How can we best train women for ministry?
In the autumn, I blogged about the need for ministry traineeships to equip women (and men) for the ministry contexts they are most likely to face. Today, I want to ask a broader question: how can we best train women for ministry? I had the privilege of talking about this with Ros Clarke, Associate Director of Church Society and Course Leader for The Priscilla Programme, as well as with Linda Allcock, Church Ministry Worker at The Globe Church and Lecturer for Flourish. Both Priscilla and Flourish are training courses for women in ministry. Flourish (run through London Seminary) is aimed at women er paid or unpaid, are responsible for a particular ministry in their church. Priscilla (run through Union School of Theology) is designed for women who serve their church in voluntary ministries.
Diversity was the theme of both conversations. Ros and Linda emphasised the need for every aspect of women’s ministry training to recognise and equip women in and for their diversity. This means recognising that women benefit from training which is tailored to them – to them, and not to men. It means taking account of the current demands on their time and money as well as the likely shape of their future ministry. And it means recognising that women are individuals with different needs.
Training tailored to women
The majority of the teaching on Priscilla and Flourish is done by women. And, perhaps even more importantly, both courses are designed for women by women. For much of her theological education, Ros said she needed to ‘translate what’s said into something that fits women’s ministry’. That isn’t necessary for Flourish and Priscilla’s students: women’s ministry is at the heart of both courses. Flourish, for instance, devotes one of its nine afternoons to exploring the Bible’s teaching on womanhood. Priscilla has a similar emphasis. Ros spends more time teaching about the Fall’s consequences for Eve and for women than she does covering the consequences for Adam and for men. ‘Those are the people I’m talking to,’ Ros pointed out. ‘It matters how it affects our lives and our bodies and our relationships.’
The other advantage is to do with format.
Because all the students are women, the discussion groups are single-sex. This is not unique to the two courses (Cornhill, among others, also has single-sex groups). But it’s one of the advantages cited by Priscilla’s students because it is no longer possible for men to do all the talking – as, sadly, a number of the students have found is the case in mixed groups.
Training tailored to women’s ministry
The two courses recognise that other types of ministry training can be comparatively difficult for women to access. For many women, childcare and/or money constraints mean it would be impossible to commit to a ministry training course for a day a week for a whole year. Instead, Flourish asks its students to commit to nine stand-alone days (which are spread across an academic year) and require its students to attend in-person lectures either in London or in Leamington Spa (or on Zoom where necessary). Priscilla’s modules, by contrast, are entirely online. Each of the ten weeks has two video lectures for students to watch in their own time. They also attend a weekly hour-long seminar online at a fixed time as well as, once a term, a one-on-one thirty-minute tutorial with a tutor. The idea for both programmes is that their students are able to fit studying around normal life.
Cost is also an incredibly important factor in designing courses for women. When it comes to theological college, ‘it is very common for families to move for a husband to go,’ Ros said, ‘but almost unheard of for the wife.’ A man training for ordained ministry as a complementarian evangelical has a fairly clear career path. But a woman in the same situation does not. And Ros and Linda agreed that this means that it is more difficult for complementarian evangelical churches to send women to theological college than it is for them to send men. And it gets still more complicated if she will not be ordained at the end of it – because then the church must shoulder the whole cost of her training, rather than it being paid for by the Church of England. Of course, as Ros emphasised, our God is incredibly generous. If he wants you at theological college, you can be sure he will provide the money. (And that might be through the college’s own bursary or scholarship programme.) Nevertheless, humanly speaking, the financial implications of bible college are often less straightforward for women than they are for men.
Tomorrow, in the next instalment of this blog post, I will write about 'Training tailored to women in their diversity' and put forward a conclusion to this article.