St Mellitus College, North West: 4 Years On

Revd Dr Jill Duff, Director of St Mellitus College, North West, talks about SMC NW as it enters its 5th year.

Incredibly, this autumn marks the start of the 5th year of St Mellitus College, North West, based at Liverpool Cathedral. Rejoice is the word that comes to mind. It’s been a rollercoaster journey, as I believe is any new work of God – so there’s been plenty of exhilaration along the way – but in short I am immensely thankful for the “immeasurably more” than I could ask or imagine over this time. 

Back in June 2012, the North West Bishops (Blackburn, Carlisle, Chester, Liverpool & Manchester) agreed to form a partnership in the gospel with St Mellitus College to provide full-time context-based ordination training in the North West of England. In many places across the North West, the church has struggled to generate sufficient vocations to ordination, clergy leave the area to train full-time elsewhere. And yet, the sense was the harvest fields are plentiful but the workers are few. The North West is the most densely populated area of the country outside London and the South East.

SMC North West marks a number of firsts:

  • First full-time ordination college in the North West since St Aidan’s College Birkenhead closed in 1969
  • First time Ministry Division have given permission for a College to offer ordination training in a different region of the country
  • First significant partnering of an ordination College with a Cathedral for over 40 years – new building is taking place of the St Aidan’s Centre in the grounds of the Cathedral to accommodate our growing numbers.

 

But in many ways this is far from a first:

  • The St Mellitus ‘charism’ for hope, for generous orthodoxy and quite simply, the generous ‘can-do' spirit has meant that the impossible plan of re-starting full-time ordination training in the North West came into the realms of possibility. I am deeply grateful to colleagues in London for prayers, expertise, support, partnership and much much more.
  • St Aidan’s College was one of the first institutions outside Oxbridge to offer training for ordination in the C of E. It opened in 1846 and had a strong element of context-based training to its ethos. Ordinands would spend their afternoons in mission & ministry in the burgeoning poverty-striken districts of Liverpool’s port.
  • Cathedrals have, since Medieval times, been places of learning and equipping. The motto of Liverpool Cathedral is “a safe place to do risky things in Christ’s service”. It is the largest Anglican Cathedral in Europe and the first new-build since the Reformation. This risk-taking culture has meant that the Cathedral continues to be a hospitable environment – I am grateful to the Dean & Chapter for their support, and especially to previous dean, now Bishop of Sheffield, Revd Dr Pete Wilcox.

 

I hope we have been a blessing to the wider college over the last five years. We are thrilled that best practice in study skills in the North West has encouraged its development in other parts of the College. Likewise our termly Half Nights of Prayer will also operate this year in London and South West centres.

It’s been encouraging that the Bishops of Truro and Exeter have also decided to partner with the College in the hope of bringing revitalisation to the churches in the South West. We are thrilled that St Mellitus College, South West is opening in Plymouth this September, with Director, Revd Dr Donna Lazenby. 

And last but by no means least, I am deeply proud of our stellar staff team in the North West. All are so dedicated, all are active in church leadership in the North West but each brings academic, formational or administrative expertise.  

On the Day of Pentecost, people in Jerusalem were “utterly amazed … we hear them declaring the wonders of God in our own tongues”. Increasingly I appreciate that a great gift of all our students (ordinands, undergraduates, postgraduates) studying theology whilst rooted in local contexts, means it’s easier for people to speak the wonders of God in the local languages. There are still many languages and cultures (not least in the UK) where people have no access to hear the wonders of God. The Church of England’s aspiration is to see a “Christian presence in every community”. In the next season of St Mellitus College, may the Spirit of God call out courageous leaders from all walks of life for the transformation of our country and beyond.