The Hind Report on Theological Education: Reviewing Progress

Theological training in the Church of England has been marked by periods of change and upheaval, with periods of stability in between. Perhaps the most significant change in the last couple of hundred years was the establishment of new colleges in the nineteenth century and the move away from training through Oxbridge colleges. More recently, the establishment of training courses, the replacement of the General Ordination Exam, and the requirement of each institution to set out its vision for ministry and training have been very significant developments. But the biggest recent challenge to thinking about training has undoubtedly come in the form of the report Formation for Ministry within a Learning Church. It was produced by a group who met and discussed for the best part of three years under the chairmanship of John Hind, Bishop of Chichester-hence its common title, the 'Hind report.' Progress on its implementation is to be reviewed in this Synod.

Following a draft released in 2002, it was formally debated by General Synod in July 2003. Its strengths appeared to be an emphasis on partnership between different groups involved in training in colleges, courses and around the dioceses, and a sense of an integrated vision for learning right across the various ministries in the Church. However, from early on, there were suspicions that other agendas were making their covert presence felt:

  • The ever-present desire to save money; this is refuted in several places in the document 'Reviewing Progress' which is to be debated.
  • The concern in some quarters not to allow 'market forces' to decide on the future of colleges. In one of the briefing sessions in the July 2003 Synod, the idea that colleges should close because few ordinands chose to train there was described as 'Thatcherite free-market economics.'

Apart from these suspicions, there were specific concerns about the Hind proposals, and many of these found their way into substantial amendments to the report in the Synod debate.

  • Firstly, there appeared to be too much emphasis on ministry as a professional task, and too little on ministry as exercising and nurturing discipleship. Although discipleship got a mention at the beginning of the report, it seemed thereafter to disappear from view.
  • This was then reflected in the language used about what it means to be a learning Church. At every point, 'learning' appeared to be equated with 'formal education'. So for curates to be learning appeared inevitably to involved them taking time away from the parish to pursue further courses of study. The problem with this educationally is that it focuses on the intentional and formal aspects of training. The non-intentional and informal aspects (such as socialisation) remain, but was is missing is the intentional but informal processes - otherwise known as 'mentoring' or 'apprenticeship.' These are the ways of learning that have disappeared from secular training in the drive to expand higher education, but they are crucial in ministerial formation, and in particular in the development of pioneer missional leaders.
  • The research on the financial figures appeared to be very thin. It was rumoured that the numbers were added to the report late in the day, but it was certainly the case that they were often set out in the broadest possible terms. I was a member of the group looking at possible alternative sources of funding to find the £1 million it was apparently going to cost to implement the proposals on curates' training. As we looked, we found one paragraph in the report which offered this figure, and it contained no actual research about the real costs of what was being proposed. It did not give us confidence.
  • The proposals for re-organising training were felt by many to be cumbersome and over-centralising; collaboration is clearly going to be important, but there was great hesitation about the proposal of regional organisations with their own administration and budgets, when practical, less formal cooperation would have done equally well.

So how has implementation been affected by these concerns? And how does the document 'Reviewing Progress' fare in addressing them?

On centralisation there is some real acknowledgement of the concerns, and an allowing of greater flexibility. A report on the governance of regional training partnerships (RTPs) was published at the end of 2004, but the Reviewing document notes that this was widely considered to be too prescriptive and rigid. The disappointment is that it does not then come clean and admit that the original proposals were not workable, and that the concept of RTP should be dropped. The report on what is happening in different regions tacitly recognises the variety of approaches, which is good-but it still uses the same language of RTP. In some places a distinctive entity called an RTP may come into being. But in many more, there will be loose confederations or even simply practical agreements on working together. It would be helpful to recognise this properly in a change of vocabulary.

On the financial question, it is agreed that integrating the training of curates (in continuing ministerial education, CME) organisationally and financially will not work, and so the House of Bishops has agreed to continue to fund this within dioceses rather than centrally through apportionment. This is a significant, and needed, move away from the original Hind proposals.

Elsewhere, however, the financial thinking does not appear to have become any clearer. The figure suggested for research looks like a revision out of the air of a number originally plucked out of the air-but the group reviewing this will hopefully think this through carefully. There are several places where the additional work done by those in training on processing the Hind proposals is acknowledged-but there is still no suggestion that this work should be costed or allowed for in training budgets. This is in spite of the matter being raised explicitly in Synod, and specific commitments being given on behalf of Ministry Division. Until we cost additional work, we avoid hard questions about whether or not this work is worthwhile, and what other things we might stop doing to allow this to happen.

On the educational question, there is not much of encouragement. The language of learning and of education still appears to be confused; if we are to use the language of the church as a 'school of theology' we need to be extremely careful what we mean by this. Interestingly, the confusion between learning and study here parallels the questions being asked of the Government's policy in the expansion of higher education.

I am pleased to see some acknowledgement of the rethinking that has needed to happen in the light of the challenges to and problems of the original Hind report. But for me, some of the key questions remain, and this review does not address them.

  • Partnership must be the way forward in developing flexible ways of training-but this has been happening already and is developing anyway for other reasons.
  • Changes to training in the past have most usually come from the innovation of practitioners and subsequent recognition of the value of this, rather than through schemes imposed from the centre. Why cannot this be the case now?
  • The one thing that is missing from all this is affirming the importance of stipendiary ministry for a lively and growing church. In our (right) affirmation of other forms of ministry, we are in danger of forgetting this core part of it.
  • As I speak to and meet people in churches and deaneries, the one thing they are never reticent about is funding for good training for their ministers. How is it that this enthusiasm rarely seems to shape the language and discussion at the centre?

It is time to move on from Hind, and turn over a fresh page in our thinking about training.

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