Thursday, January 25, 2007

Formation or training?

I was talking to a former Anglican Priest this morning. He made a very interesting point about the Anglican training for priesthood. This is much shorter than ours - two or three years as opposed to six or seven for us. My friend suggested that since he had done his training, the understanding of it had changed. The Anglican training is now just that; training rather than formation. He thinks that many Anglicans now have a basically functional understanding rather than being focused on esse.

It made me think about how much our formation is focused on forming rather than training us. Actually, I think precious little of what we do in the Seminary is actually practical training for what we'll be doing afterwards.

As an example, I've now done a fair amount of teaching, of everyone from year 4 to year 13. I've given innumerable assembllies, run retreat days for schools, marked work and written submissions for OFSTED inspections. Most teachers do at least a year of teacher training, where they presumably learn things like teaching techniques, marking, discipline, etc. They also get supervision and feedback from experienced teachers. I've had a grand total of zero hours of training and supervision (as generations of bemused children will doubtless tell you).

To be honest, I don't think practical training is that important. You pick up most things fairly quickly in a parish simply by doing them. What the Seminary does primarily, in my view and experience is to form you, to shape you to put on the heart and mind of Christ. Through study, and primarily through prayer I am formed into being a Priest.


Anonymous said...

I have to say that I don't think your comparison with teachers is a fair one. Teachers are doing the job every day, day in, day out with all the paperwork that goes with it. That cannot compare with the occasional 'dipping in' however specialised and noble that me be!

But, as you say, formation for the priesthood is not about everyday practicalities - it assumes a far loftier status than that.

Lumen Christi said...

To be fair, I don't think he was saying he is like a teacher. He was saying he's been involved in teaching within the seminary process to help him understand what teachers are up against.

I agree Gildas, although some places are seriously lacking is pastoral formation. For example, is our notion of the Church a parish, or is it also hospital chaplaincy, drug rehab, mental illness. That is as much as apart of the priests role as is the sacramental.

Anonymous said...

I interpreted it as Anglicans being 'trained for the priesthood' and Catholics being formed - 'forming rather than training'.

For example a 'forming' priest can teach, on occasion, without any practical teacher training qualification - but a teacher must qualify on a theoretical and practical level to sustain the day to day realities of the job.

As I understood this post, practical training is not as important as study and prayer for the formation of a Catholic priest.

Therefore, if you follow that argument through, the Catholic priests role is that of a spiritual leader delivering the sacrements not a practical 'hand on' type of guy down the drug rehab centre! - heaven forbid.

I don't have a problem with this separation, in fact I am quite comfortable with it. Maybe priests should align themselves more with the spirituality of their priesthood than the practicalities of their parish?

Anonymous said...

Most Anglicans who have not read for a first theology degree train for three years, those who read theology at University for two. The process also involves the diaconate, Anglicans are ordained as Deacons to serve in a parish, part of formation, after twelve months they are ordained as priests, to serve the same parish. Much also depends on their college, Oakhill, conservative Evangelical, Wescott House, liberal, St. Stephen's House Oxford, Catholic...and formation minded.

Gildas said...

Thank you all for interesting thoughts. Yes, I wouldn't want to compare myself to a teacher. I doubt I could cope with teaching full time, even with the training. My point was really that we don't get very much in the way of practical training for various aspects of ministry. The formation is focused on forming one to be a priest rather than do priestly things - something that you generally pick up as you go along.

Should we get more practical training? I have mixed feelings. When I was at university, I helped to run a social club at a psychiatric hospital. I had a long discussion at one stage with the other co-ordinator about whether we should provide some basic training on mental health for our volunteers. In the end we decided against. The strength of what we were doing was that we were simply being present with the patients. With staff they felt they were being constantly assessed, and other patients had problems of their own, but we would come in with no agenda and without trying to judge them, just to be a human presence in a fairly grim place. That I think was valuable in itself. If we had been trained I think it would have altered our perceptions and reactions to people, making us more professional in a negative sense.

The sacraments are obviouly central to the priesthood, but I do think there is a place for a priest in drink and drug rehab. Yes, it can seem fruitless and be very frustrating, but again I think simply being a presence, as a Priest, does make a big impact.

I think that many practical things like buildings and finances should be left to competent lay people to run, if they are available and willing, but I think the Priest's role is definitely more than remaining comfortably in his Church doing spiritual things.

Mhari said...

I absolutely agree. I was speaking to a friend who said that we train priests for too long, we should, like any job, do an appraisal of what they do and then teach them to do it. We can teach him how to say mass, how to counsel, how to preach... that should be it.

What I think people like this, well meaning as he is, miss is that a priest isn't about what he does, but who he is, we can't reduce it to a job, because it's something so much more that. Unless our priests come to an understanding of who they are called to be, an understanding of their role as an Alter Christus, they won't be able to live it as fully, to become great saints, and so lead the faithful to greater sanctity.

Praise God for priests :)