the scottish episcopal church

A New History, by gavin white




Eighteenth Century




Oxford Movement



Church or Province

'English Episcopal'


Social Service

Synods and Councils

Clergy Training

A Small Dog Barking

As Others See Us



Second World War and After

Selected bibliography


14 - Clergy Training

"The religion of Christians is founded upon the assured belief of one, supreme, self-existant, essence, the first cause, and sole creator of heaven, and of earth... It was early taught to man, by express and immediate revelation from the Creator himself. It was manifested to the first ages of mankind by visible and emblematical representations...". So began John Skinner of Linshart's Letters addressed to Candidates for Holy Orders, and in the last half of the eighteenth century Skinner trained most of the northern clergy of the Episcopal Church. There were thirty-eight of his Letters, and they formed his curriculum. Normally the candidate for ordination stayed in the house of his teacher, learning pastoral arts while being tutored directly. The Letters would thus have been used in direct speech, though some might have been copied for men at a distance; they were not published until after Skinner's death.

Such teaching was effective when the teacher was learned and sympathetic, and there was then no alternative. But it had its shortcomings. There was no discussion with fellow-students, and no diversity of teachers whose views could be weighed and sifted. It was strictly disciple and master, and some disciples would have preferred another master, however much they may have respected Skinner. Furthermore, it was, like all systems of on-the-job training, a generation out of date. Anyone who has been a curate under a rector who actually tried to teach something, now somewhat of a rarity, will have recognised that the something in question came from the rector's youth. And Skinner's teaching was very dated. Of his Letters the first was on Revelation, and it was thoroughly eighteenth-century. There were then eleven on Eternal Generation or, rather, against that doctrine. There followed seven on the Trinity, one on the Divine Economy, one on the Fall, three on the Church, four on the Sacraments, four on Good Works and Justification, two on, or against, Predestination, and one each on Worship, Scripture, and obeying the Civil Magistrate. The thing was lopsidedly Hutchinsonian, even if Skinner himself was moderating his approach. And, perhaps the greatest drawback, it required a knowledge of Hebrew. In those days at least a smattering of Latin and Greek would have been expected, but when Hebrew was smattered as well there was not much time for anything else. And for the average student there was little benefit to be had from a superficial grasp of Hebrew. (1)

Of course there were others who tutored in this way. Bishop Petrie trained those that Skinner did not, having a small seminary in his house at Meiklefolla where he ministered from 1762 until his death in 1787. After Petrie's death, Bishop Jolly at Fraserburgh took students and lived on until 1838, in his early years supposedly being the only one of the northern clergy not a Hutchinsonian. He was deeply read in the English divines, as was Skinner, and his library included all the works of the Hutchinsonians even if he did not teach them. Something of a recluse, who did not know oats from barley, he only wrote ten new sermons in all the years he was there. (2)

The next step was half-way to a college. A Miss Panton of Fraserburgh left money for a seminary in Edinburgh. From 1810 the Rev. James Walker of St. Peter's was the first Principal and Professor, though he had few students and taught them in his house much as Skinner had done. In 1826 other gifts led to the purchase of a house in Hill Street, containing Jolly's immense library. Walker became bishop in 1830, and when Terrot succeeded him as both bishop and professor in 1841, he had Bishop Michael Russell for colleague, Terrot being a Cambridge mathematician who had come north to pursue a romance (successfully), and Russell being a distinguished biblical scholar. But then came Glenalmond. (3)

