If you don’t ask, you won’t get!? Ordination Training

This newly fledged squab (young Wood Pigeon) had to keep asking to get the care and food it needed! Photographed 15th Feb 2014 at a blustery dusk.
This newly fledged squab (young Wood Pigeon – right) had to keep asking to get the care and food it needed! Photographed 15th Feb 2014 at a blustery dusk.

I don’t know about you, but at times it seems that we’re always being expected to chase things up. It’s like we’re living in a culture of “if you don’t ask, you won’t get”.

In church life, experience tells me, that a personal challenge or request for assistance gets better results than general requests in the notices, and in the case of pew sheet and parish magazine articles, possibly the least said about the typical response rate the better! Or have I just had bad experiences over the years?

I remember many years ago in a church plant, we tried for months to get a second team together to lead the worship band on a rota basis, rather than doing it every week. It was only when my mother died, and we simply weren’t available for several weeks on the trot, that something happened; hey presto a second band had formed, and the result was a rotation of musicians/bands in the years that followed. Situations like this possibly contributed to the fact that, whatever the context I was in, in the years that followed I tended to ask lots of questions of people to try and get answers, get things done, move things forward, for me or for others. It didn’t always make me popular.

The young squab being well fed and cared for! We saw them both again next morning - the squab had made it through the night!
The young squab being well fed and cared for! We saw them both again next morning – the squab had made it through the night!

When I started ordination training I thought I’d try a different tack. I decided to be less pushy, and not to make myself into the total pain I feared I’d been in Reader Training. I’d wait to see what guidance, support etc I got, given that much was promised from various sources. Some things did quietly materialise in the background, but in other respects, nothing.

I’m not blaming anyone, because I think the cause was largely unrealistic workloads on those meant to be supporting us, but, for example, the building of a support network linking college, sending parish and student, didn’t materialise. I quietly got on with using the one I developed for myself. History is repeating itself though, as I know colleagues the year below me are also having to be self-reliant in this respect. If this is acceptable, perhaps the college ought not to create the expectation it’s needed in the first place?!

The same seems to be true of getting essays marked, at least at M-level. Because the few of us doing it are meant to pick and chose (with guidance) our portfolio subjects, we’re only ever an odd one or two people doing a subject and each to their own essay title or portfolio focus. Hand-in dates aren’t set in the same way, and getting marks back has never yet happened without me asking, nor within the two week period laid out in the course handbook.

At times colleagues have described to me how they don’t feel their Diocese, via their Diocesan Director of Ordinands (DDO), is interested in them. They start college, residential or part-time, and have a sense of abandonment especially in the middle year (if they’re on a three year course). Decisions made at one point aren’t followed up with a “how’s it working out?” type conversations.

That is unless, like me, you get to a stage (in my first year of two) where you have to shout for help because for whatever reason, things have gone wrong, and you’re not coping. I am now very, very glad that curate friends made me go see my DDO and tutors last year when things were getting out of hand – they made it quite clear you had to ask for such such ‘pastoral’ support from your diocese. That was the point where I gave up being less pushy and as a result have received great support and encouragement from my DDO, but I know of others who have simply decided that their Diocese don’t care (which I don’t think is the case, or I don’t want to think is the case).

But it struck me the other day, reading Archbishop Welby’s speech to General Synod, that this doesn’t really balance with the God of abundant grace that we’re expected to model. The Archbishop was talking about the need for cultural change within the church, and the way in which different traditions/factions approach each other within the church. Specifically he identified the Church of England as

… an untidy church.  It has incoherence, inconsistency between dioceses and between different places.  It’s not a church that says we do this and we don’t do that.  It’s a church that says we do this and we do that and actually quite a lot of us don’t like that but we are still going to do it because of love.

Oh boy, is he so right with respect to how different diocese select, support and appoint clergy!

I know I’m a simple soul, but it strikes me that if we don’t model love, abundant grace, taking time for people, asking for and listening to their needs and points of view, etc… towards the ‘young’ newly fledging, church’s leaders of the future, how can they then be expected to model it onwards into their own ministry and relationships?

If the church doesn’t resource modelling the first steps on the ministerial journey with the appropriate staffing levels (be that at diocese or in colleges), then we fall back on the life-style of “if you don’t ask, you won’t get”, and we’ll never manage to show the counter-cultural, grace-filled, heroic and courageous ministers and churches that we are called to become.



  1. Very interesting post….my experience in training at Stets and as a curate in Portsmouth diocese was a very positive one


    • In some ways mine has been too, there is just this sense I am getting from others too, that more care could be given. It’s not enough to say stuff is ‘formational’, however true that might be. DDOs & Bishops’ also need to know enough of their ordinands to have some idea how they are being changed/moulded through training, and how this might affect their future ministry. This doesn’t seem to always be the case from my observations (& I am not necessarily talking about my own experiences).


