Sunday, July 15, 2007

Clergy education

In a series of at least two or three posts I want to open (as I had promised a few weeks ago) the question of clergy education. One of our readers, upon seeing this subject raised in comments, put forth ideas that are due some very serious attention, along with other ideas that I had discussed with individuals in private correspondence before my recent move. Before discussing ideas, however, I want to use this first posting on the subject to raise questions and identify problems that should be overcome.

First of all, even with my very real objections to missteps by bishops of the Anglican Province of Christ the King, I must still correct a notion, put forth in comments, that the St. Joseph of Arimathea Seminary in Berkeley has been producing what a reader called “90 day wonders.” The program takes two years of full time study, and would take the usual three but for the apparent need for clergy ‘in the field” to do the work of the ministry. So I was told by Archbishop Robert Morse late in 2005. Having seen the seminary in action, I know that the academic program there is quite excellent (far superior to what any of the ECUSAn seminaries is doing these days), and that it is combined with the requirement that students must attend, in the seminary chapel, Morning Prayer, a Mass at noon, and Evening Prayer each day. Archbishop Provence (recently made Archbishop of the APCK) once told me that any student who missed the prayer services could not attend classes that day. I believe that this approach is good and healthy, as the student learns the importance of daily prayer, and becomes grounded in a community of prayer as part of his education and preparation for the sacred ministry.

But, many of the men who have felt the call to ordained ministry, and who have been accepted into the seminary, have faced the difficulties of giving up jobs and of relocating their families to the city rightly called “Bezerkeley.” In short, except for men who were already priests (like Fr. Edwards and me) and who transferred into the APCK, the only route to priestly ministry, that is, the only route for a postulant to holy orders, is through that one seminary located in a disreputable town all the way out on the West coast. Forgetting, for the moment, that experience has proved that the APCK is, at best, a very bad place for any man to gamble the economic welfare of his family and future, due to increasing episcopal mistreatment of faithful clergy, the question of practicality arises.

Back in the 1950s, when Robert Morse was a young man who had served his country in combat during World War II, the average seminarian was just that- a young man. It was not uncommon for the students in seminary to be recent college graduates in their twenties. Today this is not the case. Frankly, it is probably a very good thing that most men who prepare for ordination are in their forties, with wives, children, jobs and mortgages. Add to this the fact that seminary itself is a very recent development in history, and that even through most of the nineteenth century the average postulant would “read for orders” under the direction of the Diocesan Bishop (or someone appointed by the bishop). Therefore, how practical is the seminary model in this day and age? Perhaps the seminary must continue, but only as one method of clergy education with the option of at least one more method. That other method would be to restore “reading for orders" under episcopal direction. The danger in this proposal, of course, is that a genuine problem of “90 day wonders” becomes even more of a problem. Furthermore, the problem could arise that different standards of education could cause uncertainty between jurisdictions and even between dioceses within jurisdictions.

The need exists, due to the times in which we live, for a program that can be taken on the road, that is under the direction of bishops in each diocese of each jurisdiction, but that has recognized standards that cross the boundaries, and that promote confidence on the part of everyone.

More will come in this series. For now, I am throwing these questions wide open to the readers The Continuum.


Abu Daoud said...

Perhaps the Province could come up with a list of 20 or so universities or seminaries around the country where people could take most courses.

I mean, I studied at a Roman Catholic U for my MA and my classes on John, OT, intro to ethics, Christology, even sacramental theology, and so on, are very suitable to an anglo-catholic. I did this while working full time at my day job, and studying at a fully-accredited and well-regarded university.

Then the folks in training could do a summer or a month-clong course on specifics of stuff like the Oxford Movement, St Louis, Anglican liturgics, and so on, that they would not get elsewhere.

All this while being guided by their bishop and staying, for the most part, in their home city with their jobs.

Just an idea.

Fr. Bill said...

I discuss the advantages and disadvantabes of seminaries here, and decide that the disadvantages significantly outweigh the advantages. You have identified additional disadvantages for prospective clergy from continuing jurisdictions, most of whose new clergy are not single, young men.

I'm interested that you did not mention distance learning. The technology for this has advanced remarkably in the past decade. It doesn't allow for the kinds of things face-to-face instruction over time allows, of course. But, still, for many foundational educational projects, it serves well.

If a man with family is going to move at all, it were better he moved to where he could minister in a parish, under the routine supervision, counsel, and discipleship of an experienced priest or bishop.

