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ordinand spiritual year

desertMy friend, colleague, and fellow antipodean blogger, Rev Peter Carrell often describes what he would like to see happen if he were in charge. Now it’s my turn…

I am concerned about the study, training, and formation of our clergy. [Particularly I’m concerned about liturgical study, training, and formation]. If I could have my way…

I am advocating, in this post, for a spiritual year.

A person discerning a call to ordination would be companioned by a mentor while participating as fully as possible in a worshipping community, and growing in their prayer life and ministry.

Once accepted to postulancy for ordination the postulant would have a spiritual year. This would be in a seminary or similar community focusing on the formation of future clergy.

Each day, in my imagined spiritual year, includes four offices: Morning Prayer, Midday Prayer, and Evening Prayer in community – preferably sung. The fourth, Night Prayer, is prayed at home before retiring (some might gather for this office also). There is also the daily Eucharist celebrated together as a community.

Each day the postulant has at least an hour of prayer alone. No particular style of prayer is necessarily followed, but during the year a person tries different styles for long enough to feel comfortable with that style and be able to help others with the different possibilities. Lectio Divina, Centering Prayer, Christian Meditation,…

You meet regularly with a spiritual director.

There is a month long retreat. You choose your own style, but this is not, as now too often happens, using the word “retreat” as a synonym for a conference!

During the year there are a couple of placements, of a month to six weeks, to stretch and challenge the postulant: eg. working in a hospice, spending a month living on the streets with street people,…

There are lectures on spirituality, worship, liturgy, spiritual direction for all. You may do at most one paper a semester towards an academic degree – but these must be in the areas of liturgy, worship, spirituality. Lectures and papers support reflection on the spiritual journey and are limited to keep the focus balanced on the spiritual development. This is not an academic year, it is a spiritual year, deepening your own spiritual prayer life, making this the foundation of your future ordained ministry, and enabling you to be a spiritual companion with those you will serve with in ordained ministry.

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34 thoughts on “ordinand spiritual year”

  1. I think this is a brilliant idea! Taking time to experience spirituality apart from the intensity and rigour of academic study has, in its absence, become potentially very problematic because, in the long term, it fails to cultivate this aspect of ministry.

    1. Thanks, Kat. In my experience, without a solid, mature spirituality, academic study also suffers – with many ordinands finding the academic material threatening and so not engaging with it seriously. Blessings.

  2. So much of what you say in all these postings about contemplation is close to my heart and echoes my experience in the UK. I’ve ‘borrowed’ some phrases to weave into my introduction to a Quiet Day I’m leading on Saturday in a strictly ‘no frills’ style. Simple worship, a few words to stimulate meditation and lots of silence.

  3. Thanks Bosco. You have essentially outlined a rule of life: Daily Office, silence, retreat, spiritual direction, and study. This to me will do more for the Church than programs. I think we must recover a priesthood that arises from, focuses on, and teaches the interior life.


    1. I totally agree, Mike. I have watched different programs arrive with great fanfare and enthusiasm and go with little effect. I hope for a church and priesthood that trusts our worship life. Blessings.

  4. Peter Carrell

    Where people involved in the formation of others for ministry have not actually experienced such a spiritual year, would you recommend these formers first have such a year before proceeding?

    1. Great question, Peter. That might be an ideal – but it could also be an excuse to say, “this is, hence, not possible to implement.” Those teaching the various dimensions I mentioned should be agile within what they are teaching. Eg. If lectio divina is being explored, it should be led by someone with a lot of experience and understanding of lectio divina. Leading the year could, for example, be a Franciscan. Franciscans have such a year. But the leadership of the year could be in the hands of someone who, while not having experienced such a year, had grown into a deep spirituality, an ability to form others in it, and a deep commitment to its value. Blessings.

  5. Excellent suggestion, Bosco. I would hope that the pattern established by such a year could be extended into the creation of an integration of continued spiritual formation with academic study. Without such a foundation, the demands of academic timetables and later of ministry pressures can all too easily take over the necessary priority of a sustaining spirituality. An aspect of my current study is concerned with this very area.

