One could be forgiven for thinking that the Church of Ireland Bishops have decided that clergy are no longer needed. They in their wisdom have decreed that ministers should have a master’s degree. Now, I yield to no-one in my admiration for the wisdom of Bishops, but I can tell you that I have (1) a medical qualification—that is, a couple of bachelor’s degrees; (2) a couple of master’s degrees, one in theology; and (3) a science PhD, and not one of these helps me master essential tasks of ministry such as photocopying and tea-drinking. What does most certainly help is experience of life, mortgages, deaths, births, agonies and ecstasies. And such common sense as I can muster.
Having acquired degrees does help with the reading of documents—or rather, spotting which need not be read. The trick is to read the first and last sentences and see if you want to go deeper. One rarely does. That works for books as well. Indeed, if you hold the book in your hand long enough, the information therein contained seeps into your brain by osmosis and you needn’t read them at all. That’s why students spend so long in libraries just handling the books. They don’t actually read them. On reflection, this can’t be true because if it were the average congregation member would know all the words in the Prayer Book off by heart. And they seem not to, despite repeating them week in, week out. It’s great fun when I say a liturgical good morning to see how flustered people get because the response is not written in bold on page 201 or whatever.
Does the insistence on a master’s degree (it’s the same in the C of E by the way, but there are more people there so the problem is less acute) dissuade people from coming forward? I suspect it does. I suspect it’s intimidating to some capable people who have no record of formal education beyond secondary school, but who have more than enough wisdom and ability to do what is required of the clergy after a brief (18 months perhaps) training that consists of seminars and on-the-job stuff. This is training by osmosis that certainly works.