Levels of Success – Academic Qualifications and Ordination Training

Does ordination training leave people unable to see the ministerial wood from the academic trees? (Cuddesdon, November 2013)
Does ordination training leave people unable to see the ministerial wood from the academic trees? (Cuddesdon, November 2013)

I have never given up on a project, job or academic qualification, until this winter.

As Christians we are encouraged to act with integrity. As ordination candidates and ordinands we have to be honest about our strengths and weaknesses. As a curate, I’ve been put through the Myers Briggs ringer which told me roughly what I knew already, once the ‘boarderline’ was accounted for.

So why, when candidates explain that they learn best in a particular way, know through years of experience that they won’t be suited to certain academic routes, are they pressurised into a certain route? Is an academic qualification really a good measure of what makes a decent priest?

I started ordination training on an MA track knowing it didn’t suit me, but being given no choice since I already had an FdA in Ministry awarded in 2010. A year ago (tomorrow) I explained how difficult this was proving, and downgraded to attempting to complete a PGDip. I have never progressed much further than I had then.

I quit the academic path completely just before Christmas when I broke down for the umpteenth time over a portfolio whose subject matter I was really interested in. Try as I might, I simply couldn’t retain the theological ideas to critique it long enough to do more than go round in circles of thought.

It was my supervisor who asked: did I actually need the PGDip to satisfy my Diocese or Bishop?

The answer was no, they didn’t, but no-one had suggested that before. In fact at my pre-ordination interview the Bishop had shown his concern over my lack of academic progress, and he charged me to complete the work. Yet, when asked by our Training Officer in December, it appears he happily agreed that I quit where I’d got to, so I could simply focus on my parish work and IME.

I haven’t engaged deeply in how the Common Awards are working out. I know last summer Cuddesdon were hoping that where candidates were ‘upgrading’ from previous ministerial qualifications (as I was), an alternative to the concentrated academic rigours of an MA could be offered over the 2 years part-time or (when pushed) mixed-mode that Min Div will fund. I hope so, because it’s oh so nearly broken me and knocked away what little confidence I had in being able to fullfil my calling to ordained life.

Teaching needs to be linked directly to the academic output expected (at whatever level is really appropriate to the candidate, and not simply wishful thinking on advisers part or sought for misplaced kudos), not structured in counterpoint to lecture material as I experienced. Don’t get me wrong, the lectures were largely excellent, just rarely related to to what I was reading or writing up for a particular portfolio. For those whose brains are ‘wired’ like mine, that creates an incredibly high hurdle.

Those who struggle with anything academic shouldn’t be put off, or emotionally and spiritually fractured, by either not being selected in the first place because of it (which anecdotally I fear happens), or by being placed by the system onto an inappropriate level of training that hasn’t listened to a candidates own self-knowledge of how they learn – especially in older candidates for whom the greasy pole of preferment isn’t realistic and is certainly no attraction!

My experiences have left me with several psychological hurdles to climb as I’ve started my ordained life. Thankfully important things like faith and family life have remained intact, just. I have also made good friends through college, and wouldn’t have wished to study anywhere else – Cuddesdon is a great place.

And, I’ve not quite left empty handed; 4 portfolios at M-level apparently make up a PGCert, but rather than the success I should be regarding my ‘Merit’ as, I have to say the system has made it feel far more like failure.



  1. I did the test you linked to and got ESFJ, although I have always thought of myself as an introvert. In the past I have given more importance to my failures than my successes. I don’t think that is particularly helpful. Sue


  2. “Is an academic qualification really a good measure of what makes a decent priest?”

    No, if course it isn’t. It’s possible to be a brilliant academic, and a less than brilliant priest. BUT I think people have a right to expect their priest to be theologically educated. Just how theologically educated any given priest needs to be is a difficult question. And how to achieve the appropriate level of theological education for any given priest is another question again.

    I have every sympathy with you being forced to adapt a learning style which was totally alien to you. A different establishment may, perhaps, have been able to offer a different approach. I certainly wouldn’t view your achievement as failure!

    In my training days, I wasn’t allowed to do an MA because my diocese wouldn’t fund it, and wouldn’t let me fund it myself. Their argument was I already had a Masters, so a Diploma was adequate. It just goes to show that the approaches of different dioceses varies hugely (never mind the variations of bishops on different days).

    The Church of England still hasn’t sorted out the difference between calling to “primary” and “secondary” leadership and the need to pay a stipend or not. To ask it to recognise and cater for different learning styles is likely to be, sadly, a step too far for now.

    However, none of this will undermine your ministry. The only people who ever care what theological qualification I hold from which establishment seem to be fellow clergy!

    Liked by 1 person

  3. You got a post grad cert with merit, which far from being a failure! What makes a priest is love: ‘I may speak with the tongues of men and Angels, I may fathom all mysteries, but without love I am a clashing cymbal, nothing’ as St Paul might have paraphrased 1 Corinthians 13…

    Liked by 1 person

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