Anonymous said...

I'm an ACC communicant, and I think the Commission of Ministry has an excellent academic plan for ministry.

My only gripe, and this is across the board, is that there's no requirement for Latin, Greek, and Hebrew (unless this has changed recently). I think these languages should be required, at least first year familiarity with all three, and a second year in any one of those languages, is a reasonable request. Just because we put a premium on Tradition doesn't diminish the need for priests to handle the Scriptures in their original language.

Just my .02

St. Worm

Anonymous said...


I'm aware Latin is not Scripture's language, I just think Latin would be beneficial for reading some of the Fathers and medieval works. It is after all the language of the Western Church.

St. Worm

Anglican Priest said...

Having attended St. Joseph's, it should be added that there is more to the formation of clergy than the classroom. In reality, much time is spent in chapel, at other churches and in the general fellowship of brother clergy.

This interaction has proven invaluable during my ministry and could not be replicated through "distance" learning. While it may seem to be a viable compromise, the actual costs may be less than attractive when the ovarall impact, at the parishional level, is fully understood.

While Berkely is not an ideal location, (the Midwest would be much better, cost wise: perhaps Chicago,)the strength of its academic resources, coupled with the "world-class" city of San Francisco, parially outweigh the negatives.

The real challenge is properly funding our Continuing Faith clergy, both within and without the seminary. We are deluding ourselves if we believe otherwise.

J. Gordon Anderson said...

"Perhaps the Province could come up with a list of 20 or so universities or seminaries around the country where people could take most courses."

That's what the Diocese of the Holy Cross has on their website. Not a bad idea.

Anonymous said...

I think that 'reading for orders' can be coupled with distance education--that is sort of what I was getting at in an earlier combox. I also think it's important the we (the Continuum) do it ourselves. I would hope that, even if their bishops can't receive communion at each other's celebrations of the Mass, the clergy of the four (yes, four) main branches of the Continuum should be able to provide sufficient generalised and specialised knowledge to staff a world-wide online theology faculty. Any man who shows particular academic promise could, after he is appropriately tested and found to have the level of maturity and orthodoxy required not to be easily led into error, be sent to a university to get an accredited degree.

I'm a bit worried about sending our chaps to Roman institutions, partly because we might lose them, partly because we do things differently, and things includes preaching and thinking. A month of Anglican reinculturation would not, in my opinion, be long enough, but I agree with Abu Daoud that such a subject would be necessary in some form.

Of course, the compulsory semester-long course on Deerfield Beach would need to be taught within each branch, as the content would be different in each. But I'm sure that there would be no shortage of clergy willing to take on that task. Oops! Mea culpa.

Anonymous said...

The Diocese of the Mid-Atlantic States of the Anglican Catholic Church became very conscious of this problem long ago: most of its postulants were/are older men, blessed with wives, kids, jobs, mortgages.... The old seminary model of three years’ full-time study in meditative rusticity was not an option for most of its postulants.

So the diocese authorized the creation, several years ago, of the Bishop Harry B. Scott III School of Theology. The school seems to be functioning quite successfully; several of its students have been ordained.


The school recently re-located from Richmond VA to its own new digs in Newport News, VA, by the way. (the web-site needs updating.)

The three-year Scott School program requires all students to live ‘in community’ at the school for at least two weeks each year, one week in the spring and one week in the fall. These residential weeks are heavy on academics and liturgical drill. The rest of the year the students occupy themselves with directed reading and paper-writing, under various clerical mentors.

New Testament Greek, by the way, is a required part of the curriculum.

Jeffrey Edmunds
St. Luke’s ACC
Fredericksburg, VA USA

poetreader said...

I have some serious questions that I am not sure are being asked about the formation of clergy. What does a man need to be a good priest? Is it primarily 'education'? Is it what one knows that makes one a shepherd of souls? Knowledge is certainly necesssary. The ignorance of some of the Pentecostal preachers I used to work with is a scandal, and the medieval church was often as bad. But is the academic model that has been standard of any more than marginal usefulness? I'm not sure of that. I think the treatment of theological education as primaruly academic became the major producer of the various revisionist heresies. Should the first question perhaps be one of how we bring men into the presence of Christ, and how we there lead them to seek to be channels of his loving grace? Is it perhaps that a priest is first of all a worshiper, secondly a lover of the people of God, and thirdly a teacher?

