Wednesday 22 October 2008

Dreaming Spires

Being in theological college provokes all kinds of questions.

What’s it for? Why do you study for two (or one, or three, or four, or seven) years?

One question I have as a Church of England ordinand is: why, when these days most of us enter training with a significant amount of post-school ‘life experience’ (not my phrase, and yes, that mainly means we’re oldies), is the philosophy to treat this as at best an occasional inconvenience, at worst a positive barrier to effective ministerial formation. I do not mean this question flippantly, and certainly not disrespectfully.

One part of the answer is probably crude economics. It’s cheapest to train a relatively undifferentiated group in a relatively undifferentiated way. And I marvel, in the case of the college I know best, how far the five loaves and two fish go towards feeding us all; yet the biblical parallel fails, as there are no crumbs left over.

But this is crude economics. To the extent that we comply in suppressing rather than expressing the knowledge, skills and experience of whatever portion of life preceded training – to precisely that extent we are buying into a questionable model of priests (presbyters if you prefer, same root word) as not merely specially set aside for service, but as specially set aside from life.

With the people I know best here, I know some of their story and some of their talents, of course. But I also see those stories being condensed – in them and in me – into another volume. And if this were not true at least in part, something would be wrong, because we must learn to be different from that past self and to do differently. And yet...

We have offered our whole selves. I must learn to say simply, with Jo recalling her sacrificial offering of hair,

“I took a last look at my hair while the man got his things, and that was the end of it. I never snivel over trifles like that. I will confess, though, I felt queer when I saw the dear old hair laid out on the table, and felt only the short rough ends of my head. It almost seemed as if I’d an arm or leg off. The woman saw me look at it, and picked out a long lock for me to keep. I’ll give it to you, Marmee, just to remember past glories by, for a crop is so comfortable I don’t think I shall ever have a mane again.”

And then,

“It’s only the vain part of me that goes and cries in this silly way.”