Establishing schools for the sons of gentry with associated theological departments was a common Anglican policy throughout the colonies, and Scotland was to be no exception. The advantage of such a combination was that the fees for schoolboys would pay for the theological part of the enterprise, the headmaster doubling as theological tutor, and some gentility might rub off on the ordinands. So in 1878 Trinity College, Glenalmond, was founded in the middle of nowhere and midway between everywhere. And as Charles Wordsworth, the first Warden, was to write, "our object was to introduce into Scotland the system of the great English public schools, of which I had gained experience both at Harrow, and at Winchester, as a master." "We considered that a cricket ground and a football ground were quite as necessary as class-rooms, and we started with both. I believe it may be said, that till we introduced cricket it had been very little played in Scotland...". But how were theological students to fit into this ? The answer is that they never really did. There were few of them and they came from various backgrounds, not always adequate for high-level studies. And the Warden had an impossible task dealing with two quite separate groups. Wordsworth left the school in 1854, after being elected bishop by his own vote, and his successor seems to have treated the ordinands as schoolboys, even if he did not treat the schoolboys as ordinands. More seriously, the ordinands were "of lower rank in life than the other members of the College", and this was obvious to the latter. And the ordinands complained of "under-education and lack of training". It was little consolation that the products of the course were given the right to wear academic hoods; these garments were the subject of much debate and, at a time when Scottish universities did not award hoods, they gave Glenalmond a touch of Oxford or Cambridge respectability. (4)

There is a list of twenty-one clergy who studied under Wordsworth. William Temple of Cuminestown was, unusually, a graduate, and became something of a scholar. John Ferguson of Elgin was "venerable in appearance even as a young man". John Thomas Boyle, curate at Ayr and at St. Mary's, Glasgow, and later Bridge of Allan, "did not always retain the views he had learned as a student." John Rose Dakers of Hawick ran a night school for young men. Charles Teape was at St. Andrew's, Edinburgh, from 1856 until 1905, and was prematurely named the "last of the evangelicals in the Diocese of Edinburgh". He was "a prolific writer of controversial pamphlets", but "courteous". Then there was William Young Moir of Old Meldrum; "Mr. Moir was a saint". Donald Mackenzie was Gaelic-speaking, at Appin, Duror, and then Ballachulish, and at Burntisland had to make a new start after G.H.Forbes. James Davidson, thirty years at Banff, was learned and bookish. And so on. (5)

But the link with the school could not last, as it did not last in the colonies either. Salvation came to Glenalmond in the form of a fire which drove John Dowden, the Pantonian Professor, to Edinburgh in 1876; he had only had one student at Glenalmond, and then none. Glenalmond was allowed to go its own way as just another school for boys, which it still is. And it remained very much in the English style; as late as 1934 its official notepaper still gave its address as "N.B.", or North Britain. (6)

From his own house in Edinburgh Dowden moved briefly to Old Coates House, which was not the later Coates Hall, but adjacent to St. Mary's Cathedral. Coates Hall was purchased in 1891; this great mansion retained its old name for over a century despite sporadic attempts to have it known as Edinburgh Theological College. In 1924 an adjacent house, 21 Grosvenor Crescent, was bought for an additional residence, but for many years there were not enough students to fill it. Only in 1930 did it cease to house clerical lodgers and others. In 1969 this house became the Representative Church Council offices, and later the General Synod offices. (7)

As for what went on at Coates Hall, it was fairly typical of English theological colleges. In fact, it could not have been anything else. The Scottish Episcopal Church was too small to run a college unless it took in English students, most of whom would return to England. This had the advantage of imposing external standards. Coates Hall students wrote the Church of England ordination examinations with another, the Luscombe, on Scottish church history and canons and liturgy. And in due course the Church of England procedure for vetting ordination candidates, based on a military officers' board, was applied to the Episcopal Church, and served to override the enthusiasms of individual rectors and bishops. But there were prices to pay for adopting this pattern. First, the staff tended to be English, though the chaplain was normally, as in African theological colleges of the day, a local man. Secondly, if the English pattern was unavoidable, the Scottish Episcopal Church only took half of that pattern - - the lower half. Some English clergy had done a theological degree at Oxford or Cambridge followed or combined with residence at a theological college. Others had done a non-degree course at a theological college which could, but usually did not, follow an arts degree in a university. Bishops and other dignitaries were almost always drawn from the Oxford and Cambridge men. Theological college men could not aspire to such heights. The products of Coates Hall complained that they were trained to be sergeants or corporals, while the officers came from the south. But this was not the result of the system; the system was the result of a general assumption about social classes and the clergy. Thirdly, the academic standard could not be high. Two or three years taught by two or three men in Coates Hall compared badly with the arts degree and three years in a divinity faculty of Presbyterian ministers. There had been a day when Scots in the Episcopal Church had degrees, mostly from Aberdeen or Edinburgh, and the English were either Oxford or Cambridge; now the Scots were largely non-graduate and the English imports, unless brought in to fill top posts, were also non-graduate.

