Tuesday, August 22, 2006

Despatches from the East

The Shore, Leith
Originally uploaded by goforchris.
A long day looks as if it might end in food chez edublogger in Leith. I've been up since 5.15am to get to a meeting of the SEC Lay Learning Group; you build in time for traffic jams which are never as bad as you feared - but at least I had time to grab a coffee before we started. An interesting meeting, in which I began to feel less isolated as a visitor from the sticks: in previous meetings I've been terribly aware of how easy it is for people in the city-based dioceses to participate in joined-up ventures for things like Lay education, while we struggle to get together with people in Rothesay, for example. However, I now realise that people in, say, the Glasgow diocese are not particularly keen to travel outwith their own immediate area to meet up, but instead want to have facilitators and so on come to their own individual churches. Just like us, in fact.

However, I am also aware of the danger that the provision of education for all in the church may lead to a position where the clergy are - or feel - marginalised as the laity acquire "accredited" (the big buzz-word) qualifications to do this and that part of the job formerly reserved for full-time, well-educated, stipendiary clergy. Now I'm all for continuing learning and for the benefits of study in spiritual growth and understanding - but I'm also aware of how much we need the experts, the people who were sufficiently bright in the first place to undertake the theological education in sufficient depth to have reserves in place for all occasions. If we dumb down the process which produces teachers and prophets to lead the people, we'll end up with the equivalent of the sheep who charge purposefully about and end up back where they started.

No. The flock still needs decently trained shepherds out there. And the odd sheepdog .....


  1. Anonymous7:49 PM

    One of the things that is often said of lay learning is that clergy feel threatened (or marginalized) by competent laity. It is said so often and so vehemently that I assume it must be so -- but in fact I have never known a priest who felt that way. Usually, clergy are thrilled to see people taking their faith seriously: praying, reading, thinking and learning.

    What I have known clergy to feel insecure about is the depth or appropriateness of their own training. A church which is serious about lay learning needs to be serious too about the theological education of its clergy -- not because the clergy must always be the 'experts', but because there is little hope of nurturing a passion for learning and growth in the congregation if the priest doesn't share in that passion.

    On the other hand, it may be that the sheepdogs are the ones who really keep us right. Isn't it good to know that we have the odd one around...

  2. I remember a children's address once where it was suggested God had two sheepdogs that worked together to keep his flock together. They were called Goodness and Mercy. :-)

  3. This has nothing to do with your post, really. But it does have something to about education...

    Remember our conversation about learning through blogging? Well... I have just realised that, yes, I do *always* go back and think about things as I write them. Didn't really realise that i did that, but there you go. Something to say at 'teachmeet'

  4. there is little hope of nurturing a passion for learning and growth in the congregation if the priest doesn't share in that passion.

    Kimberly, I think you've hit the nail on the head here. People usually only feel threatened when they lack confidence. IMO, clergy who feel their position threatened by lay learning should make sure they're always ahead by being well read and keep an open mind, rather than drawing a line under their learning and declaring themselves infallible!

  5. As an 'outside' observer, I can appreciate the point of view of those who warn of the dangers on this particular path - not to stop progress along it, but to provide sign posts.

    The phrase 'a little learning is a dangerous thing' springs to mind in relation to the number of cults resulting from a viewpoint based from limited source material.

    I totally support wider and deeper education on all subjects - it can help 'experts' re-evaluate their own understanding, gain further knowledge and prevent dogmatism creeping in. However I believe, as one of my school teachers remarked to me a long time ago, education should also help you to recognise how little you actually do know.

    From a practical point of view, I don't see any real alternative to lay learning and the devolving of some (many?) of the roles and responsibilities of the clergy, but let's not under estimate the need for the clergy.

    As I've struggled along my personal path in life there have been many lay persons (some well educated and well versed and some not) and clergy who have helped me; some knowingly, but many unconciously.

    Unfortunately, there are also many who have shaken to the core the tenuous faith I do have and they have tended to come from the 'partially' educated laity.

  6. Anonymous1:34 PM

    I'm with Kimberley on this one. Our theological training for clergy in Scotland is pretty bad and many will come through it feeling even more insecure than when they went in. We are not good, either, at providing ongoing training for clergy unless we want to do a Masters and who has time for that?

    I do agree with Di when she says that we should keep reading and keep our 'portfolios' up to date. But having just left a linked charge after four years I realise that I only had time to read when on holiday or retreat. So it's not always as simple as just saying we need to keep up to date with our reading. Sometimes we just don't have time.

    Of course Annual Appraisals are still voluntary (in my opinion they should be obligatory) and it seems to me that the ones who really need it don't take advantage of it. This could be a generation thing in that many senior clergy don't see the need. But if they are never appraised and as long as bishops neglect this area then it will never change.

    Finally, I would be lost without my laity however I do sense a lot of insecurity amongst them. And I do envy them all the training opportunities available.

  7. Andrew - your lives keep multiplying, no?
    Di - don't you think teachers are a bit like that too? It's important to know more than the pupils - and be willling to learn from them when they have new insights.
    I'm delighted to have stirred up so much comment!