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Jesus Emmaus

4 Dimensions of Priestly Formation

Jesus Emmaus

Several Anglican seminaries have struggled with issues recently.

Presiding Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori’s opening remarks to the session of Executive Council are worth reflecting on:

As old models become unsustainable in some contexts, dioceses are finding new ways to form leaders – like the Bishop Kemper School for Ministry in Topeka that serves students from four neighboring dioceses. Theological education is much in the news, with active conflict in several places, a result of deep anxiety over looming changes. We have excellent resources for theological education, yet they need to be redistributed to form and train leaders more effectively for new and changing contexts. In some ways, that current reality reflects the increasing economic inequality in the developed world, particularly in the United States. The wealthy have little difficulty in accessing those resources; the poor struggle, yet often the poor discover and create new possibilities out of necessity.

The average Episcopal congregation, with 60 to 70 members attending weekly worship, cannot afford the traditional model of full-stipend paid leadership, a building, and a sufficient program to support its members in their daily baptismal ministry. Nor can seminary graduates with educational debt afford to work in most of them.

Students today can be trained for ordination to the priesthood anywhere, if they can foot the bill. If not, they have much more limited resources in residential seminaries – a couple of them can provide sufficient aid to graduate students with little or no additional debt. Increasing numbers of ordination candidates and lay leaders are being educated in programs like Bishop Kemper School, which require minimal displacement from job and family and produce graduates with little or no additional debt. In order to provide effective formation, those more local institutions and programs work closer to home to gather a community for formation. As has always been the case, the struggling and the poorer communities have tended to be more creative in responding to these changing realities. Most of the residential seminaries we have were started in response to similar challenges – the need for education and the inability to provide it in existing frameworks and paradigms.

The Church of England has made a conscious and canonical shift in its expectation. Those who train for non-stipendiary ministry (NSM) do it in two years; those who expect a “career” take a more traditional three years. One of our seminaries has begun to explore a two-year academic track with an additional practical year. The Lutherans have had a model like that for some time – but it’s four years total, three of the four for academics and the third year as a practicum.

There are parallels if you watch “A statement by Revd. David Hilborn, Principal of St John’s College Nottingham – November 12th 2014”

Most people can read between the lines, and the repetition of “excellent”, and realise that there is more going on here than improving the way it provides priestly formation.

In Aotearoa New Zealand, Anglican priestly formation has long now not focused on St John’s College, Auckland. Less than 10% of Anglican clergy here receive residential priestly formation. No (public) statistics are kept about Anglican priestly formation. There are no province-wide standards – and I am not sure if there are even (public) diocesan standards. It took no less a figure than Sir Paul Reeves to undertake an honest review of St John’s College four years ago.

In my own reflection, I would see priestly formation as having four dimensions:

To formation in those four dimensions, I would add training in the practical aspects of parish and chaplaincy management skills.

I think one can participate in some aspects of this formation and training through distance education, online, and in other non-residential ways, but the essence of much of this formation requires residential, community experience and mentoring. How this be configured in our new context is open to much creativity, but I fear for the situation where we have leaped off one way of priestly formation and are now midair with no real idea where we are considering to land.

What do you think of the formation and training I delineate? Would you add or subtract anything? And how would you suggest people participate in such formation and training?

image source: Jesus Mafa – Jesus and the disciples on the Road to Emmaus

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11 thoughts on “4 Dimensions of Priestly Formation”

  1. Bosco, I think you are on to something, certainly. The old/traditional, and in some places, unsustainable way of training and forming ministers needs to be re-thought.

    I was trained at Garrett-Evangelical Theological Seminary (Methodist), across the street from the now-defunct Seabury-Western Seminary (Episcopal), on the grounds of Northwestern University in Evanston, Illinois. I am quite glad I had the opportunity to take three full years to study theology, practical ministry, spiritual formation, and church history. Plus, I had the blessing of several internships after I got my MDiv that prepared me more fully for hospital/care center chaplaincy. But, then, my husband was/is employed full-time and I have no debt from seminary.

    Each person walks his or her own path. God as Sovereign makes a way for each of us to travel–as roundabout as it is, sometimes. If you had asked me twelve months ago where I would be in a year, I would never in my life had said “Pastor at St. Luke’s Church.” Yet, God providentially called me to lead that congregation. (It’s a big, long, sudden story. If you truly want to know, email me.)

