Radical changes ahead for the Kirk

June 9, 1995

The Church of Scotland's general assembly last month approved proposals for a radical reform of education and training for the ministry.

The Kirk is unique in having no seminaries of its own. Its candidates are trained alongside degree students in the divinity faculties of Aberdeen, Edinburgh, Glasgow and St Andrews Universities, and then they require an 18-month probationary period.

The committee on education for ministry has now published an interim report, which proposes integrating academic and practical work. The probationary period would be replaced by three supervised placements of between seven and 12 months during the degree, which would count towards it. This would make the degree more like a sandwich degree.

The committee argues that while this type of theology degree would be a new development for the divinity faculties, it is similar to the training for many other professions.

David Arnott, the committee's convener, said assessment would be a partnership between church and universities. "The church will provide placements where it has well-trained supervising ministers who can both teach and assess, and the university will also visit to ensure its own degree requirements and standards are being satisfied," he said.

A minister from London, John McIndoe, made an unsuccessful bid to block approval, arguing that the emphasis on placements could undermine the academic part of the course.

"It is at least as important that they should acquire a sound grounding in theology and the bible, and benefit from the broadening experience of university life, both social and intellectual," he said.

Assurances were needed that candidates would still be sufficiently immersed in sustained study, and would not become a small isolated ghetto in relation to the rest of the life of the university, he said.

But Reverend Arnott stressed that this was only an interim report, and that much work had to be done over the next two years, including discussions with the universities.

There has been growing concern in the Assembly over student hardship since many trainees are mature students with families but Reverend Arnott said that redistributing funds could help in this area.

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