Training in the North West (part 2)

This week our feature on local training routes for licensed ministry focusses on the work of St Mellitus College (St Aiden's Centre). We speak to St Mellitus Director Rev Dr Jill Duff about what is on offer.

What is your purpose and aims as a college?

We are offering the first full-time ordination course in the North West for 44 years, since the closure of St Aidan’s College Birkenhead in 1969. Our purpose is ‘to form and train Christ-like leaders for the re-evangelisation and transformation of the North West, the UK and beyond, who work with a commitment to the unity of the church’.  Our aims are to do theology in the context of worship, mission and unity.
St Mellitus North West highlights the ‘partnership in the gospel’ between the Dioceses of Blackburn, Carlisle, Chester, Liverpool and Manchester. The St Aidan’s Centre draws inspiration from the motto of St Aidan’s College in Birkenhead Via Crucis Via Lucis, to develop Christ-centred and world-engaging training for people from all walks of life from across the North West and beyond. In the footsteps of St Aidan we want to form them to have great courage and faith.

What is your history?

We were formed out of a partnership between St Mellitus College and five of the North West dioceses (Blackburn, Carlisle, Chester, Liverpool and Manchester) in 2012. St Mellitus College started in London (named after the first Bishop of London) with just 9 ordinands in 2007, and now has over 500 students studying a range of courses (theology, ordination, worship, church planting, leadership, youth ministry). It is now the largest theological college in the country.

What do you offer students?
We offer the innovative ‘full-time church based’ ordination training where ordinands are based half-time in the classroom, half-time on placement in a parish/mission context. We believe that this blend of study-practice is much closer to how Jesus trained his disciples. It is increasingly being offered by full-time residential colleges. Our courses in theology and missional leadership provide ordination training for the Church of England, but we are also drawing students from many other churches. All our students –22 in this first cohort - are actively engaged in Christian ministry and leadership throughout the course, and are drawn from as far distant as Blackpool and Bradford.

Following in the footsteps of St Aidan, formation of Christ-like character is paramount. So on Mondays, the main teaching day held in Liverpool Cathedral, worship sets the context for the teaching. Teaching quality is of a nationally high standard. There is a strong tutorial team including the Dean of Liverpool, Pete Wilcox, Michael Leyden (Tutor in Theology), and Jeremy Duff (Lecturer in New Testament). All the teaching staff, including the Director, Jill Duff – have doctorates from leading universities, experience of church leadership and continue to be involved in Christian ministry and leadership. Our afternoon programme, Leadership for Healthy Churches, includes an array of practioners across the traditions of the Church of England and other churches from around the North West region.

What challenges do you/have you faced?

Labels can be particularly divisive in the church. Because mission is important to us, this can bring with it assumptions about a particular type of spirituality.  A key value of the whole of St Mellitus College is ‘unity in the Spirit’ – discerning the work of the Spirit in a variety of orthodox theologies and worship.  For example, on our residential weekend away, students enjoyed an informal charismatic service one evening, then a high catholic mass the next morning. The task of the re-evangelisation of the UK is too big for any one tradition or ‘label’ of Christian, besides, as Jesus put it, “a house divided against itself will fall”.

Who are you particularly suited to?

We are particularly suited to aspiring leaders from any Christian tradition/denomination who are passionate about the re-evangelisation and transformation of the North West, UK and beyond.

What is the student experience like?
Come and see for yourself on a Monday morning at Liverpool Cathedral.

Why is it important to have high quality local routes into ordination?

It stimulates new and younger vocations – evidence suggests potential high quality ordinands are not coming forward for ordination because of the lack of full-time training provision in the North West. This particularly impacts on ordinands with families and those with less prior educational achievement. 
It also generates self-confidence about the North West – theologically and missionally. Ordinands can stay here and develop a passion for the area. North West dioceses are less likely to lose ordinands who travel away for full-time training and do not return, without the corresponding inflow of ordinands who feel called to stay. With the large proportion of clergy retiring within the next ten years, the NW bishops are conscious it will become increasingly hard to import curates & clergy.

What are your hopes/plans for the future?

Alongside existing theology courses, from September 2014, we will be offering the popular St Mellitus MA in Christian Leadership (http://www.stmellitus.ac.uk/christian-leadership-ma). We also hope to offer an introductory course in church planting