Monday, July 29, 2013

Anglican Theological Education, Part 1

I read a very interesting book recently by David Dowland and published by Oxford University Press entitled "Nineteenth-Century Anglican Theological Training." I discovered this work accidentally while researching theological material for APA postulants in our overseas provinces and missions to use in their training and preparation for ministry.

This monograph tells the story of the founding of the theological colleges St. David's, Lampeter; King's College, London; St. Aidan's, Birkenhead; St. John's, Highbury, and Kelham. These, and many other similar schools, were established by various people in the Church of England in the nineteenth century as an alternative to Oxford and Cambridge for educating and forming men for the sacred ministry.

Throughout the nineteenth century there was a shortage of priests in the Church. One of the factors that contributed to this was social class and its corollary - economic status. Men of lower economic and social status often had not the privilege of attending good public schools, and certainly not the ancient universities because they were too expensive. This was an often insurmountable barrier to them taking Holy Orders. Most bishops wanted their clergy to be "graduates." But the need for clergy in rural areas, missions, and other places essentially became too great for the Church to ignore these untapped reserves of men.

So different men took it upon themselves to establish theological colleges to form and educate "non-graduates" for the ministry. Some of these were bishops, others were priests, others were established by groups of people. The colleges were often formed along party lines, with schools like St. Aidan's and St. John's being evangelical and low church in emphasis, and Kelham being of a more high church emphasis.

The schools not only addressed the concern of educating non-graduates for the ministry, but also other concerns that the Church was facing at the time and which were not being addressed by the universities. St. David's, Lampeter, for example, was concerned to teach men to speak and read Welsh to better minister to the local population. The ancient universities were simply not doing that.

Obviously, the colleges faced numerous challenges. These were... financial - they relied largely on tuition to survive; administrative - the charismatic leaders who started the institutions often ended up being major obstacles to their growth and prosperity; and social - they and their students were viewed as inferior to the ancient universities. This especially was an ongoing problem into the 20th century.

But eventually they came to be received as normal schools for ministry, with graduates reaching some of the higher posts in the church (archdeacons, bishops, etc.). Perhaps the ultimate level of acceptance was reached when George Carey, a graduate of King's College and Durham, became Archbishop of Canterbury in 1991.

This is an interesting book for those interested in theological education and ministerial formation. The question, though, is why am I writing about it here on these pages? The answer is because the history of these schools, and their founding and development, relates very much to contemporary theological education and priestly formation especially as it concerns continuing Anglicans. Next time I will write about some of the insights I gained from this book regarding founding theological schools, and priestly education and formation with regard to my own tradition as a continuing Anglican churchman.

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