POT: A Plea for Reform

Post Ordination Training needs rethinking. Many curates with busy schedules begrudge travelling some distance and giving up time for training which is often thought to be inadequate and sometimes irrelevant. If POT and its equivalents are deficient then it is time we started to think how we might improve on it.

What exactly is wrong with POT? Of course dioceses vary, but I will make three general observations. First, it has one important virtue! Curiously POT’s chief weakness is often its main strength: I am forced to get to know people with whom I disagree. This does not mean that I brush our differences under the carpet. On the contrary, I must both defend and articulate my convictions and reason with my peers to try and persuade them of my position. On the occasions when I have suppressed my fears and engaged with colleagues I have been surprised to find common ground between Evangelicals and Anglo-Catholics, despite our real differences. Equally there have been those from a more ‘Liberal’ background who have thanked me for making them think and even change their minds on some issues. It may be that it is because some of us Evangelicals have decided to ‘opt out’ of such things as POT that others are never faced with the integrity and force of our positions.

But whilst it is important for us to discuss one another’s views the purpose of POT, as far as I can see, is to give us ‘on the job training’. And this it can never do when curates cannot even agree on subjects such as what the primary concerns of ministry should be! There is a place for debate, but at some stage we must be trained. On more than one occasion I have been forced to ‘observe’ others being trained because I cannot agree with the assumptions of the training programme. This situation is inevitable unless we face up to our differences and allow POT to be shaped by them.

Second, it is the diocese which sets the training agenda. But their control does not take into account the differences in experience, background, and location which exist among those being trained. It also implies that the diocese has its own view on ministry which may be very different to the view expounded in the Ordinal and practised in some parishes. Some dioceses allow curates to construct their own programmes; but that often leads to the largest minority grouping winning the day, which is fine if it happens to be your tradition! Equally such a ‘solution’ cannot take account of all the opinions represented by those being trained, and even if it did, it would mean that for some only a tiny proportion of time spent in training would be relevant.

Third, there is a lack of confidence in both the beliefs and abilities of the trainers. At a recent residential conference which I attended we were encouraged to duplicate the twilight state between sleeping and waking on the grounds that this state of consciousness was more ‘revealing’; we endured three hours of meditations which did not even mention God, let alone Jesus; we were encouraged to go down into our ‘wells’ and watch the ‘light emerge from the darkness’, and we were told to ‘dialogue’ with someone living or dead. The man who had led us in these exercises (and who had been recommended by a POT tutor) openly admitted that he was not a Christian and that he tended to ‘opt in and out of the organised religions’. This cannot continue. The Archbishop of Canterbury once wrote that we need ‘… teachers who have been proven in battle; men and women who have been through the fires of ministry and can share that with those they teach.’1 Quite so. But what are you doing to bring this about George?

So what should POT look like? I propose that it consist of two elements. First, dioceses should provide regular forums for discussion, thereby safeguarding the one positive element of the present POT. Second, dioceses should extend the ‘voucher system’ whereby clergy may attend seminars on different subjects which the diocese runs. They should support courses run by organisations like The Church Pastoral Aid Society, The Proclamation Trust, London Bible College and Oasis Trust (to name a few). These ‘para-church’ organisations are successful because they provide training which people can see works and are prepared to pay for. Such a scheme might sound radical but in effect it simply formalises what many of us are already doing because of POT’s inadequacies. But change can only come if we stop acquiescing and start Reforming!

1 G. Carey, ‘Leading the Mission of the People of God’, in G. Reid (ed.), Hope for the Church of England? (London: Hodder & Stoughton, 1986), p173.