  6. Another comment. I think Peter Carrell raises an important point about who are the formators of those preparing for ordination. If we truly believe that spiritual formation is foundational, I think we need to follow through on selecting and forming such spiritual formators. In my work as a diocesan ministry educator I regarded this dimension as crucial in the preparation of those who were being ordained. This is also the motivation for my present study of ongoing spiritual formation of priests, and its implications for initial formation.

  7. As someone who is looking into some form of ordained ministry, I love the sound of this. I’ve often thought of spending a year in a monastery before seeking ordination. In response to Peter I am sure that we would have enough depth of experience in the church to lead various aspects of such a year. Someone like Bishop Kelvin would be very helpful. I’ve always been moved to read of his experiences with Christian meditation.

      1. This is a wonderful ideal, but those like me who feel called later in life (I am 51 and just starting selection for ordination) it simply can’t happen. I have a family of four teenagers to look after.

        How would you advise someone like me to gain the same sort of spiritual foundation? I must say though, that I do feel very strongly the urge to spend a month in monastic surroundings simply absorbing God. My problem so far is that most retreats seem to be of the “find God in the flowers” style…I just want a very raw basic prayerful “fleeing” (to quote the desert fathers).

        1. Yes, David, I don’t think that exceptions should be the basis of our normal. Far be it from me to advise you – this is even only your first comment here. You should be able to work with your spiritual director to come to a similar result via a different pathway. And if you are serious about spending a month on retreat, I am convinced that you will be able to find a monastery with a spiritual director who can help you into your desert experience. Another option for a month is to do the silent retreat following the Spiritual Exercises of Saint Ignatius. Blessings on your quest.

  8. This is key to formation: so..how to implement it?
    For future ministry, pastoral care is wanted – suspect too much emphasis is put on administrative qualities in potential priests.. The burden of form-filling has become *the* major part of parish ministry.
    Strange that the gifts priests bring to their ministry should be displaced by a secular activity!
    With your suggested ‘spiritual year’ this foundation would resist bureaucracy.
    NB training should include effective delegation of paperwork (many priests have no idea how to organise a PA, if they found one)

    1. Yes, Bene. There’s a whole lot of other things that should be part of training clergy and mostly isn’t: paperwork delegation, filing, social media, web presence,… That’s another blog post’s worth… Blessings.

  9. A very interesting post, Bosco. Sounds like what used to happen at Kelham and Mirfield in the old days – and I know of a number of clergy who were formed that way as young men and went onto senior positions in the C of E with that rhythm of life and prayer as the spiritual undergirding for decades of parochial and diocesan ministry. How to do it these days? One would hope a parish with clergy and lay committed to daily prayer and celebrating Eucharist could facilitate that for these ‘postulants’. In NZ there are so few Anglican religious communities, compared to England.
    Urban Vision in Wellington do a remarkably similar thing to what you propose with young people in their 20s and 30s – daily prayer in community, retreat,spiritual direction, practical service and study. Re-discovery of the old ways by a new generation – how encouraging, eh?

    1. Thanks, Simon. Yes, new monasticism expresses a disciplined spiritual life. Although a monastic-type community would be an excellent context for this, I see absolutely no reason, taking the NZ context, why, in our example, the spiritual year could not be lived out at St John’s theological college in Auckland. Blessings.

  10. I fully endorse the idea that spiritual formation should be an intrinsic part of ministerial formation.

    However, as an ‘older’ female ordinand with family responsibilities, very little of the programme you outline would have been possible for me.

    Training full time while supporting my then teenage children through their own struggles required quite a lot of discipline. I participated fully in the liturgical life of the college, a ‘retreat in daily life’ each year, reflection groups and continued meeting with my spiritual director throughout.

    I like to think that in and among all the busyness, there was space for God to form me in the way he wanted for my future ministry.

    1. Thanks for your thoughts, Pam. You say “very little of the programme you outline would have been possible for me”. Could you please be more specific. What you described you did at “college” sounds close to what I described; ie. doing a lot of what I outlined – so what am I missing? NZ Anglicanism doesn’t keep any statistics, but guestimates would be that 90% or 95% of those ordained have no “college” experience at all. They have nothing akin to what you describe of your own formation.

      You need to be more specific, Pam, about your formation for me to comment intelligently about what a spiritual year might possibly have looked like for you in your time at “college”.