I ask these questions with the perception that we seem to be seeking ways to educate, but seem to lack a real and deep commitment to formation. I want truly godly priests - yes, saints - and though we will fall short of that, I think that needs to be the intent of every bit of clerical training.


Anonymous said...

Ed: a man needs some booklearning to be a good priest. We are a 'people of the Book', and a priest must know what's in the Book and what (the Fathers say) it means. The question is how much the booklearning needs to be equated with the kind of booklearning (or pre-packaged photocopied excerpts learning) that goes on at contemporary universities. I think the booklearning bits of the course for clergy would ideally be rigorous in their content but lenient in their assessment. I've remembered Anglican clergy who must've got through the most basic of seminary courses (the ThL) on conceded passes. I've also known clergy with little more, if any, theological qualification than the ThL who have been men of deep learning (intelligent men who were voracious readers). The secret is not to insist too much on 'original' thought (which only the very smartest can do in such an ancient academic discipline, and therefore which most should not even think of doing), but to insist on understanding.

As to the other things: holiness, godliness--of course they are necessary. They are to be taught by the local bishop or priest with whom the man 'reads'--both taught and discerned, from the point of selection for training to the point of ordination and beyond.

Mr Anglican Deacon: unfortunately you describe a luxury. Imagine a 40-something man with wife, children and mortgage. Then imagine the difficulty he'll have relocating to seminary and trying to support his family. Then imagine him in Australia, with there won't be a Continuum seminary in the foreseeable future, so he'll have to move to the USA, where he probably won't be able to work (if seminary life made that possible), and with the prospect of returning home to non-stipendiary ministry. We need to make do with what we've got, or what we can put together. That's why, Mr Edmunds, we've got to set up something like the Scott School, but worldwide, so that the 'in community' bits can be done locally, but precious resources are not being wasted on duplication of effort. If God blesses us and wants us to continue, we'll eventually get back to an old system of diocesan or provincial seminaries (in a generation or two), but in the meantime we desperately need to get the next generation of priests trained both intellectually and personally, so that we have something on which to build.

Albion Land said...

I am reminded of what Archbishop Michael Ramsey said in his invaluable book "The Christian Priest Today":

"First, the priest is the teacher and preacher, and as such he is the man of theology. He is pledged to be a dedicated student of theology; and his study need not be vast in extent but it will be deep in its integrity, not in order that he may be erudite but in order that he may be simple."

The Church needs theologians, whose knowledge is not only deep but vast. But I would argue that the calling of the parish priest, while demanding a grasp of the fundamentals of theology, lies more in the other characteristics outlined by Ramsey -- being a man of reconciliation, a man of prayer and a man of the Eucharist.

Anonymous said...

I attended the REC Seminary in PA. It was good teaching but the clergy are "ONLY" clergy if they have a M.Div degree. Not much real focus on Character, although they said they cared about it. Why do so many Churches require an M.Div as the definition of a minister? When historically did that come about? And how relevant is it for us today?

poetreader said...

MDiv used to be a Bachelor's in Theology (normally granted only to those who already have another Bachelor's) Even that was held (at least in the US) by a minority of clergy prior to the Victorian period, and by a majority of them only from the late 19th Century. It seems to have been well into the twentieth century that such an academic degree became a near requirement. Were 18th and 19th century clergy less educated than those of today? Read any sermons of the period? I've known seminary graduates who cannot even follow the content of some of those sermons. I knew a priest, a rather obsure back country vicar named Fr. Dan Goldsmith, who did have a university degree - in agriculture (!) but no theological degree. being ordained under the 'old man's canon'. This man was one of the wisest and holiest clergy I've known (he would have denied both, but they are true labels). I don't see that institutionalizing the academic route as nearly the only possible one has helped the Church in any way, though the institutions need to exist to train those called specifically to the more academic ministries.


Anonymous said...

Well......most men I see with M.Div degree's are not fit to be in ministry, but not all. I also know of many men who have no degree's and are the most Godly men i know. Go figure!
The Scriptures give us only character qualifications and a strong leaning on mentoring. We in the Church today have replaced the cardial for the cognitive and because of that, we suffer a dead Orthodoxy at worse, or an irrelavent ministry at best. I believe it drives many to the Charismatic groups to find what they call "LIFE". One baptist I know who attended the REC Seminary once said..."If it aint moving, its dead!'.