Helen Harwood, pioneer training administrator at Church Mission Society, talks to Kevin Colyer, Susie Templeton, Chris Sheehan and Nick White about being pioneer ordinands with CMS.
The Pioneer Mission Leadership Training course started at Church Mission Society in 2010 with a pilot group of nine students. 2012 was a landmark year as we became recognised as a viable training pathway for people pursuing ordination (we also began offering an MA option).*
In 2015 CMS welcomed eight ordinands onto the course, seven from the Church of England and one from the Church in Wales. They are now in their final year of preparing for ordination, so I was delighted to catch up with some of them before they start a new chapter of their ministry, to hear what it’s like to train for ordination with CMS.
Hearing the pioneer call
I wanted to find out how our pioneers first felt called to ordained ministry, so I asked them to tell us their stories. Chris Sheehan from Evesham told me: “Throughout my life, God has given me a heart for the underdog and those who struggle with life, whether that’s in my working life, for example those starting in business with huge gaps of knowledge or skills, or visiting mentally ill people or people in care homes (including the one my father was at before his death).” Being a street pastor has shown Chris great need and hunger in his community. He felt God asking him to be the bridge between the community and the church, and has done this by listening to people’s stories, being prepared to share his own story and offering worship, hospitality and fellowship. Chris goes out on the streets and draws people into the life of the church, particularly those who lack self-confidence, who are poor, the long-term unemployed and their families and those who feel they’ve failed. A vast majority have had no regular experience with church.
Chris’s calling is to be a “distinctive deacon” whose focus is weighted towards those at the margins. For him, “being ordained means I can be there for those for whom the collar is reassuring as well as for those who find it off-putting, as I have the option not to wear it.”
Nick White, who has come to CMS from Chatham, Kent, told me his ordination journey began as soon as he came to faith: “Ever since God found me, I’ve cared about helping other people find faith in God and grow, and quite a few people have said they thought I would/should go for ordination.” Nick worked first in youth and children’s ministry with a local church which had no children at all! He had to start from scratch in his local community with schools and home visiting and getting to know local families, finding out what the barriers were to children and families engaging with church.
The Mission Shaped Ministry course introduced Nick to the possibility of ordained pioneer ministry with the Church of England. “That caught my attention and I started thinking more seriously about ordination and got to know a couple of other pioneer ministers. A key moment for me was when I applied for a community ministry role with a church and the vicar interviewing me said ‘everything you talked about in the interview was saying to me ORDINATION’. When I talked to my own vicar about it, she just said, ‘About time… I wondered when you were going to say that!’ And so I began the discernment process.”
Participating in Mission Shaped Ministry also offered Susie Templeton the chance to consider pioneer ministry while doing pastoral work in the Naval Chaplaincy in Southsea. She explained, “Although I didn't really understand that pioneer ministry was a thing at that point, I certainly knew that I wasn't called to be a typical parish vicar. I was lucky enough to participate in a Mission Shaped Ministry course and that's when I started to understand that pioneering was a distinct approach to ministry, and something I had been doing intuitively for a while. It suddenly made a lot more sense of my vocation to ordination.”
Square pegs in square holes
Kevin Colyer from Reading took a while to find his calling to ordination. When asked what drew him, he replied: “It clearly wasn't the chance to wear 16th century dress and preserve historical buildings or rituals! … I've always wanted to make communities of people who are transformed and transforming the world around them because of Jesus. I couldn't see a place for me in the Anglican Church 25 years ago; it is only in the last decade as the role of ordained pioneer emerged and it seemed to describe me better than anything else….” He adds, “I was perhaps a square peg and now can see square holes to fit into!”
The “gift of not fitting in” is something that’s talked about a lot at CMS, particularly by pioneer course leader Jonny Baker. It seems to be one of the hallmarks of being a pioneer.
Finding a home at CMS
Having discovered pioneer ministry as an option, what was it that brought these ordinands to CMS for their training?
All of them said CMS was recommended, as well as mentioning other important factors. Chris said he felt “… the overlap between the distinctive diaconate and pioneering was exactly the right type of training and challenge I needed.”
When Kevin was looking for training there were only one or two places that were offering the sort of training he could see he would need. He told me, “CMS stood out clearly… all those I talked to talked highly of CMS. I also liked the idea of training with another mission organisation as I worked for 25 years with YWAM before. The cross-cultural and contextual understanding of mission is vital for a pioneer and this is the strength of a missionary organisation.”
