Theological conference calls for new clergy training standards

Published January 13, 2010

Chateauguay, Montreal 

Anglican delegates to the first National Conference on Theological Education here have agreed to re-examine how they prepare candidates for ministry given the church’s changing context and crisis of leadership.

At present, very little exists in terms of national standards, and dioceses have their own methods of preparing and accepting candidates for priesthood.

At the start of the conference held Jan. 5-7, delegates were asked: “Are we prepared to make radical changes necessary to theological education to meet the needs of the church at this time?”

There was “reasonable consensus that this is a matter that should be given the highest priority,” said the diocesan bishop of Ottawa, John Chapman, who chaired the task force that planned the conference. “…There is a crisis of leadership and our capacity for leadership, and we need to address it. Good leadership leads to healthy communities and congregations.”

A summary of feedback given by conference delegates appeared to indicate that setting common national standards for the ordination of clergy is a good idea. “The only caveat,” explained Bishop Chapman in an interview, “…was that these common standards and outcomes and expectations would be exercised and interpreted locally. “That’s critical, given the diversity – geographically and culturally, of the church.”

Bishop Chapman said feedback and recommendations from the conference will be forwarded to General Synod’s faith, worship, and ministry committee, whose members will develop a proposal. A request will also be made for the primate to create a commission on presbyteral formation and education.

The church can no longer keep doing the same things that may have worked in the 1950s but are not applicable to today’s realities, said Canon Eric Beresford, president of the Atlantic School of Theology. “It’s like making canoes in the desert,” he said. “We need to change what we do.”

Currently, guidelines used to screen those seeking to train for priesthood in the Anglican Church of Canada come from a 1986 document, “Prerequisites for Ordination,” from the House of Bishops and the Advisory Committee on Postulants for Ordination (ACPO). TheACPO recommendations are non-binding.

Bishop Chapman described the conference as “a success” and “a fabulous beginning. The church is such these days that there is an appetite for collaborative work and that’s exciting,” he said, adding there the common goal now “is to heighten the effectiveness and productivity of our presbyteral leadership in the church.”


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