Yet, despite the "upstairs downstairs" philosophy of the day, there were a succession of moves to give Coates Hall men some university education. When Dowden taught in Edinburgh he had his students do two philosophy units at the university. In 1922 six of the Coates Hall students matriculated for the Edinburgh M.A. which they were to do, astonishingly, at the same time as their theology in the college. And from the last century those who were already arts graduates of a Scottish university could write that university's B.D. examinations without attending classes, but this only extended recognition without increasing education and was somewhat demanding as the college curriculum and the university curriculum differed. Not surprisingly, few benefited from it. A 1910 suggestion from Glasgow University that all churches should get together on theological education was not really considered by Episcopalians since they were already centred on Edinburgh. But the obvious need was for an arts degree before entering Coates Hall, and in 1930 Canon Henderson-Begg, rector of St. Paul's, York Place, and a man whose name kept rising after some Englishman was elected bishop since there was no suitable Scot, identified the weakness of Coates Hall with "the very small proportion of students who had got a University degree." And, as the Principal, Canon Brasnett, pointed out in the following year, entrance requirements for Coates Hall were pegged at the same level as those for the universities, so the problem was lack of either money or a sense of need, which amounted to the same thing. And in fact some church money was being made available to assist candidates at university; the incoming class of 1931 had seven graduates out of eight. (8)

A valuable link from the early years of this century was with Durham, whereby some Coates Hall men wrote examinations for the Durham Licentiate of Theology, and of those successful a few might go to Durham itself for an additional year of study resulting in a B.A. In 1933 it was hoped that having the Durham L.Th. would allow entry to the B.D. examinations of the Scottish universities, but this did not happen. In 1934 an indignant response to a Presbyterian comment on the Episcopal Church and "the prevailing mediocrity of its scholarship", which was really quite another matter, brought statistics on degrees. At that time 66% of all Episcopal clergy had degrees, 197 out of 299, while in 1890 it was 63%, by 1894 it had risen to 70% and by 1895 it had fallen to 67%. But these figures do not tell us much. In fact it is easy to calculate percentages of graduates for the years since. Taking two dioceses, Glasgow and Brechin, the former had 77% graduates in 1910, which fell to 58% by 1929, and was 57% in 1960 if the special Durham degrees are excluded, and 67% if they are not. Brechin had 75% in 1910, 70% in 1929, and 63% in 1960. Other dioceses had roughly similar evidence to offer. Despite the Durham connection and despite efforts by Brasnett and others, standards were falling, and the gap between the Episcopal Church and the Church of Scotland was widening. (9)

That this was so can be attributed to two factors. First, training had to be related to some yardstick, and the one selected was almost inevitably going to be that of the Church of England. And the Church of England had broken with its traditional policy of a gentry clergy by admitting other men, but without disturbing the social system. There were now clergy who were gentlemen and clergy who were not, but they were still distinct. And there was even assumed to be some special virtue in having "clergy who were not"; because they were not educated it was assumed that they would be more acceptable to the uneducated. Education was assumed to be a process of assimilation to a higher class structure and, in England, this is what in reality it often was. That Scotland had a cheap and relatively class-free system of non-residential universities, something only just evolving in England, was a factor not sufficiently considered. And there was probably another view underlying neglect of general education, the view that people were a blank slate and the clergy had to know what to write on that slate, but did not have to know anything about the slate, for there was nothing to know. But there was a local consideration as well. In the nineteenth century a very large proportion of the home-grown Episcopal clergy came from Aberdeenshire and Banffshire, where there was a tradition of university study, and found their way into the ministry through Aberdeen University. As the Episcopal Church in the north-east declined, so did that source of clergy, and so did the emphasis on a learned ministry. (10)

