Inspection of TISEC

TISEC – the Theological Institute of the Scottish Episcopal Church has had the inspectors in (from the Ministry Division of the Church of England, since you ask) and they’ve just released their final report.

There is not much for anyone’s comfort in the report as the inspectors indicated that they had no confidence in the governance of TISEC and in its formational ability. Both of these are hugely significant. The later means the ability of the institution to form people appropriately for the ministries that they are being trained for.

I’m not going to say much about this at the moment. There will be many things said and many words spilled over this before the year is out. It is minority interest no doubt for most people who belong to the Scottish Episcopal Church. However, how we train people for ministry is fundamental to who we think we are. There’s a sense about, that this report means significant change – not only for TISEC but also for the church, not least for the Mission and Ministry Board who have the responsibility for overseeing this work. There are funding implications and pastoral implications to this and that’s why, even though I’ve never been shy of speaking about TISEC, at the moment, I’m saying little other than to suggest that anyone who cares about the Scottish Episcopal Church needs to read the report in full for themselves.

And it can be found here:


  1. You are saying nothing Kelvin, doubtless for good reasons. However, I notice comment is open.

    I do not pretend to be learned or academic enough to fully grasp the content of this document.

    I do have experience. In a former life in a solicitor’s office, fashion, MIND, Samaritans, hospitals and other charities. As a member of the Church of England I have been a PCC member, sunday school teacher, pastoral visitor to the sick, particularly the mentally troubled, drug addicted and those facing homelessness and women living in abusive situations. Apart from those in deep mental distress I never experienced rudeness from my co-workers or fear of my person. This only began when I offered myself for Ordination!

    I never experienced rudeness or abuse from co-workers when I ministered in Prisons, Hospices and Hospitals. I did experience it in all church meetings, especially when exploring Inclusive pastoral theology and the guidance of ordinands on placement with me, one of whom is now a Dean – but this person was no good as far as vocational advisors were concerned? Neither was this person protected in any way whatsoever until tranferred to our parish who appreciated their gifts. This gifted person needed our appreciation long after ordination as the powers that be continued to block progress. There were others in the same position.

    How we treat people offering themselves for any kind of Christian vocation – What I find disturbing about this tome is the language which seems to have been culled from commercial, human resource and legal sources. ‘quality control’? I wonder what this is all about. The Church of England goes the same way because they need the money and they are ever likely to when they refuse to attend to the Gospel.

    Some of the document reads as that of a church Instititute in fear of the life of the church – full stop. It seems to be driven by fear of legal redress and, perish the thought, ministers with particular vocations and personalities in particular settings. Of course vocational guidance needs safeguards BUT. To my mind much of what is written and supposed to be guarded against stems from the general malaise affecting all churches – the widespread refusal to accept those whom God sends who are bound to be a motley crew! More controls by control freaks will not answer the problems of exclusion. They may however protect those who wish to put God’s servants in dubious boundaries possibly controlled by dubious servants. Meanwhile, those who might be getting on with ministry may be forced to fill in more forms and tick more boxes or, if they have any sense, make something up to keep the idiots quiet!

    I seem to remember Christ warning against lawyers schemes and dreams and those obsessed with commercial viewpoints. All the tools of losers but not those with a vision for the Body of Christ on earth where risking all for the Kingdom is often our call. Could this possibly include LGBT members and women and divorcees? Until it does no report or formal guidance will ever protect the Church or her servants from self abuse. I close my thoughts with an extract from your sermon as I fear this may continue to be the case for many, some of whom may not proceed to the fulfilling aspect or have a voice:-

    ‘My selection to be a priest was laboured and painful. My training was grim. The way that I’ve been managed has been ghastly. And the truth is, I have a wonderful, fabulous, fulfilling life.’

  2. Daniel Lamont says

    I would like to comment on Rosie’s comment.

    1) I have friends who are ordained priests – in England – who report the kind of rudeness that Rosie identifies and I have witnessed it myself. It is wholly unacceptable and there needs to be a concerted effort from senior clergy and lay people to stamp it out. This kind of rudeness and abuse flies in the face of the injunction ‘to be in love and charity with our neighbour’ but institutions perpetuate it, often under the guise of dismissing it it as being no more than robust interplay between colleagues. It is, in fact, bullying and cannot be tolerated. Why is it?
    2) I also agree with Rosie that the institution seems to be frightened and overly bureaucratic.
    3) However, I don’t agree with Rosie about the report itself. As a retired academic and someone who has done a lot of work for the Quality Assurance Agency for Higher Education (QAA) especially in Scotland, I am of course complicit in the process. I also agree that the language wished on us has too much managerial-speak. One must look behind the commercial language. None the less, the process of external review is, I believe, important and can be helpful. At its core, the process is about assessing the quality of the student’s experience and whether the course of study/preparation is fit for purpose. It is also important that academic standards be consistent. Students who have come through TISEC need to be assured that the qualification is acceptable should they move to another Province. If there isn’t external review, courses can stagnate at best and be damaging at worst. Such reviews are as much about enhancement as about anything else. The report is professional and thorough and makes for uncomfortable reading. Kelvin describes his training as ‘grim’ and I have heard similar comments about ordination training elsewhere. The purpose of such reports as this is to prevent the perpetuation of such ‘grim’ training and to encourage the provision of something which is liberating and genuinely developmental. My own practice as a university teacher of English was immeasurably helped by external reviewers. I don’t think we should dismiss the report but find ways of implementing it so that all TISEC’s student can feel that their vocational potential is released.

