Training Ground: Ridley Hall, Cambridge 1978-80
by Graham Kings
Date added: 14/03/2023
What do you expect of your new curates? Do you think those years at theological college have prepared them adequately to face the realities of parish life, or do you rather imagined that they have been cocooned and cloistered in academic irrelevance?
In considering the demands of ministry today, it seems to me that a theological college should provide four basic areas of training: in the knowledge and love of God, of people, of the church and of the world.
First, a minister should have a firm grasp of theological truth as well as a deep faith in the living God. I have found the academic study of God to be challenging and edifying, and in Ridley the doctrine lectures and supervisions have also raised points of pastoral relevance. The corporate spiritual life of the college has been rather dry at times but there has been refreshment in various prayer meetings and fellowship groups that have sprung up, and in the official ‘quiet days’ (for prayer and reflection) at the end of each term.
Second, a minister should be able to face up to his own personal identity and also be able to relate sensitively to other people. The pastoral courses at the beginning and end of each term and the elementary course in human growth and development have certainly opened my eyes in this respect and have introduced me to new areas of study. The Cambridge Local Education Authority’s youth leaders’ scheme has involved valuable contact with caring non-Christians on the residential weekends, and with tough youngsters on weekly placements.
Third, a minster should recognise and serve the needs of the church. At Ridley I do not feel I have been ‘clericalised’: in fact, I have been heartened by the emphasis on ‘every member ministry’ and on breaking down the clergy/laity barrier; yet should this not be reflected in the whole set-up of the college? At the moment, only clergy teach future clergy and the college is not involved in lay training.
Ridley, an evangelical college, is a member of an ecumenical federation together with three other Cambridge theological colleges (Anglo-Catholic, Methodist, and United Reformed). This sharing in various courses and conferences, in meals and worship in the evenings, has helped to remove prejudices and also to clarify real disagreements.
The background to liturgy, the birth and phenomenon of the Alternative Service Book 1980, and the relationship between form and freedom in chapel have all stimulated us to reflect deeply on the meaning of worship.
In Ridley there has been a particular stress on urban ministry and a month’s placement last summer revealed to me the demands of such a ministry. Regular local church attachments and, for some, involvement in the University Christian Union, have also afforded valuable experience in preaching, leading worship, and pastoral care.
Fourth, a minister should have some understanding of the ‘world’ and how to relate to it. In our federation, basic teaching in psychology and sociology is provided for all. I enjoyed working on a sociology project in Stevenage, and saw the importance of contact between police, the council, the church and various voluntary bodies. Many students spend a month in the summer working in a factory to gain some idea of the pressure of life on the shop floor. Other options included race-relations work, prison and hospital visiting. The ethics course proved to be a spur to further study.
The two weakest areas of teaching, it seems to me, have been apologetics (the justification of Christian belief) and mission. The ideological warfare being waged in the world is something which we shall find reflected, perhaps subtly, in our parishes and I feel that better equipping is needed. There have been courses on local church evangelism and most of us go on at least one mission but there is a lack of theological teaching on mission, profound reflection on strategy and culture, and a challenging review of the world-wide task. In general, a sense of the urgency of evangelism is missing.
I hope these thoughts of one still in training at theological college will stimulate you to pray imaginatively for your new curates.
Crossway No 1 June 1980, published by Church Society
Graham Kings spent a year in the army before reading law and theology at Oxford, and a year as a verger/caretaker before training for ordination at Ridley Hall, Cambridge.