St Mellitus College began small. In 2005 Jane Williams, Mike Lloyd and I launched St Paul’s Theological Centre (SPTC), based in Holy Trinity Brompton, with some courses for lay people, and the dream of one day, perhaps, offering ordination training. It was a time when it was dawning on the Church of England that we needed new ways of training, after the proposals for the reorganisation of theological education under the Hind report in 2003 and the publication of ‘Mission-Shaped Church’ report of 2004. We made an arrangement with Ridley Hall in Cambridge to train ordinands, starting with nine brave souls in our first year. The project turned out to be quite complex with dual ownership, but everything changed when the Bishops of London and Chelmsford invited SPTC to join together with the North Thames Ministerial Training Course in 2007, and asked me to be the first Dean of the new College, which was to be named St Mellitus College. We wanted to create a new body that brought together the strengths of both – the vitality and resources of the young SPTC, along with the strong relationships and trust built up by NTMTC over years, and their accredited degree course and validation by the Church of England.
The early years were exciting, but not always easy, trying to bring together two institutions, each with their own ethos and atmosphere. There was a fair degree of suspicion about this new body. Most theological colleges belonged to one or other of the different traditions in the Church of England, and many people assumed this would be true of St Mellitus. There had been a clear commitment at the start to ensure all the mainstream traditions of the church found a home in the College. It was a vision of a College where theology was taken seriously in the context of a rich diet of prayer and worship, while at the same time being fully engaged in the Mission of the church, all shot through with an expectation of the presence and power of the Holy Spirit in our life together – a vision for which we soon adopted the name ‘Generous Orthodoxy’.
To signal our commitment to theology in the power of the Spirit, in May 2010, we held our first Theological Conference – “The Holy Spirit in the World Today”, which had Jürgen Moltmann, Rowan Williams, David Ford and Miroslav Volf as its main speakers – a line-up that perhaps surprised those who thought this new College would be theologically lightweight and superficial. Since then, the McDonald Lecture Series has brought some of the world’s best-known theologians to speak, such as Marylinne Robinson, Lamin Sanneh, Ellen Charry, Kathryn Tanner, NT Wright, and soon, Stanley Hauerwas.
In time, the students learnt to respect and appreciate one another across the traditions of the church they came from, and even to enjoy the experience of doing the hard work of theology alongside each other. Alongside the provision of flexible part-time ordination training, we were at the forefront of the new style of ‘Context-Based Training’. This enabled ordinands to study full-time, but with half their learning in the classroom or library and the other half in ministry and mission in local parish life. Many independent students began to be attracted here, and it grew faster than any of us had dreamed.
2013 was a key year. We moved into the re-furbished St Jude’s in Earls Court, which proved a step change in the resources and stability of what we could offer our students. In the same year after lengthy consultation with dioceses in the region, and driven by the vision of Jill Duff, its first Director, St Mellitus College, North West opened its doors, and as I write, St Mellitus College, South West is due to start later this year in 2017.
Perhaps the thing that has kept SMC moving has been a belief on the one hand in the urgency of the need – to bring the gospel with all its riches to our nation and beyond – and on the other, a conviction of the power of God to make all things new. We do not believe in a God of scarcity but of possibility, a God who is always on the move and who responds to those who take risks in his name. The early years have been stretching, exciting and a lot of fun. But I am sure the best is yet to come.
By Rt Revd Dr Graham Tomlin, President of St Mellitus College