    • Rosemary Hannah says

      Indeed there is much to take on board. However, without wishing to down-play the negative aspects of the report, I think it would be in order to point out that it was not wholly negative. Indeed, seven areas were ones the board had ‘confidence’ in and in another seven they had ‘confidence with qualifications’. Recognising this does not mean that Tisec staff members, of whom I am one, are complacent: we recognise the need to improve and keep on improving. It does mean, however, that the changes made since Kelvin was there have begun to make for a more positive experience among the students. The two areas of ‘no confidence’ are of course serious. I do not think it would be appropriate for me to say more in this kind of forum.

  3. Daniel Lamont says

    Rosemary, You are quite right to point out that there is much positive in the report. I am more concerned to support the process and principle of external review and the work of the inspectors than comment in any detail about the content of the report. I am in no position to do that.

    • Rosemary Hannah says

      I would join you in totally supporting external review. Tisec is externally reviewed both by Min Div and by its academic validating body, University of York St John. Three years study at Tisec is accredited and is the equivalent of the first two years of a degree, and the credits earned can be, and indeed have been, used by students wishing to complete a degree. Nobody should be in any doubt that qualifications from Tisec are academically recognised and accepted.

  4. Thank you for posting this link Kelvin.
    It saddens me that among the 50+ recommendations are at least half a dozen which students were asking for almost right from the beginning – most notably a chaplain.

  5. ‘My own practice as a university teacher of English was immeasurably helped by external reviewers. I don’t think we should dismiss the report but find ways of implementing it so that all TISEC’s student can feel that their vocational potential is released’.

    Daniel, I am certain you are correct and far more experienced in external review processes and the wisdom of them than I am. I regret that I tend to pick up on negatives in reports these days but I suppose this is because the dangers of particular prejudices in the Church are just not honestly expressed. This always leaves me with misgivings about how open any student may be about their particular personal situations. My thoughts are not confined to gender issues. Everybody has ‘baggage’ of some sort – either past or on-going. There are peculiar responsibilities attached to the care of those training for Christian ministry and an individual’s spiritual formation may be in danger if their choice of spiritual direction is limited due to prejudice of one kind or another. We all know that Christ works with our weaknesses and individual sensitivities for the good of the whole Body of Christ. Finding genuine, inner disciplined strength as a redemptive outworking of our past and present weaknesses is always an on-going process requiring constant and vigilant discernment. In this regard Kirstin’s comment is particularly relevant:-

    ‘It saddens me that among the 50+ recommendations are at least half a dozen which students were asking for almost right from the beginning – most notably a chaplain’

    When I was working in Cat A prisons I was not in those days required to report everything the prisoners told me to the Senior Prison Chaplain and this was understood by all. I soon discovered this was an important aspect of my ministry as the Head Chaplain was obliged to give rather full reports on prisoners to the regular meetings of the Parole Board. This situation did not always lead to honesty and just conclusions. The Chaplains concerned noted that prisoners were more open with me and I pointed out the spiritual dangers of the reporting system. Several prisoners went on to obtain proper justice for past abuses they had suffered but had hidden from a system they feared. With the best will in the world all institutions are bound to have their weak points from time to time as well as their many strengths. The appointment of a chaplain with whom students may freely confide should have been a priority when such reasonable requests were first voiced. Our human condition longs for standards that allow for the freedom of the Holy Spirit in the life of the worldwide Church. Enabling conditions that allow for the expression of fears and what lies at the heart of them is surely a vital factor in the progress of every individual’s vocation whether this be to lay or ordained ministry. ‘Perfect love casts out fear’ and I wish I could say I was not overly fearful for the Church of England in terms of her vision for justice and freedom for all her members. The fear at work among us has tended to provoke critical responses to many recent documents. Who among us can say whether this is necessarily helpful is always a big question. The big questions in life are always best explored within a loving, transparent worshipping community. Being challenged is often a painful part of the Divine response to a simple question such as ‘Here I am Lord – what do you require of me?’……………I do pray that TISEC will be further enabled by the power of the all embracing Holy Spirit to help students and staff to respond in profound and positive ways.

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