The aim of the training programme is to prepare the whole person for mission and ministry in the contemporary world. There are taught courses in both mission and ministry, whose aim is to help students to develop their understanding of the mission of God and the tasks of ministry in today’s world. There are also taught courses in human development and in pastoral practice, to equip students with an understanding of what it means to live a fully human life and how pastoral care is responsibly exercised. In addition there are optional courses in pastoral psychology, covering topics such as group dynamics, conflict, sexuality, mental health issues and human identity.
The placement programme offers students a rich variety of experience to enable them to become familiar with the range of worship styles represented in the Church of England; with pastoral care in different contexts; to stretch themselves by accepting the challenge of unfamiliar situations; and to practice their skills in attentive listening, practical service, preaching and leading worship, responsible initiative and theological reflection.
For most students one afternoon per week is devoted to a community-based placement. There is a variety of placements available, such as in a hospital, school or prison, working with asylum seekers, homeless people, or with the elderly. The choice of placement follows discussion between the student and the Director of Pastoral Studies.
On Sundays during term times, students are on placement at a local church, perhaps of their own tradition, perhaps at a church very different from their own previous experience. First year students are expected mainly to observe and reflect on their experience, second and third year students to preach and lead worship on a regular basis.
During the summer, students undertake a four week parish based placement. Usually this placement is an important time of transition from lay to ordained ministry. Students both shadow their supervisor, who will usually be the vicar of the parish, and work on their own initiative. Summer placements may take place in the local area, in the area of the student’s own home or in another part of the country, and a few students do their summer placement overseas.
Those without significant experience of the life and work of the church in our inner cities are encouraged, where family circumstances allow, to do their placement in an urban area. To make this possible the College has a range of contacts with experienced clergy in the Dioceses of Southwark and Sheffield and a few elsewhere.
Those students who follow a three year course for the Oxford University BTh will be expected to undertake an extended placement of a term working in an urban or semi-urban situation. Single students will spend the time in an inner-city parish following a designated course of study in partnership with another theological college and working in a local parish.
Good listening – to God, to oneself and to other people – is the foundation of effective ministry. In the first year, courses are offered in the skills of attentive listening at both a basic and an intermediate level, to take into account students’ previous training and experience.
A second key skill is the ability to apply theory to practice and to practise ministry in a manner that is theologically informed. Theological reflection is the skill that brings theory and practice together. Although unfamiliar at first, most students quickly get the hang of Theological Reflection and use it enthusiastically to help them get the most out of their placements. Our most recent Bishops’ Inspection told us that we are outstanding in helping students to become reflective practitioners.
At the end of the first year, students follow a course in communication, which focuses on some of the important areas of preparation for the ministry of preaching, such as the nature of communication in contemporary society, Biblical interpretation, authority in ministry and the preacher’s relationship with the congregation. In the second year there is a series of workshops, looking at various aspects of sermon preparation, such as structure, visual images, the language of the preacher, introductions and conclusions. Students then bring all this together in preaching groups where they give and receive constructive criticism on their sermons.
Four times each year a week is given over to focussing intensively on one particular aspect of ministry. All students undertake weeks on communication; leadership; sacraments; the use of the Bible; and death, dying and bereavement. In addition there are opportunities to follow courses in rural ministry; inter-faith dialogue; marriage and family life; faith and work; congregational studies; financial leadership in the parish; community mission; and working with children and young people. These courses are led partly by College staff and partly by guest presenters but all are experts in their field. The range of themed study weeks is constantly developing to meet current needs in ministry and mission.
All students are expected to be in regular spiritual direction throughout their time in College and help is available to find spiritual directors. Also, regularly each term, College brings in external spiritual directors, male and female, ordained and lay, for students and partners. An introductory course in spirituality in the Michaelmas Term gives new students focussed experience of prayer and begins to provide tools for establishing a sustaining prayer life. The weekly sessions act as a lens through which much of the rest of College activity can be understood to be formative, so that students and partners know priestly formation to be about more than only academic pursuits.
Each term there is a Quiet Day, and there is a six-week 'Retreat in Daily Life' in the Hilary Term. The Retreat very much builds on what has been explored in the introductory course. The College chaplaincy team spends much of their time each week listening to students and partners, and helping them discover and develop spiritual practices and attitudes which express and sustain their lives as Christian ministers and disciples.