  2. This post is asking some really important questions, and as ever, I suspect there are answers which lead in opposite directions. There’s the question of following a personalised course which sounds great as it potentially allows one to learn what is most helpful – but then the learning as part of a group is lost, and also the rhythm of assessment that is built into following a course with other students. Will each of us gain most from a personal academic path or from being part of a cohesive learning community?

    The the question of DDO. probably again linked to too much being asked of individuals so that perfection isn’t possible. Should DDOs etc be modelling “abundant grace” if what that looks like is the leader mo
    Then there is the question of whether continuity from pre-selection to ordination is a better model than changing DDOs at the most vulnerable point of the process – when beginning training. it’s not easy to get to know someone who is not around in the diocese much. I didn’t see much or hear much from my DDO whilst in college but I had got to know her well over several years so that if I needed to talk we knew where we were with each other. But like Alison, I found that STETS was very well organised pastorally and very supportive both spiritually and practically. The local tutor added another layer of support and encouragement/challenge, though I know some were better than others at this.

    Lots of questions!


  3. Some of my comment got lost! In the second paragraph I am asking at what pint “abundant grace” and being there for students/ordinands becomes modelling a life that leaves no room for personal space and recuperation o n the part of the DDO (or other leader)


    • Thank you Rosalind, as always, for picking up on my thoughts & giving them some direction.

      The one thing I would say, is that I don’t think adding extra load onto individual DDOs is the way forward (it wasn’t my intention to suggest that), nor streamlining ministry depts, but I do think there ought to be enough DDOs in the right places to really build relationships that will start a (new?), ongoing, focus on the pastoral care of clergy – something that from my reading of the Church Times, & comments on fb, doesn’t seem to be widely available.


  4. I agree about the need for pastoral care and structures and networks that allow for this. But if the ordinand is going to move to a new diocese at the end of training, it isn’t possible to develop an on-going relationship, and the DDO isn’t necessarily the best person to do this. I wonder whether courses are better at this sort of care (certainly for pt students) than colleges because they are more aware of how isolated an ordinand can feel. I can certainly say that one term when our cohort was feeling particularly vulnerable because we were on placements and we expressed this (with a particular request for that weekend) the request was heard and acted on within 24 hours.
    But in the end, it is the informal relationships and networks that support us as individuals in any kind of work and ministry, I think.


  5. My training was a nightmare in terms of receiving grace from anyone – there did come a point where I had to call in some help but it was a situation that was created by a lack of clarity about how things should be happening re curacies. And I’m afraid the help was from people I knew could exercise some influence on my behalf and not from the people who should have been giving it. Some bits of my ministerial ‘journey’ have been much better than this, and others even worse. I don’t think being ‘pushy’ does you any harm at all in most circumstances but it shouldn’t come to that because we all have different communication styles. Rosalind’s question about what we can expect of people who, in the end, are themselves juggling lots of priorities is a good one and points to some bigger questions about work loads and expectations.

    I’ve never had any success setting up any of the support that has been officially required of me, but have found there is lots of support out there in all sorts of styles!


    • Thank you Pam & Rosalind for the wisdom of years in ministry. I am grateful to you both, & others, who have been there giving me strength & wisdom over several years. Social media has itself been a God-send in getting me, or keeping me, connected with with some truly wonderful people.


  6. And then there is the question of support for the husbands and wives (and children) of ordinands who didn’t even choose the vocation or have the calling but are equally part of the formation process. We are all created as relational beings and need to live in community with others, how this works out with the selection and training for ministry for all involved is a difficult subject but one that needed to be grappled with. Thank you for wrestling with it here!


    • Ali, if you haven’t met it, can I recommend a book by Matthew Caminer called ‘A clergy husbands survival guide’ http://www.amazon.co.uk/A-Clergy-Husbands-Survival-Guide/dp/0281067902. Matthew (a clergy spouse) did his first ever spouses session here at Cuddesdon. When I caught up with him last week, he explained that he has since refined these into sessions into two forms; one for couples of whom one is an ordinand (at our Principle, Martyn Percy’s insistence both halves of the couple have to attended the same session), and a similar one for those couples of whom one is just beginning the discernment process as to whether or not they are called to the priesthood. There are also now online groups for clergy spouses, once one half of the couple is ordained, but not yet one that I’m aware of for ordinands. However, some colleges encourage spouses to come for part of some residential courses – case in point the weekend I’m currently at where there have so far been two spouses and one set of kids appear. It’s actually been really interesting to have them sitting in on some of our sessions and have them free to join in and put forward their thoughts – including at one presentation today where the subject of workload expectations was up for grabs!

      (Something else I perhaps ought to write a proper post about, thanks for the question.)


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