‘Not just a seminary but … a resource for the whole Church’
At the start of a new academic year, the Church of Ireland Press Officer, Paul Harron, speaks to the Revd Dr Maurice Elliott, Director the Church of Ireland Theological Institute (CITI) about life, worship and the year ahead at CITI:
PH: What is happening at CITI in 2013/14?
ME: We try not to let the grass grow under our feet!
Through our partnership with Trinity College Dublin and under the Master of Theology (MTh) curriculum we’re introducing a new elective module for first–year students. In addition to our Reconciliation module – led by Dr David Tombs, the Revd Dr Johnston McMaster and the Revd Doug Baker – we are now offering a ‘Building new communities of faith’ option which will break new ground.
The need to introduce it has arisen out of contemporary developments in ‘pioneer ministry’ or ‘fresh expressions’ of church. We want to prioritise a culture that looks outwards and is open to new possibilities; not diluting traditional church in any way but investigating new patterns of ministry and reaching into diverse groups of people.
Part of the module will be delivered by Canon Dr George Lings who has researched widely into church plants and fresh expressions of church and overseen the Church of England’s largest research project in this area, disseminated in the Church Army series of studies, Encounters on the Edge.
Other significant recent developments include the Revd Jennifer McWhirter joining us to co–ordinate Continuing Ministerial Education (CME) training and David Brown starting to work as our Co–ordinator of Lay Training.
There are significant new conversations around developmental approaches for curates and other clergy, such as annual ministerial review in the Church of England, so a focus on CME sponsored and resourced by CITI will allow us to think and act creatively. In the area of lay training, one of the projects David is already working on is a Parenting Course.
On 9th October, we’ll also be launching the first three booklets in our new Braemor Studies Series, each of which began life as an MTh dissertation and which are being published by Church of Ireland Publishing in order to broaden the reach of contemporary theological debate emanating from the Institute.
These first offerings are: ‘New Monasticism – a Catalyst for the Church of Ireland to connect with Society’ by the Revd Jonathan Campbell–Smyth; ‘The Place of Lament in Response to the Problem of Evil’ by the Revd John Godfrey; and ‘The New Masculinity Movement: A Viable Model for Engaging Men with God and the Church?’ by the Revd Alistair Morrison.
How broad is the training on offer?
We understand our task at CITI as a process of discernment and ‘growing into ministry’ with an emphasis on the formation of the whole person.
Resulting from that, we’ve undertaken over this summer a complete review of our ‘mini–modules’, which are self–contained three–week blocks of focused teaching.
We are continuing with modules on Evangelism; Counselling Skills; Speech and Communication and Church of Ireland Governance, and introducing new ones on: Patristic Studies, led by the Revd Canon Patrick Comerford; Ecumenical and Interfaith matters, led by Gillian Kingston of the Methodist Church; Gender Violence, led by Dr Gillian Wylie of the Irish School of Ecumenics; the Environment, led by the Revd Dr Ron Elsdon; and Church Music, led by the Revd Dr Peter Thompson. These subject areas are also geared towards Anglican Communion recommendations for theological training.
We hope that, in addition to the core components of the MTh, we can say that we deliver a full portfolio and, of course, we continue to operate at all times with two ‘worlds’ of full–time and part–time students.
One of our driving objectives is that CITI is not just a seminary but can act as a resource for the whole Church, and this range of teaching helps us achieve that.
What is the character of life at the Institute?
We enjoy a superbly rich community prayer life in chapel and worship is as ever grounded in the spirituality of The Book of Common Prayer.
As well as reflective worship, we are also trying to look at other expressions of contemporary spirituality and, with the bishops’ permission, we have now broadened the chapel experience to allow for occasional pioneer–style services: these have ranged from café–style church to an Agapé fellowship meal to the use of puppets.
The chapel is furnished flexibly to allow for different uses according to the liturgy and, through the generosity of a gift from the Northern retired clergy, it is now equipped with video screens for the use of PowerPoint and so on [Gazette, 21st June, page 6].
CITI is also strongly committed to the aspirations of the Church of Ireland–Methodist Covenant, and so we enjoy the opportunities that arise from it: once a year we have an integrated seminar with Edgehill College and we held a joint CITI–Edgehill staff day just last month.
Does CITI reach beyond the student body?
The reports of the external examiner have been very affirming of the programme and standards of the Institute and as a result interest in us from elsewhere has been growing.
For example, the Welsh bishops have visited us on a fact–finding exercise, for instance, and we are now exploring what could become a fruitful partnership with Ming Hua Theological College in Hong Kong.
One of our students did her placement there this year, and I have recently returned from a very instructive visit, having been invited to lecture and preach at the college and to address all the bishops and clergy of that Province at the beginning of September.
The Institute continues to host a number of conferences both internal– and externa–relatedl, from the Commission for Episcopal Ministry and Structures to the College of Preachers, from the House of Bishops to the Church Mission Society Ireland and the Church of Ireland Youth Department.
It was an honour for us to host a gathering of Porvoo Communion representatives earlier this year as well as receiving delegates to a major academic conference for those involved in Temple Studies and study of the ancient Near East.
Parish and mid–career clergy groups also use the Institute occasionally, so CITI is being utilised imaginatively as the Church of Ireland’s residential facility.
In short, I think we achieve a lot from a relatively narrow resource base!
In this, CITI is well–served by all its full– and part–time staff. In addition to those I’ve already mentioned, I also include our Lecturer in Biblical Studies and Hermeneutics, Dr Katie Heffelfinger; the Revd Dr Paddy McGlinchey, Lecturer in Missiology; the Revd Ted Woods, part–time MTh Internship Co–ordinator; Lynda Levis, Bursar; Daphne Metcalfe, Secretary to the Institute and Hazel Connor, Office Assistant.
This interview includes material published in the Church of Ireland Gazette on Friday 4 October 2013 as a two–page centrefold spread on pages 8–9:
The Director of the Church of Ireland Theological Institute, the Revd Dr Maurice Elliott.