Chips down for old Soviet-bloc clerics

November 3, 1995

Cutbacks in spending by the Church of England could endanger a scholarship scheme for clerics and theological students from the former Communist bloc, according to Canon Michael Bordeaux.

He raised the issue at a meeting of the Keston Institute, the independent research body founded 25 years ago to study the problems of religion in Communist-ruled lands and now based in Oxford.

The scheme is run jointly by Oxford University, the Foreign Office and the Church of England, and provides four places a year at Oxford, during which the scholarship holders can follow an individual course of study.

With only one exception (Poland), Bordeaux says, theological training in the former Communist bloc was minimal. Clerics were ordained without adequate theological education - otherwise the churches would have died out. Entry to the few token theological schools was restricted, and some churches had no facilities. For Protestants in the Soviet Union, for example, there was only one tiny theological academy in the Baltic states. Most would-be priests had to get what training they could by correspondence course. Canon Bordeaux points out that the Oxford system of tutorials is particularly suited to the special needs of these pastors, allowing them to tailor their own courses to their own interests and the gaps in their previous training.

But the financial problems of the Church of England have left its financial administrators, in Canon Bordeaux's opinion, "unable to prioritise". It would be, he said, "a terrible mistake" to cut off funding to these scholarships.

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