Correspondence courses in pastoral theology linked with one-week residential courses are now being tried by the Redemptorists in their new study centre, writes F. C. PRICE,.
Last September the Redemptorists converted their former seminary at Hawkstone Park, Shropshire, into a pastoral and study centre. Since then they have established a firm reputation for the quality of their in-service training courses for priests.
Now, building on these firm foundations, they have announced the first stage of a new plan for correspondence courses in pastoral theology linked directly with the residential one-week courses.
"If you like, it is a cross between a correspondence course and the Open University, although I do not think we should push that analogy too far," explained Er Christopher Harris, the man behind this novel scheme.
He continued: "The first people to take up these courses will be people who have taken theology courses before, and whose requirement is that they would like to be put in totieh. with more recent thinking about theology, especially pastoral theology."
Fr Harris is convinced that there will be quite a demand for the courses because the situation in this country is unlike that on the Continent where priests are accustomed to the Sabbatical Year.
Ile said: "We are gearing it especially to the needs of this country where we do not have anything like Lumen Vitae. We are trying to provide some sort of service for people who, for a variety of reasons, find it difficult to keep abreast of recent thinking.
"Quite often they think they have to leave the country to do it, and if their only language is English they may even have to travel to America or Ireland.
"One of the big problems is that they have to absent themselves from home. In the case of priests this simply is not on because the country is short of priests.
At the moment our inservice training courses are doing wonderful work, but what I am looking for and experimenting with at the moment is to put rather more order into what is an orderly process of inservice training."
The foundation course in pastoral theology is now ready for dispatch. It has been subdivided into three separate courses. ine lirst, of six lessons, deals with the Church institutions and sociological aspects of the Church.
Starting from a pre-Vatican Two position it examines such problems as "The Church and Society," "Coping With Change," and "The Problems of the Parish."
The second course, which takes seven lessons, deals with "Roman Catholic Theology Since 1800" and, in the words of Fr Harris, "tries to dispel the idea that Vatican Two was the beginning of everything and that at Vatican Two minority views were imposed on the maioritv."
Hermeneutics" is the third course, taking six lessons which will examine "many burning questions of the present time."
In accordance with his study programme the student will receive at regular intervals the lessons sheets of the various courses which he has selected. Each lesson consists of notes to be used in conjunction with a carefully selected amount of reading from course books and recommended authors.
Each lesson endeavours to help him get to grips with one subject, or one aspect of a subject, and thereby enable him to better approach the following lesson.
When he has completed a course or blocks of courses, he will have an opportunity during the inside of a week to complete his study at the Pastoral and Study Centre where he will meet fellow students and course tutors.
Each student will be supplied with a number of Question Sheets on which he will note down any problems he encounters. When making his reservation for the residential part of the course these will be forwarded to enable the tutors 10 prepare to answer them.
Commenting on these Fr Harris said, "Not only may courses be constantly improved as a result of students' difficulties, but they may be constantly kept up to date. "This is an important factor during the present period of swift theological change. The student may thus feel confident that at whatever time he enrols, he is being put in touch with the latest state of the various questions, as indicated by serious and responsible theological and pastoral opinion and practice." From a purely practical point of view the idea is that each student will be able to work at his own pace and in accordance with his other commitments.
"Priests especially will value a system which takes into account the fact that whereas their ser vices are continuously in demand at certain times, they may well be inexplicably left alone at others," Fr Harris pointed out.
And on the residential aspects of the course he added, "There a more informed discussion can take place than is usually possible because they will have been preceded by common study."
Once this first phase has been successfully launched the Redemptorists have plans for following it up with similar correspondence courses for Religious and lay people.
"We have had a lot of requests for this service from Religious and we hope to be ready to start posting the lessons in July of this year," he said.
Already in preparation are courses in religious life, scripture and liturgy. As with the courses for priests these will be followed by a five-day residential course.
This summer a number of lay groups will spend short periods in residence at Hawkstone. Advantage will be taken of this opportunity to sound out lay opinion with a view to devising 'similar courses for them, perhaps to be launched in 1975.
Fr Harris explained: "Adult catechetics are generally recognised as a neglected area in this country and I want to use
this same approach to presenting an adult version of the faith. They will be simple, straightforward but adult courses which enable members of the laity to take a particular subject as deeply as they like.
"It is not just a question of a rehash of what I have received abroad at Lumen Vitae. It has got to be put into the context.of this country because catechetics do not Work at all unless they are related to an actual situation.
"The actual situation in Europe is in many respects different from the actual situation here. Therefore, keeping in constant touch with •people leading the average sort of life involving the family, we are hoping to write this course on adult catechetics so that we can bring our theology to meet their everyday practical experience.
"This sort of thing can only be done in collaboration because the day of the ecclesiastic talking to the layman is over."
Fr Harris is optimistic that the idea of the correspondence edurses will catch on because "this country has a strong tradition of such schemes" which is only possible because we have such a good postal service.
The difficulties which these courses are designed to overcome were recognised in the report of the joint working party established by the Bishops' Conference and the National Conference of Priests entitled, "Co-responsibility and the Clergy." While recommending the promotion at diocesan and national level of in-service training schemes the report also recognised "that many priests are reluctant to leave their parish work or place some additional burden on some other priest while they are away."
It also added: "Since lecturers at courses are often academics who are free in the summer and accommodation is more readily available during academic holidays, courses tend nowadays to be summer schools. Admirable though these may be, this is seldom the most suitable time of the year for parochial clergy who would more easily attend courses arranged in the spring or autumn."
By linking the five-day inside of a week residential course with the correspondence course some Of these problems will be overcome.
Plans are already well advanced for further courses in pastoral theology which will lead on from the end of the foundation course. One is currently being prepared by Fr Clifford Howell and approaches have been made to other leading authorities.