Paul Noble on the recently established provision of supplementary training for curates
Ask your parish priest what he thought of the training his diocese laid on for curates when he was first ordained and you are almost guaranteed a groan. You may even get a horror story or two of the worst experiences he endured. Older priests received what was called ‘Post Ordination Training’ in their diocese, with the acronym POT, so it was inevitably referred to as ‘Potty-training’!
Pick and mix
From the Seventies onwards, training for curates was seemingly in the charge of the advanced liberal wing of the Church of England, with experimental liturgies for the Eucharist, pick and mix Morning and Evening Prayer and bizarre subject matters. For me the one that stands out was being taken into Bristol to see a dramatization of Raymond Briggs’ When the Wind Blows, an everyday British family dealing with a nuclear bomb and analysing the lyrics of Hazel O’Connor’s single ‘Eighth Day’. The only good thing about it was the opportunity to mix with other curates who came from the same Anglo-Catholic background.
Post Ordination Training was changed in name to Initial Ministerial Training (IME), but practically everything else remained the same about it except that it maybe became even more perplexing for deacons and new priests who had a traditional understanding of the Christian Church and adhered to the Catholic faith within the Church of England. One big difference though was that because of fewer ordinations, except for a few favoured dioceses, a traditionalist Anglo-Catholic curate was likely to be a pretty isolated individual altogether. Gone completely was any time or attention given to the ongoing priestly formation of the newly ordained and the imparting of knowledge and skills that priests of our constituency need to serve our parishes and our people.
A good sign
It was to do something about meeting this need that moved Bishop Norman Banks to set up the Richborough IME in 2012 as a supplement to what was being provided in the various dioceses. So with the assistance of a small team of priests the first IME was planned, dates fixed and the Shrine of our Lady of Walsingham booked. Bishop Norman made contact with the deacons and priests known to him and in October 2012 from Sunday they duly gathered from Sunday evening until Tuesday lunchtime.
All that has really happened since 2012 is that each year the numbers attending have grown, so that last year over 20 curates attended. This is very good. It is an indication that this supplemental IME is providing something these men value, but also a sign that there has been an increasing number of men coming out of theological college or from theological courses who see themselves as belonging to that part of the Church of England that we will learn to call The Society.
What Bishop Norman set out to provide was threefold. Firstly, there is the learning element which has always concentrated on the solidly practical; there are some different speakers each year as well as contributions from the organizing team. Secondly, there is the spiritual element; Walsingham provides part of that in itself, but there is daily Morning Prayer together in the Barn Chapel and Evening Prayer in the Shrine Church, concelebrated Mass each day with a spiritual address, opportunities for sacramental confession and time for private prayer and devotions. Thirdly, there is a social element, so our new clergy may get to know one another better and be encouraged that there are many others like them. Along with this there is the opportunity to get to speak confidentially to one of our bishops about life after their curacy.
Most are of course fairly familiar with Walsingham anyway, but there are some who are not, and the welcome Walsingham gives is very important. Bishop Lindsay Urwin always presents a Bible Study to the participants and is very generous with his time.
Each year there has been a different general topic – 2012 concentrated on the sacraments and the priest as agent of grace and reconciliation, 2013 had an emphasis on the priest and the Bible and 2014 on evangelistic outreach through a priest’s ministry of welcome and hospitality. Each year there are new developments: whereas in 2012 most of those taking part were from the See of Richborough area, in 2014 all three PEV areas were represented. In 2014 as well the Bishop of Ebbsfleet was present for the three days, especially important for the deacons and priests from his Episcopal Area.
A really significant development has been the endorsement of this supplemental IME by the Cleaver Trust. This Anglo-Catholic charity has long supported the work of training priests and by a generous annual grant has made it possible for more curates to attend than would have been possible otherwise. Fr John Hanks of the Trust has also been present for the last two years, and that commitment has been greatly valued. There has been an ecumenical dimension as well with the attendance of a small number of Swedish priests belonging to the traditionalist Church of Sweden ‘Society of St Bridget’ who speak of the enormous difficulties they face in their ultra-liberal Church.
Planning is already underway for the 2015 Richborough IME session which will take place in Walsingham on 18–20 October. Any traditionalist deacons and new priests who would like attend please contact your PEV or Bishop Norman himself.