Life at Coates Hall seems to have been happy most of the time, hellish part of the time, and possibly more successful in training clergy than the average English equivalent. The residential basis enabled students to be thoroughly trained in matters spiritual. There were real scholars amongst the staff. John Dowden was an exceptional teacher and, though Irish, an expert on Scottish liturgy. He raised the numbers from practically nothing to an average of twelve or fifteen. Dowden became Bishop of Edinburgh in 1886, and was succeeded by an Englishman, Canon Keating, who lasted for sixteen years. Then came A.J.Maclean, who found the student body down to virtually nothing; he had come up through Eton and Cambridge and had worked in the Middle East with the Assyrian Church, and was to apply his vast learning to production of the Scottish Prayer Book in 1911. But he soon went to be Bishop of Moray, and was succeeded by Anthony Mitchell, a Scot who left to be Bishop of Aberdeen, and who was in turn succeeded by William Perry from 1912 until 1930. If Mitchell was outstanding, so was Perry, another man whose name was invoked when it was said there were no Scots fit to be bishops. When Perry went to a parish in 1929, he was succeeded by B.R.Brasnett, whose theology was deep but, perhaps, not cast in the usual mould. His books seem to have impressed readers but puzzled them. He was not on good terms with the bishops and was dismissed. He inherited a considerable fortune which he left to his brother who had also taught at Coates Hall and also inherited, and when the brother died in 1997 three million pounds were given to the Church of England but, perhaps understandably, nothing to the Scottish Episcopal Church. (11)

In 1942 Coates Hall received students evacuated from Chichester, whose principal served both colleges, and in 1946 P.C.Lempriere, a name to conjure with in Episcopal history, followed, only to die two years later. Two Englishmen, Richard Wimbush, later Bishop of Argyll, and J.W.A.Howe, later Bishop of St. Andrews, took over as principal and vice-principal respectively, Wimbush until 1963 when K.J.Woollcombe replaced him, and in 1971 A.I.M.Haggart, a future bishop of Edinburgh and primus, and a Scot, duly replaced him. (12)

But there were a number of local clergy who assisted the full-time staff with lectures in certain subjects. On the death in 1934 of Canon W. Henderson-Begg, a descendant of Dr. Begg of the Free Church, one of the students wrote, "If each divine had wit as razor-keen, As he possessed and used with boyish glee, Each lecture-room had been a happier place, And it were joy to learn theology." As for Frederick Goldie, later Bishop of Glasgow, whose election so displeased a majority of the House of Bishops that they at first set it aside and put forward a list of clergy in England who might supply "leadership", he lectured in Coates Hall from 1940 until 1963. And so did numerous others. But the real change came in 1971 with the arrangement that most students at Coates Hall should take the Edinburgh B.D., and this meant actually studying in the university and not merely sitting for the examination. At one jump the demands made of students were far greater, and the improvement cannot be doubted. Of course some of those students had previous degrees in other faculties, but many others had not. (13)

Yet none of this really effected the great new fact of the 1970s, Non-Stipendiary Ministry, to use the most negative title since the invention of the Non-Commissioned Officer. (Was this in the sub-conscious of those who coined this phrase ?) And N.S.M.s were at first trained quite separately, even if this was undertaken in the near proximity of Coates Hall. The reason was probably that in the Church of England this development arose from the belief that N.S.M.s would be of the working-class, and would minister in their work-place, and must not be contaminated by the middle-class values of the full-time clergy. In fact N.S.M.s turned out to be as middle-class as the full-time clergy, and there were no ways in which they could minister in their work-places anyway. They turned out to be parish auxiliaries. And if the original aims were never realised, the success of the venture was none the less sure. Yet there was one major distinction between N.S.M.s in England and in the Scottish Episcopal Church. They were clearly auxiliaries in the former but not in the latter, where lack of a strong financial base and a large number of thinly-attended congregations made them essential, and nearly half the clergy soon fell into this category. (14)