    About your recommendations? I think–personally–mentoring is of prime importance! I know that I have benefitted greatly from three mentors since I shouldered the mantle of pastor at St. Luke’s Church. I still talk or email with them on a regular basis. I _need_ fellow ministers/colleagues to talk with, and to stay accountable to.

    I do have this suggestion to add to your dimensions: an accountability/prayer group, meeting on a regular basis. SO SO needed. And, thank you for thinking out of the box. Coloring outside of the lines. I appreciate your efforts so much.

    1. Thanks, Elizabeth, for adding your helpful insights; and, like you, I understand about ending up ministering/serving where one would not have foreseen. Blessings.

  2. I see what you say, Bosco, and am thankful that at least three of the four directions are strengthening in our national residential college (and the fourth may be fine, for all I am aware). But.

    But, is the tidal wave engulfing the Western church (i.e. aging congregations x popularity of secular living (= living without recourse to church, if not without recourse to God)) so close that we need to emphasise a fifth thing – something which might be the only thing we focus on for the time being?

    I am going to call this thing ‘apostolicity’ but there may be a better term for it. I am thinking of the gifts, skills, commitments required to found new churches in new contexts, based on gospel preaching and discipleship training.

    1. Yes, Peter! I absolutely agree with your fifth point (we can discuss your suggestion that it be the only thing). Which are the three dimensions are strengthening at St John’s? Thanks for pointing to the essential fifth dimension. Blessings.

  3. Over the past few years, as different appointments have been made, or are in the process of being made (see now the advertisement for a Lecturer in Biblical Studies, tied specifically to the College’s arrangements with Otago re teaching its BTheol degree), I believe we are seeing a strengthening of liturgy, pastoral and academic requirements. I am less sure how the contemplative fits in to the current three-to-four year programme (though there are annual retreats and such like). Perhaps an SJC student or staff member reading here might comment further …

    1. I have just returned from the John Main Seminar 2015, where Professor David Tacey’s talks and his dialogue with Fr Laurence Freeman OSB (available at http://www.wccm.org) leave me more certain than ever that formation in the contemplative dimension of Christian life needs to be at the centre of all other formation and training for ordained ministry. I would therefore suggest a rearrangement of Peter Carrell’s implied priority (my inference of this, at least) and ask how the biblical, liturgical, pastoral etc dimensions might fit around the central formational dimension of the contemplative.

  4. Partly to be argumentative and partly to enquire in a scholarly and diplomatic manner, did the apostles have time to contemplate? (!)

    1. I am understanding, Peter, this to be a question you are posing to Martin, in response to his comment to you? Blessings.

    1. Peter’s question: “Partly to be argumentative and partly to enquire in a scholarly and diplomatic manner, did the apostles have time to contemplate? (!)”

      A brief response from me, since there’s plenty on this site about my views on the importance of growing in our relationship with God. The link in the original post is a good starter for exploration for newer people here. In fact, in some way, (I hope) this whole site is about growing in this relationship.

      The obvious biblical passage that springs to mind in response to your question is Luke 10:38-42, concluding:

      the Lord answered her, ‘Martha, Martha, you are worried and distracted by many things; there is need of only one thing. Mary has chosen the better part, which will not be taken away from her.’

      Jesus took great care that his apostles focused on growing in their relationship with him, with God. Busy they might have been, but that was the one needful thing. Their relationship with Jesus, with God, continued central after Jesus’ death and resurrection. It shines through the stories of all they did, their busyness, and the documents. This is the essence of what they offered: a relationship with God. And they offered what they themselves were, clear to all, continuing to receive.

      Yes, we are part of a church that values busyness, hence the importance of your question. But if all we offer is questionable-quality entertainment, cheaper second-hand goods at fairs, some social interaction especially for the ageing, pretty buildings for occasional photo backgrounds, and lose the one thing needful in our busyness, then I really don’t want to be part of it. And it makes sense, if this is even a question for us, why young people who have YouTube, Trade Me, facebook, green screen and photoshop, don’t even see church as something more to add in their already-busy lives.


  5. Yes, indeed, to that story, Bosco.
    I assume, incidentally, that Paul’s periods in prison were occasions for contemplation!

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