Unpopular things I think and say #2

I think that people who are going to be ordained should have a degree in theology. (Not a one year Masters, either. I mean the equivalent of a Scottish BD).

This week, there are a lot of people in the US who are sitting an examination. Its the week of the year when the General Ordination Examination papers are being sat over there. We have nothing like it. It is a week of quite intensive examination. The papers are not graded but rather “evaluated” and the results sent to dioceses where bishops (presumably taking the advice of others) then decide whether someone should proceed to be ordained.

I think there was a GOE in Scotland at one point, but no more. Did we just bolt on to the English GOE? I’ve no idea.

It is worth pausing for a moment to look at what the US examinations cover. A Short Summary of what GOE candidates should know is available online. There are also some past papers available online here and here.

Now, I’m not going to play a game of looking over the pond to claim that the grass is greener over there. I’ve no doubt that the examination is pretty daunting for some candidates. It might be interesting for some of the critics of the US Episcopal church to cast an eye down the syllabus. Celebrating pagan masses, becoming a priest who is also a muslim, blessing polygamous relationships or being obsessed with same-sex marriage somehow do not seem to be at the forefront of what it means to be an Episcopal priest in the States.

However, it does remind me of the number of times I have said in meetings that people should have degree level training in theology before being let loose in congregational ministry. The kinds of things I learnt when doing my BD which overlap with the things that are in the GOE summary above are things that I would regard as being basic tools for my ministry. I don’t think that rigorous academic theology is an optional extra.

Doesn’t make me popular, that view. I don’t think that theological training based fundamentally around theological reflection comes anywhere near giving people the skills they will need in congregations. It might give them some tools they can use as use as helpful pastoral carers, but that is not the full extent of what priesthood is about.

Do I “reflect theologically” from time to time? Of course I do. Is that theological reflection enhanced immeasurably by having done a couple of theological degrees? Of course it is.

One caveat that I would add to the claim that people need to do theological degrees is that if they do them at institutions which have a stated or assumed doctrinal position then the person should also have to do (and be expected to enjoy doing) some theological work with people from other theological positions.

Can wisdom be measured with an examination? Can spirituality be quantified by what you can write down in three hours on a bit of paper? Can someone’s potential as a priest be distilled down into a week of examination papers?

I know that the answer to these questions is obviously “no”.

Does that change my assertion that I think people who want to be ordained should have degrees in theology.

Apparently not.