Wednesday, September 02, 2009

Methodist Ministers Training

Steve Hayes asked, in a comment on a previous post, what the training programme for Methodist Ministers looks like, and it is a good question! I don't think many Methodists know either.
For the last fifteen years or so the church has used the 'Three phase system', which is nothing to do with electricity! It was intended to be an internship programme that would produce better ministers than a residential college or seminary education. This system is now being changed again and there is some uncertainty as to how it will look.

I am now in Phase 1. This is a one year programme that places student ministers in a cross-cultural setting. Ideally the student works with a strong mentor and is taught and guided by them. The student also attends 'college' for two days and one night of every week. This deals with academic stuff and 'spiritual formation' and reflective thinking about ministry. The problem has been that much of this doesn't really happen. Mentorship particularly tends to be lacking.

After achieving certain goals the student is promoted to phase 2. He or she then spends about three years in a church or different churches being mentored and trained while completing academic studies part time.

The year before ordination is phase 3 and the training is a little more intensive in preparation for ordination. The student is still placed in a church, but is now open for 'invitation' so that this particular church can invite the student to stay there for five years if all is going well.
So after 5 years of 'probation' the student will be ordained and be fully recognised as a minister (or presbyter) in the Methodist Church.

The whole system is being changed to revert back to three years of seminary education - with an emphasis on spiritual formation. From an educational theory point of view the three phase system was excellent. The problems came in the implementation and the need to trust the process (and students) to people who didn't really understand the system (much like is happening in SA schools with OBE). There are some really good mentoring people out there, but sometimes ministers are overloaded already, or simply not cut out to be mentors.

For better or for worse I am in the middle of a changing system - which I think is flexible enough that eventually it will accomodate the needs - educational and otherwise - of ministerial students.
And to Steve's question - yes we are all sent far from home. I think the idea is to be fair to people from outlying areas who have no choice but to be sent far from home. I guess it does make us strong. Whether it is fair to those of us with families, I am not sure.


Thomas Scarborough said...

Speaking of Grahamstown, you call it a city. According to the graphics on my blog, it is ranked in the next place after "Unknown". (Perhaps a metaphor for your preaching style)??

Jenny Hillebrand said...

I must spend some time with amatomu - it's not picking up my posts properly.
I guess if it is a metaphor the question is whether it is accidental or if there is some determinism involved - and which aspect is the driver.
Sorry that it is disgustingly obscure! I have a pile of admin on my desk that I had better do!

Steve Hayes said...

Thanks very much for that.

A long time ago (nearly 40 years now) a friend and I distributed a pamphlet plugging Theological Education by Extension, which advocated in-service training, but not by taking students out of their context and forcing them to live far from home. The "extension" part meant extending the education to where they lived.

So I was quite interested in this, and wondered hoe it worked. Back then i was working in an Anglican setting, where there was a different understanding of ministry from the Methodist one, though in some ways they now seem to be converging.