Why residential training is here to stay
Residential theological training will play a vital role in the training landscape of the future because it provides an excellent way of preparing women and men for a lifetime of servant leadership in the widest possible range of contexts. Michael Volland, Principal of Ridley Hall in Cambridge, sees seven compelling reasons for the Church to continue to invest wholeheartedly in residential training.
7 Reasons Why Theological Education is Here to Stay
- A fundamental feature of residential training is the way that it facilitates spiritual formation. Residential training compels the experience of the disciplines of daily corporate worship, living in community and having to learn to cope with others who are different, as well as confronting issues within oneself that might never be spotted or addressed where contact with tutorial staff and the learning community is less frequent.
- Closely related to spiritual formation is training in grace. It is important that future Church leaders experience grace in their day-to-day relations with others in order to be able more fully to understand it, live it and communicate it. Residential training offers an unmatched opportunity for such an experience. Close, extended exposure to the lives of people the Church recognises to be good examples of Christian discipleship is vital for the development of mature and stable priests and lay leaders. A few years after leaving residential training, an ordinand sent me the following message, ‘I cant even find the words to tell you how much being at College meant to me. We have been enabled in our ministries by the personalities, minds and prayers of godly and inspirational tutors’.
- Residential training provides the time and space necessary to enable ordinands to become theologians who can articulate the Christian faith from a position of deep, integrated knowledge. Residential training normally offers more contact hours and the possibility of a more intensive academic programme. The gifts of time and space have a financial cost but this represents value for money for a Church that is committed to identifying, training and releasing a generation of pastor theologians along with those who will become the theological educators of the future.
- Residential colleges that have an active and healthy relationship with a local university are able to ensure academic accountability and intellectual integrity. Such a relationship offers a way into the resources and opportunities of the university and has the potential to spark imaginative engagement with contemporary ideas and a love for deeper thinking. The relationship also ensures that students don’t unintentionally collude with an anti-intellectual approach to Christian faith and a suspicion of scholarship. A church that downgrades or dismisses the importance of Christian scholarship will soon be a church with shallow disciples and little of worth to contribute to public debates on the complex issues of the day.
- Residential training offers a supportive environment for individuals and families to prepare for a way of life that is likely to involve regular disruption. Participation in a residential college can mean an individual or a family having to move. However, whether we like it or not, Christian leadership involves regular disruption, including a move after curacy and probably every five to seven years or so thereafter. Part of the unwritten curriculum of residential training involves immersion into the pressures and stresses incurred in ordained ministry. Many find it better to learn to cope with some of these issues with the support of a residential community than to experience them for the first time on their own in a curacy or first incumbency.
- Residential training can offer a window into the real life of what a community of grace can become. We reject the tired cliché of residential training as isolation from ‘real life’, de-skilling, and a lack of integration of life experiences. A majority of residential colleges prize creativity and innovation and all ensure that students have regular weekly involvement with a range of people through a parish or chaplaincy attachment, as well as experiences of immersion in community services through hospices, hospitals, prisons and other facilities. ‘Real life’ is wherever people are. Ministry is not something that a person in residential training will eventually do, but is an ongoing, everyday experience of living in Christ with others.
- Residential training offers genuine value for money. For many, the most powerful argument against residential training is cost. There are two important challenges to this point of view. Firstly, those with experience of business know that you have to spend money to make money. If giving is declining, the Church needs to spend more money on training, not less, to ensure that its clergy understand and can communicate the joy and grace of sacrificial giving, after the image of our Creator. Secondly, a Church that trusts God to provide abundantly for its needs refuses to weigh the future in terms of the financial bottom line. This is un-theological and un-Christian. The Church is called by Christ to think and act in line with the coming kingdom. We serve a generous God. The Church of the future will trust Him for the resources necessary to ensure the continued flourishing of residential training because we are committed to giving our future leaders the best possible preparation for mission and ministry.
As you consider the seven points, above, I invite you to give thanks for our residential theological colleges, which continue to be communities in which women and men are transformed by the Spirit of God for lives of self-sacrificial loving service for the sake of Jesus Christ. If you are considering training for lay or ordained ministry, please consider this a warm invitation to come and look at what we are doing at Ridley Hall. For more information explore this website. We look forward to meeting you!
Revd Dr Michael Volland
Principal, Ridley Hall, Cambridge
Download 7 reasons why residential training is here to stay (pdf)