The Oak Hill connection

One point which I did not bring out in my post on the Chelmsford ordination row (see the helpful comment by Rev John Richardson, and my reply) is that, according to The Guardian, the candidate whom the bishop refused to ordain and his vicar had both trained for ordination at Oak Hill College. This Church of England theological college (“seminary” in US terms), situated in north London about thirty miles from my home, can be linked with several of the issues that have been discussed on this blog. It is certainly a centre for those opposed to homosexuality in the church. Also, the authors of the infamous book Pierced for Our Transgressions are all from this college; one, Mike Ovey, is its Principal. I understand that Oak Hill is also something of a centre for those in the Church of England who oppose the ordination of women, although the college does offer ordination training for women. Somehow it seems to me that these people have a totally different vision for the church from that of the main stream of the Church of England. I can’t help wondering if that different vision would be better expressed in a separate organisation.

15 thoughts on “The Oak Hill connection

  1. Paul, you may be right about the whole Anglican Communion. I don’t know enough about ordination of women in Africa, where the cultural context is of course very different. But I was referring only to the Church of England, in which only a small minority still oppose ordination of women.

    The words “main stream” were chosen carefully, to put into perspective the claims of Anglican Mainstream, of which John Richardson seems to be the leading member in Chelmsford diocese. Now Anglican Mainstream is much broader than the Oak Hill connection, and for that I am thankful, and in general I support its aims. But the Oak Hill part of this stream seems to be flowing off into a separate channel, which is also represented by Reform, whose front page aptly suggests that they are a small group cast adrift in an ocean. Reform opposes women priests, although oddly they have an ordained woman on their council.

    By his apparent support for the movement not to take communion with the diocesan bishop, John Richardson seems to be abandoning the mainstream for this side channel, or casting himself adrift on this ocean.

  2. I wonder if those people are thinking the same thing about everyone else!

    Isn’t numerically (including the non-western Anglican churches, e.g. in Africa) the mainstream those who oppose the ordination of women?

  3. People from Oak Hill (1.1 miles away from my former home in North London and one big reason I’m a Methodist, if that sort of information makes any difference) were also involved in the irregular ordinations not very long ago (1 to 2 years?) by a bishop of ‘The Church of England in South Africa’. I think the ordinations were done in Southwark and the South African denomination’s prelate had been called in by a vicar going totally over the incumbant prelate’s head. There was a bit of a brouhaha about it at the time.

    Quelle Suprise about the OH connection, anyway!

  4. Thank you, Pam. I had forgotten about this particular brouhaha. Here is what Ruth Gledhill wrote about it in The Times in 2005. I wonder if the Richard Wood case will end up with a similar irregular ordination.

  5. I think the Oak Hill Connection is interesting, in the sense that some of the more theologically conservative, ecclesiastically radical, and episcopally disrespectful clergypeople in the CofE have been associated with Oak Hill. But clearly we shouldn’t use the exceptional cases to define the majority. E.g. presumably thirty or so ordinands from Oak Hill have been ordained in a normal manner just recently. Only one has picked a fight with his bishop. Two students got together (with some help from a member of staff) to write a book on PSA. There is no particular reason to think that all the other staff think it is a particularly brilliant book (although since the staff helper/author has since become Principal that could mute any criticism in staff meetings!). Oak Hill still maintains that “our primary commitment is to prepare men and women for ordination in the Church of England”.

  6. Fair enough, Peter. I don’t want to claim too much about everyone at Oak Hill. But the book is featured on the college’s home web page and on the front page of its latest newsletter. So it is a bit more to the college than something done in a corner by two students and a faculty member. And the college is well known for having a certain ethos and certain connections. Of course not every student shares this fully, and maybe not all the staff do. But the new Principal certainly seems to, at least on the atonement. So it is reasonable to suggest that this is typical of the college.

  7. Peter H: In my particular narrow experience of extreme conservatism in UK Anglicanism, the commitment is to stand as a true Christian witness (sic) in the Church of England and to convert members and clergy to true Christianity (or to Christianity, full stop).

    I am not saying that “everyone” at Oak Hill is like that. I DO think that many individuals in UK Anglicanism who think that way can be found at Oak Hill.

    OH did allow a tutor to write a paper opposing Rowan Williams as archbishop on the grounds that the latter is not an orthodox (note small ‘o’!) Christian. That is certainly not my own personal view of a commitment to the Church of England although I’m also convinced that those who want to ‘convert’ their fellow Anglicans to Christianity are prefectly sincere in their intentions.

  8. What Pam said is basically fair enough. Except perhaps when Pam said: “OH did allow a tutor to write a paper opposing Rowan Williams as archbishop on the grounds that the latter is not an orthodox (note small ‘o’!) Christian.”
    In my experience (which includes 9 years teaching NT at Oak Hill!) this is unrealistic. Tutors have freedom to publish what they want. Possibly a particularly controversial piece may be shown to the Principal (or shared at a staff meeting), but not necessarily. I don’t know the situation with Garry Williams’ booklet.
    But surely it is reasonable for an evangelical theologian to engage with the published work of another anglican theologian in order to compare his theology with (the writer’s) take on historic orthodoxy. You could say that this is a much better model of engagement with wider debates, than withdrawal into conservative ghettos.

  9. Peter,
    Fair enough on the book. Not so much in the writing of it (unfortunately!), but in the PR and in the appointment of Mike Ovey as Principal Oak Hill has basically chosen to identify with the book. To me this is a bit unfortunate (since you are identified with the fundamental weaknesses of the book, not only its perceived strengths), but hey, it is hard to criticise your Principal’s book on the basis of its poor treatment of the Bible.

  10. You could say that this is a much better model of engagement with wider debates, than withdrawal into conservative ghettos.

    You and I have never met each other and we are trying to communicate as human beings in a very ‘dry’ medium. I think this can be a difficult thing, particularly when coming from different backgrounds.

    I do not dispute anyone’s right to write a book or to express his or her opinions and I certainly agree that Garry Williams had a ‘right’ to publish his views.

    I don’t know how much any of us can ‘step outside’ our own world-views or theological paradigms. I grew up in a hyper-conservative separatist Lutheran denomination in the States, I did a degree in theology at a Roman Catholic university in the bad old days of rampant God-is-dead liberalism. I think I’ve been in varied theological and liturgical environments and my impression is that generally the different theological ‘camps’ don’t understand each other at all and that they do not engage with each other at all.

    Personally, I would not consider writing and publishing a paper from my own perspective as being a form of ‘engaging with’ other theological camps. Fair enough, certainly some people will respond with written disagreements. But, in my opinion at least, ‘engaging’ with other theologies means some form of ‘living’ with people who hold them.

    I expect that many people – myself included – would say ‘Well, I’ve been liberal / conservative / high church / low church and I’ve seen what’s wrong with it which is why I left.’ Which, to me, just highlights that we are all sinners and most of us do ‘charity’ quite badly.

  11. Well, Peter, I’m glad to hear you admit the possibility that PFOT has “fundamental weaknesses”. That’s more than I have heard from many people in the conservative evangelical camp. I hope you aren’t labelled as a hopeless liberal and airbrushed out of the old Oak Hill faculty photos for this! 😉

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