth;
through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

Our worship each morning is being led by the newest member of the House of Bishops, Bishop Alan Abernathy, but their number will be brought back up to 12 with the consecration of Canon Trevor Williams as Bishop of Limerick and Killaloe on Monday 8 September.

Canon Williams got caught in procedures this morning when he missed the opportunity to deliver a speech he had prepared as the seconder to one of the reports. But his voice will be a great addition to the House of Bishops. His work as a broadcaster, journalist and with the Corrymeela Community, and his frontline experience in a demanding Belfast parish, equip him well, in the words of the collect of today, for “the ministry of faithful pastor and teacher … steadfast in your truth.”

Canon Patrick Comerford is Director of Spiritual Formation, the Church of Ireland Theological College. He is an elected representative of the Diocese of Dublin at the General Synod

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