Nick was drawn to the fact that the CMS course had been designed by pioneers for pioneers, and because it enabled him to continue his current ministry while training. Most important for Nick was the benefit of regularly being with a lot of other pioneers, as well as training with other ordinands on the weekends at Ripon College Cuddesdon.
Despite feeling overwhelmed by the selection process, Susie found that a Pioneer Course open day made her feel “very welcomed and excited about the approach to training”, and she was reassured by Jonny Baker talking about pioneers becoming “the truest version” of themselves. She commented further about how training at CMS chimed in with her call: “It felt like coming full circle – the fact that everything was taught from a missional, and global perspective. When I was at uni, I had felt a strong call to global mission and had spent a lot of time travelling and working overseas. One of my fears about ordination was having to close the door on that chapter, but the opportunity to train at CMS felt like God was honouring it in an unexpected way. I knew it was the place for me!”
I asked the ordinands about the different aspects of ministry and Christian experience that they encountered while on the course. Kevin really valued “seeing fresh ways of knowing Jesus that are deeply rooted in the tradition of Christianity but are helpful and useful today.” Meanwhile, the partnership with Ripon has been helpful to Nick, who has “learned a lot about the nuts and bolts of parish ministry on the weekends at Ripon”.
“Training at CMS comes off the back of over 200 years of developing cross-cultural missional practice, and all the lessons learned from that. As a pioneer, it's opened up my vocation in fresh ways and given me a language to understand the urgent need for innovation and creative thinking in mission and ministry within today's society.”
Equipped for the next chapter?
After nearly three years of training, how have these ordinands found training with CMS?
Kevin said, “I have been thrilled and delighted at CMS. It has ‘done what it said on the tin’!” He explained that he had been bowled over by his fellow students who he described as a constant source of inspiration, support and encouragement. “We learn a lot from each other, bringing reflections on practice, ready illustrations and creative ways to apply learning.”
Nick told me he felt he had developed immensely as a result of doing the MA. “It’s stretched my thinking, encouraged me in my local mission and ministry, challenged my practice, deepened my faith, and sometimes shaken me out of complacency.” Nick has also grown in knowing God was calling “… me as ‘me’, rather than as a stereotypical super-charged, heroic, idea-a-minute, edgy pioneer minister.” He feels he needs to keep central that ordination training is mostly about allowing God to shape him and grow him.
Chris shared that the course exceeded his expectations – “Over-exceeded. I had no conception of many of the people, fresh expressions, love and great work being done in the UK and worldwide. The rich colour and diversity of those who I study alongside has been really invigorating and the ideas for responding to the economic needs of my community will be further enhanced by the missional entrepreneurship course.”**
Susie commented on the foundations that her training has given her for ministry in the future: “Training at CMS comes off the back of over 200 years of developing cross-cultural missional practice, and all the lessons learned from that. As a pioneer, it's opened up my vocation in fresh ways and given me a language to understand the urgent need for innovation and creative thinking in mission and ministry within today's society. I have grown in self-awareness, in confidence, and in the ability to approach the challenges of contemporary faith with authenticity, informed by the deep traditions of spirituality gifted to us by our historic church family. I can't imagine a better foundation for the future outworking of my calling to ordination in the Church of England.”
So what next?
Looking forward, Nick spoke about the ministry area he would like to work in: “I feel drawn to an urban estate, possibly a new housing development, perhaps growing small inter-generational missional communities.”
For Chris, the next step is straightforward: “My curacy will begin next summer in Evesham as I’ll be a self-supporting distinctive deacon. I hope to spread the word about the diaconate and pioneering across the diocese and to start and continue with initiatives such as Germinate Enterprise (Christian business start-up support), Soulfood (a Christian meal and reflection for all) and the work of the social business Shine Out of School Clubs, which was founded with support from a previous missional entrepreneurship week.”**
Susie will be heading on to a curacy, and is aware that “if training is anything to go by, it will be brilliant in many unexpected ways so I am looking forward to what God has in store!” Kevin will also be heading on to a curacy – in his case in Maidenhead.
We look forward to hearing from all of them about how God uses these extraordinary ordinands!
To find out more about Pioneer Mission Leadership Training, visit the website at pioneer.churchmissionsociety.org, where you can also sign up to be a Pioneer Friend and receive regular news including interviews with these and other students.
* These are awarded through our partnership with Ripon College Cuddesdon to deliver Common Awards accredited by Durham University.
**The Missional Entrepreneurship course, now called Make Good, is open to all as a residential five-day event run in November and April.