• Rebecca Brierley

Training Vs Education

A guest blog by Journey of Hope participant Phillip Johnson. Phillip is vicar of Malvern Link with Cowleigh, and founder of the Ascension Centre for Contemplation and Reconciliation.

In the world of performance, there is a huge difference between learning about performance and training in performance. At a basic level, this is the difference between studying Drama at University and going to Drama School. At the former whilst you do actually do some acting and physical performance, you’re also learning about theatre history, practitioners etc and then writing essays about them. Drama School however, is about training you to be an actor. Most professional actors don’t have an encyclopaedic knowledge about the finer points of Shakespeare linguistic niceties – but they do know who to say the lines, convey emotion etc. Fundamentally, one is teaching you about performance, and the other is training you to perform.

Theological College is a strange mix of the two with some interesting unspoken drivers beneath them. There is a strong school of thought that the practical stuff of being ordained (how to take a funeral, leading services etc) is all left until you are in your curacy. It’s the job of your Training Incumbent (TI). That of course means that the quality that comes out of curacy is hugely variable – it all depends on the outlook and competency of your TI. The system assumes that training people is something that basically anyone can do and no special qualifications or skills in teaching would be required. I was lucky - my TI was great and I was in a parish which was extremely busy with lots of different varieties of ministry to experience. By the end of my curacy I had done over 200 funerals and presided about 250 times (it would be fair to say that we had a Eucharist if there was a lull in the conversation) – one of my colleagues ordained at the same time as me, left curacy having presided twice and done three funerals. We both felt I’d got a better training.

The other driver at theological college is that there is a body of knowledge (church history, doctrine, etc.) which needs to be crammed into people’s heads. Despite the introduction of Common Awards, there is still huge variation. Although I was trained before CA came into being, the point is still worth making. I went to college a couple of years after Mission Shaped Church resulting in eight hours of mission studies a week, and eight hours of doctrine in two years. Colleagues at another college down the road, did eight hours of doctrine a week along with masses of Biblical Studies. To say that we were turning out different types of clergy would be an understatement.

But were we trained or educated? Well, compared to training to be an actor at Drama School (which I did from 18-21) the answer would be a categoric “No”. There were no simulations, role-plays, exercises. We did theological reflection and had a few days on preaching – but nothing like the detailed critiques that I’ve given prospective ordinands, curates and staff over the years. Every time I’ve done this, the response has been remarkable – “I had no idea that is what I was doing. That’s made a massive difference”. People are deeply surprised by the power of immediate feedback and physically training the body and mind to work together in the moment. Our work at The Ascension Centre is about training – and we make no bones about it. You will find out interesting things which

you can tell other people about over dinner, but the main thing is that you will behave differently in conflict and difficult situations. Would you rather know about that or know it in your bones?

You can find out more about the Ascension Centre for Contemplation and Reconciliation via their website here.

Views expressed by individuals are not necessarilly the views of the Reconcilers Together Partnership.

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