Tuesday, September 12, 2017

Degrees of Education

Education in our movement is a real issue. There is a distinct challenge on how to educate candidates and give them the formation necessary for ministry. To be honest, I much prefer a prayerful person with less education than a well-educated person with no prayer life. Yet, we do need to ensure candidates have the basic knowledge necessary for ministry. It is especially difficult in a country as large as America. Similarly, we don't necessarily have the money to have candidates study in a centralized location. Frankly, many other religious entities no longer have that either. "Mainstream" groups like ROCOR are experimenting with distance learning through their Pastoral School. Similarly, the Diocese of Northern Michigan in the Episcopal Church is doing local classes and mentorships to educate candidates.

So where does that leave Indies? Well, I think that is a valuable thing to use online learning to educate candidates. I have also been a proponent of reading for Orders. But what I think is dangerous is when try to mimic the seminary system too closely. I think it's helpful for us to remember that we are small and even larger denominations make exceptions for areas without local clergy. It is problematic when jurisdictions claim they are accredited from organizations that are not actual accrediting institutions. It is not helpful to create the "Accrediting Institute International" to "prove" your institution is valid. Frankly, you don't owe it to anyone. If your institution trains clergy for your church then that is all that is required.

The second issue I have is when institutions grant inflated degrees. I earned a law degree and an MBA after years of study. There is nothing that makes me more frustrated when I see clergy with John Doe, MD, MBA, JD, DD, Ph.D., LMNOP, etc. which are all unearned. We have to be very careful at mimicking seminary degrees. For one, it is used as fodder against us by people saying "look, they're just a fake church." Similarly, it is not fair to people who have spent years earning degrees only to have someone claim 23 degrees by spending $200 on a certificate. Your seminary can rightfully grant some qualification to candidates. I'm not always sure it should be an M.Div., because this has been taken as the standard 3-year graduate degree in the US for pastoral clergy. But just because they read an article on canon law doesn't qualify them for a JCD.

I think there is a way to train clergy sincerely to know basic information without overloading them with rigorous academic expectations. Yet still ensuring they have the knowledge necessary to be good clergy. I think it can also be done by not giving everyone a doctorate in their field of interest. I think people are much more sympathetic to sincere clergy with dedicated training than clergy with invented qualifications because of some self-esteem issue. 

"A maiden at college, Miss Breeze,
Weighed down by B.A.s and Lit.D's,
Collapsed from the strain,
Said her doctor, "It's plain
You are killing yourself --- by degrees!"

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