  11. As a recently Ordained student currently studying at St. Johns, I think what you are proposing is a great idea, Bosco.

    I think a year, such as the one you describe, based at St. Johns would serve ordinands (both Diaconal[is that even a word?] and Priestly) 100% better than the current ‘go to’ year of formation that some ordinands receive at the College, which is effectively a year of Academic study within the ASP programme.

    Of course I know that this is just a skeleton proposal as a part of a blog post at the moment, but with a bit of tweaking (perhaps for example including a block course on cross-tikanga spirituality) this could be a real goer!

    1. Thanks so much, Christopher, for your comment from your recent experience.

      It is very, very difficult to have any real idea about priestly formation and training in the Anglican Church in Aotearoa, New Zealand and Polynesia. We keep no statistics. There appears to be nowhere where this information is readily, easily provided. The St John’s website seems to provide little and appears terribly out of date. I cannot see the programmes that St John’s offers. I would be interested in your description of this “go to” year you mention. Do a lot of students just go for a year? What is covered in that year?

      Certainly, in our context, cross-tikanga spirituality is highly important – I totally agree with you. The blog post, as you see, is being read internationally, and commented on internationally. We would need to think this through appropriately for our own context, just as they would in theirs.

      Blessings on your ordained ministry.

      1. Kia Ora ano,

        Of course, as a degree student at St. Johns I cannot speak with any first hand experience on the subject of students who are only here for a year, but yes I have seen a few come and go in the last 2 and half years I have been at St. Johns.

        There have been at least 2 or 3 people a year here at St. Johns who have only stayed on for a year of (for want of a better word) formation and then return to their homes at the end of the year ready to be ordained. While some of them do indeed persue university study like a post grad diploma in Theology etc, it seems to largely be the case that the year of formation prior to ordination for the ‘one year students’ is ASP. Now, ASP definitely has its strengths, buti don’t think using it as a stand alone formational tool is one of them, I would much prefer something you outline above to be the ‘go to’ rather than, or indeed in conjunction with ASP.

        1. Thanks, Christopher for your points. I’m understanding ASP to be the acronym for “Anglican Studies Programme”. I have no idea what this programme involves. A quick look at the St John’s website merely leads to broken links. So I can make no comments on it. My own impression is that while other professions press the rigour of their formation, study, and training increasingly, the church has headed in the opposite direction. Part of the fantasy is that more will head for ordained full-time ministry with a lowering of the hurdles. But in my experience, younger people (my primary ministry) are mostly inclined in the opposite direction – they are attracted to challenges. I don’t see spirituality and academic rigour as being either/or, but both/and. I want a priesthood, and a church, which is spiritually deep, intelligent, and connected well to our contemporary context. I appreciate very much, Christopher, your adding your insights from one of our important formation contexts. Blessings.

  12. I echo your other respondents’ praise for this, Bosco, and really can see the strength to your proposal – although I think that, while I am wholly in favour of using insights from monastic discipline to inform secular lay and clerical life, I wouldn’t want this excellent plan to suggest that a/the monastic rule is the only way to live; spiritual formation for secular clergy needs to help ordinands discern what works for them. We must beware seeing “secular” life as a deficit model.

    1. Thanks so much for this clarification, Nick. What you say is certainly clear in my own mind and I’m sorry if anything I’ve written has presented this idea badly.

      We are not called to be wannabe-monastics. Monasticism isn’t the only true or full Christianity, with us poor people, beyond monastic walls, second-class Christians. I think you express it well.

      Early Christian spiritual disciplines continued in monasteries and were honed in monasteries. So we can learn from monasticism (I do). But we need to be faithful to our own context and calling. I hope this clarifies?


  13. Great idea in principle,Bosco. I’m not sure that a month long retreat is particularly feasible for those postulants who have families, however beneficial it might be spiritually…

    1. Thanks, Chris, for your point. It would be great if the only difficulty to my suggestion was that for some people the month-long retreat had to have a particular adaptation to their context. I thought that my post already allowed for that. Another possibility might be to have a month-long retreat that would be appropriate for you some years later when it fitted more with your circumstances?