But the new pattern only lasted a generation. A significant minority of Church of England candidates were beginning to be trained non-residentially, and costs at Coates Hall were rising, while numbers were falling. Coates Hall became part of a Theological Institute with a wider remit than full-time clergy, and in 1993 it was agreed to sell the buildings and they were purchased by St. Mary's Choir School. In the place of the old college there was a new curriculum for distance learning, though there would still be an opportunity for some to do the Edinburgh B.D. The new in-house curriculum was designed for "putting the emphasis on a cycle which moves through experience to social analysis, and thence to theological reflection and pastoral planning." And the same training, stretching over three years of part-time study which would not take candidates out of their secular occupations, would be undertaken by full-time candidates and by N.S.M.s. And, after initially being based at St. Colm's College of the Church of Scotland, the Theological Institute found a home in Old Coates House where Dowden had taught so long ago. (15)

The loss of Coates Hall was to be regretted, and was regretted, very loudly. But the theological college, that brilliant invention of the nineteenth century, may already have seen its day. It belonged to a world in which young men proceeded from preparatory school to English public school to university, and the latter meant living in college and dining in hall. And from theological college they were to go out to clergy houses which were still in the boarding school tradition. None of this suited the mature student who was probably married and either encouraged to bring his family into the college or, more often, to leave it behind. And, if not married, had usually lived and worked on his own, not to mention her own, and had become a decent cook. Universities had become largely self-catering, and theological education had to do the same. But how to do it was more of a problem.

In 1925 Dr. Skinner Wilson, whose father had been a priest in the Diocese of Aberdeen, wrote of those days. "The isolation in which we lived was very terrible." "The craving for books which cannot be satisfied is a terrible thing. For a clergyman it is stagnating. A man who never takes anything in cannot perpetually be giving out." Railways reduced the isolation, and chapter meetings offset the loneliness. But there never has been much provision of, or, admittedly, much demand for post-ordination study. There has been provision for instruction in pastoral care, which is important, but which is not education. As in other denominations, it is still possible for visitors to a strange church to make a fairly accurate guess from hearing the sermon what theological college the clergyman attended, and when he did so. But perhaps this is a tribute to a system of training rather than a criticism of what has come, or not come, after. (16)

(1) Walker, John Skinner of Linshart pp 154,158; John Skinner, Theological Works Vol I p 1 (Aberdeen 1809)
(2) John Skinner (of Forfar), Annals of Scottish Episcopacy p 283 (Edinburgh 1818); William Walker, The Life of Alexander Jolly D.D. Bishop of Moray pp 32, 43-44, 55, 56,72 (Edinburgh 1878); Cooper, Life and Times of Bishop Arthur Petrie p 126
(3) Edward Luscombe, A Seminary of Learning : Edinburgh Theological College 1810-1994 pp 4-6 (Edinburgh 1994); William Walker, Three Churchmen : Sketches and Reminiscences pp 9, 46, 96 (Edinburgh 1893)
(4) Scottish Ecclesiastical Journal 1858 p 50; Scottish Guardian 1891 pp 523-524; Marion Lochhead, Episcopal Scotland in the 19th Century p 218 (London 1966)
(5) Scottish Chronicle 1930 p 650
(6) Scottish Chronicle 1926 p 835; Scottish Guardian 1934 p 552
(7) Luscombe, A Seminary of Learning p 13
(8) Scottish Chronicle 1930 pp 106,516; Scottish Guardian 1931 p 661, 1933 p 569, 1934 p 649
(9) Scottish Guardian 1934 p 478; Scottish Episcopal Church Yearbooks1910, 1929, 1960
(10) Diocese of Aberdeen and Orkney Aberdeen University Archives MS3320, 1/14 Minute Books 1872-1902; Leslie Paul, A Church by Daylight pp 158-161 (London 1973); David A. Dowland, Nineteenth Century Anglican Theological Training : The Redbrick Challenge(Oxford 1997)
(11) Luscombe, A Seminary of Learning pp 47-48
(12) Luscombe, A Seminary of Learning p 20
(13) Scottish Chronicle 1934 pp 71, 95; Glasgow Herald May 26, 27 1974; Luscombe, The Scottish Episcopal Church in the Twentieth Century pp 27-32
(14) Luscombe, The Scottish Episcopal Church in the Twentieth Century pp 43-44
(15) Luscombe, A Seminary of Learning p 38
(16) Scottish Chronicle 1925 p 650
next >