The Church of Scotland hopes to implement a voucher scheme for continuing professional development which its ministers could use for postgraduate qualifications, writes Olga Wojtas.
Sandy McDonald, general secretary of the Kirk's board of ministry, said plans would be drawn up over the autumn for a programme of study leave, with ministers able to save up their annual allocation and use it for university courses.
The Church of Scotland is unique in having no church seminaries, but training its candidates through the divinity faculties of Aberdeen, Edinburgh, Glasgow and St Andrews Universities. But Rev McDonald said rapid changes in society created a need for continuing education beyond a first degree.
"These people are required to do more original writing every week than just about any other profession, and if you keep taking out and not putting anything in, it becomes repetitive and uninteresting," he said. "We really have to say you can't stop your education at 25 and think you're fit to preach and speak to a modern society."
Proposals for the scheme are likely to be approved at the kirk's general assembly next May, since this year's assembly agreed to publicise opportunities for part-time postgraduate degrees, along with guidance on possible financial help.
John McPake, who proposed the motion, said the move would not only promote valuable continuing professional development, but could increase the number of ministers able to apply for teaching posts.
There is concern in some quarters of the church that its interests are being sidelined, since its candidates are now only a small proportion of theology students.
"University faculties of divinity are enhanced by the ecumenical breadth of their teaching staff," said Rev Dr McPake. "It would be good if more ministers of the Church of Scotland contributed to that breadth."
David Arnott, vice convener of the department of education, said that the Kirk's position was better than perhaps realised. There had been five candidates for a recent vacancy in practical theology at Glasgow University, he said, and all were ordained Church of Scotland ministers, four of them with PhDs.