      What intrigues me is how much more people are prepared to do (expected to do!) for, say, becoming a lawyer, a doctor, or even for sport.


  14. ———-
    “Each day, in my imagined spiritual year, includes four offices: Morning Prayer, Midday Prayer, and Evening Prayer in community – preferably sung.”

    I commuted daily to college – a 45-60 minute drive – and being there for daily morning prayer before lectures and & evening prayer after lectures would mean I was out of the house at least 12 hours a day.

    “There is also the daily Eucharist celebrated together as a community.”

    I studied at an ecumenical foundation where there was corporate daily midday worship was shared. The pattern of once a week Eucharist was challenging for some students whose tradition was to partake less frequently.

    “Each day the postulant has at least an hour of prayer alone.”

    This would have been hard to fulfil alongside my college commitments and responsibilities as a parent and spouse.

    “There is a month long retreat.”

    I would not have been prepared to absent myself from the family, particularly as both sons were taking public exams during my training. I was also responsible, with my sister, for my increasingly frail mother’s finances, and supporting my brother who was her primary carer.

    As I said, I think putting in firm spiritual foundations is essential, however, I’m not sure if older candidates with family and financial responsibilities would be able to do this as a full time commitment. Many older candidates train on part time courses while maintaining employment even if they eventually go into paid posts.

    1. Thanks for your points, Pam. I think you are misunderstanding what I am writing, and invite you to read my post again.

      I am not suggesting this spiritual year as being disciplines on top of academic study that is already obviously full-time. I am suggesting the spiritual year be the focus of the year. Hence, as one example, I am not suggesting that you have at least an hour of prayer alone “alongside your college commitments”. Your one hour of prayer alone would be your commitment.

      I cannot comment on your particular context, but wonder how things would be if you were training to be a doctor, for example?

      Your college may be ideal for certain academic study – I cannot say, you do not tell us which it is. But your description of it does not give the impression that it is a suitable context for the sort of spiritual year that I am advocating in this post.


      1. I did understand that, but I understood your question after my first post to be what aspects of the ‘spiritual year’ you describe were lacking from the college experience I had written about.

        Apologies if I got that wrong, but in fact the same aspects I’ve highlighted as being difficult while at full time college would also be fairly difficult to combine with what I could term other ‘adult’# responsibilities – financial and familial.

        To be able to give up a year to a semi-monastic existence could be ideal for those whose life permitted it, but in the UK (which is the only system I know well) what you describe would also exclude most ‘mature’ candidates.

        I realise your question may not be meant to be taken quite so literally, and also arises from a training system of which I only have an anecdotal knowledge.

        1. Thanks, Pam. From your expansion it did appear that this college was not the place for such a spiritual year. Is the clarification then that one’s spiritual year could be in one community followed by academic study in another? Financially: again this will vary from country to country, context to context, but if the church values spiritual formation of its clergy it should make this possible. You said my idea would mean being away from home at least 12 hours a day – what would be a reasonable time to leave home, and return home, and let’s together imagine a timetable within that possibility. Yes, I’m providing a challenge to the church, a vision, not a motion to General Synod with every i dotted and t crossed, and inflexible in relation to every ordinand on the planet. If a ‘mature’ person is called to be a doctor in the UK, what do they do differently to a younger person? Blessings.

  15. I would have welcomed this year of spiritual training. What I did have was a 50-mile commute [twice a day] to my theo. Institute. and then a 3 month Attachment to a busy, large, inner city church [Scotland] which I spent living in the city, as it was impossible to commute and do it all justice.
    I was fortunate that children had grown and I did not have to be at home full time.
    The ideas floated in your blog, Bosco, and in some of the replies, do show how welcome the idea of spiritual formation is, and would be if part of a training. I do hope you can pursue this.
    People constantly say to me that they have no time to do xx and this applies to everything: so when a year of spiritual formation is actually built in, there can be only a profound sense of relief that this time is set aside for this purpose.

    1. Thanks so much, Bene. I think this is part of a shift in thinking. Many priests (and communities) appear to justify the stipend by how busy they are. This is a shift to providing a stipend to be not busy earning an income – but to have the time, the leisure, to pursue deep prayer and reflection… Blessings.

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