Formation

In the world of theological colleges, it is farewell season. The final weekend of June (‘Petertide’ in the CofE calendar) is ordination of deacons weekend, the moment that marks the end of life as an ‘ordinand’ and the beginning of the next stage of training – the curacy. (For the uninitiated, it takes almost as long to become a fully-fledged incumbent vicar as it does to become a Doctor.)

This past weekend was our final Vicar Weekend of the year. As was the case last year, we gathered on the lawn of High Leigh for photos, farewells and Pimm’s. On the Sunday morning, we heard each leaver share their next destination, along with their hopes, challenges and prayer requests – 90 minutes of inspiring stories that should encourage the Church of England. It’s also a peculiar moment, because you know that at some point, it will be you up there. It seems to go a little like this:

First year: “It’s so sad I haven’t had longer to get to know these guys… I’m so glad I’ve got another two years before I have to do this!”

Second year: “I can’t believe that we’ll be without all these amazing people next year! How has time gone so quickly? I wonder what I’ll be saying when it’s my turn?” [Meanwhile, every single 1st year will say to a 2nd year at some point “this time next year it’ll be your turn!” with a gleeful smirk on their face.]

St Mellitus Leavers, 2013This year’s 45 leavers pose for a photo. Yes, that’s 45 soon-to-be curates – an impressive total for any theological college. (Not that it’s a competition, obviously.) 

However, that doesn’t account for the many ordinands who only undertake two years of training instead of three. At St Mellitus, everyone does 3 years unless they have a previous theology degree (unlike everywhere else, where you do 2 years if you’re over 32) and in my cohort of 28 ordinands, 12 fell into that category. That’s a lot of people to bond with and then lose 12 months before you’re really ready to!

It just so happens that my formation group (aka ‘officially the best formation group ever’) is particularly hard hit by this state of affairs. This month, 5 of our 12 members will be ordained – that’s a lot of people to lose from a group that’s been a literal Godsend to every single one of us. (Personally, I blame Alex and Phil for being promoted to 2 year students having begun as 3…) Life at Vicar School will be very different next year, and quite possibly, a lot quieter.

Formation Group funThanks Tonia for this – though I’m impressed that despite yells for everyone to move into the photo, Rich & Phil are still obscured!  (Incidentally, I was violently ill minutes after this was taken, you almost wouldn’t know…)

A couple of weeks ago, we were invited to think about how ‘formed’ we felt – in relation to how we felt at the start of training and how close we were to finishing. Theoretically, those of us at the end of two out of three years should feel approximately two-thirds formed. But did those who had only had two years feel fully formed? Does anyone ever feel fully formed? What am I going to get in the next year that they won’t? Are the departing 2nd years leaving partially formed?

The short answers to the first and last questions would be: no and no. The departing second years are brilliant people who, like all new curates, will continue to be formed in their post-ordination training. In fact, like all clergy (if not all Christians) who should continue being formed throughout their lives. And as for me, I’m grateful I’ve got another year in the comparative security of Vicar School!

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