9 April 02004

Learning to serve God online

Something with a vaguely Easter flavour. Never mind that Alanis Morissette wants to use her ordination as a minister to marry gay couples and spite George W. Bush (laudable though her intent may be); what caught my attention was that she became ordained via an online course.

Last year I cited some critiques of e-learning that contested there are limitations to what you can learn online, particularly when it comes to some skills that arguably have to be learnt and practised in situ. I'm sure it's possible to learn the mechanics of conducting a marriage ceremony in a few hours, but is that all you expect from a minister: to say the right things by rote at the right time?

I did some quick research-by-surfing to find out what these online ordination courses offer.

All the courses I came across were from non-mainstream churches with headquarters in the USA. Some are such 'open churches,' offering ordination at the push of a button, that the concept of being a minister can have little meaning — see this example. One step away from this the, Love Church Worldwide distances itself from "online ordination mills" that offer ordination with no training at all — whereas they offer training ("free" apart from the three-figure administration fee) that can bestow a Bachelor of Divinity degree as well as ordination.

I wanted to know what the syllabus for these ordination courses was. I'm not certain this is an online course but this tuition gives a breakdown of the 128 hours study required to get a BA degree. As far as I can tell, this includes a whole three hours on pastoral counselling, which may be optional. Forgive me, father, for not trusting my problems to your professional care after only three hours open learning. It's also hard to resist cracking a joke about another module that promises three hours training in fasting: I think many of us could last that long without a Snickers anyway.

Which is all by way of saying that I don't think we should take Alanis's online ordination too seriously. There are some things that ministers need to know that could be learnt effectively online: for example, these online continuing education courses may complement experience-based learning. But anyone wishing to serve God by building church activities and showing spiritual leadership in communities would be well advised to do some serious apprenticeship in churches and communities.

Posted by David Jennings in section(s) E-learning on 9 April 02004 | TrackBack

this is quite interesting, are these online ordination's legal in the UK, meaning can someone who has been 'net ordained' actually perform marriages and such in the UK?

Posted by: john martin on 12 October 02006 at 11:59 AM

I don't know, but doubt it.

Posted by: David Jennings on 12 October 02006 at 12:43 PM

It is all well and good to criticise on-line ordination and easy distance learning methods of achieving qualifications, but what about guys and girls like me? Thirty odd years of ministry as a lay preacher travelling from one end of Wales or, latterly, the Midlands to lead services. In great demand to take funerals and christenings (naming ceremonies if you like "new speak") and no straightforward way for us to take a course of study. I have a ful time occupation as well as preaching/funerals and I'm afraid that disappearing for three years or whatever to Ridley College or some such would deprive me of income and a lot of my "flock" of someone they can rely on for pastoral care. At the age of 60 with a lot of worldly wisdom, I neither need to spend hours being told how to speak to a young mum who's just lost her baby or her partner or her mum.....I do it all the time and from the reaction I get, do it adequately. I spent half my life training people in presentation skills. People refer to me as "the vicar" or the "Minister" and I would love to really be one but I can't find a church that will let me prove my skills and then grant me ordination. Should I just buy a dog collar and ordain myself? After all I can't see where in the Book of Acts it talks about the apostles going on any courses.

Posted by: Phil Niblock on 22 August 02007 at 6:59 PM

Phil, I think the answer to your needs would be based on the Accreditation of Prior Learning (APL) principle. Basically APL seeks to assess and recognise the skills and knowledge you have already acquired through your experience — no need to do another course to learn what you already know.

I have no idea whether churches have the mechanisms in place to accredit what you have learnt in this way. It's an administrative and infrastructure issue for them.

Posted by: David Jennings on 22 August 02007 at 8:03 PM

I completely agree with Phil. Where in the bible does it say someone has to be recognised by a church to minister - whether via APL or not?

And who would you trust more - someone with no qualification but plenty of skills (or/and experience), or someone with few skills and no experience who managed to get a qualification?

Surely (if a Christian minister) the only qualification needed is that you are approved of by Jesus Christ?

Posted by: PJ Croad on 24 September 02011 at 5:51 PM
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