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One of the Church in England and Wales’ landmark lay ministry courses has ended due to a lack of students and funding.
Education for Parish Service, which started in 1989 with the backing of Cardinal Basil Hume, has trained hundreds of lay people for roles such as Rite of Christian Initiation ofAdults (RCIA) course leaders, catechists and school and prison chaplains.
In recent years it has operated out of the Centre for Catholic Formation in Tooting, south London, and offered a foundation degree in pastoral ministry through St Mary’s University, Twickenham.
The course was taught by laity and clergy and designed to train lay people, a majority of them women, for leadership roles in parishes. But due to financial pressures and falling numbers, the trustees of Education for Parish Service (EPS) decided to wind up the course.
Numbers have come under pressure due to a rise in student fees leaving those taking the course needing to find around £2,000 as opposed to £600.
The EPS was responsible for the administration of the course – which included paying rent to the Catholic formation centre – with the Archdiocese of Southwark picking up a £5,000 shortfall in funds in 2012 and 2013.
But the archdiocese has indicated it would not be willing to make up any further deficit.
Following the closure of the EPS the Archdioceses of Southwark and Westminster agreed to continue to support the pastoral theology degree by writing a letter to each parish informing them of the course, but no lay students subsequently enrolled.
Dr Anne Inman, the former director of EPS, said she felt a lack of support from the archdiocese for the course.
She said the EPS operated on a very tight budget with a small staff and was not a major financial burden on Southwark archdiocese. Her own salary was £12,000 per annum. Dr Inman also felt that more could have been done to promote the course.
In a letter to the chairman of the EPS trustees earlier this year, Bishop Patrick Lynch, Dr Inman and three others wrote: “It is a source of great consternation to us that a long-standing and excellent resource for training and formation in the diocese, which has been an outstanding model of lay/clerical co-responsibility, might be let go so easily.”
Fr David Gibbons, a trustee of EPS and Director of the Centre for Catholic Formation, said it was “disappointing” that the course had to be closed. He stressed, however, that the archdiocese and Bishop Lynch had tried hard to prevent this. He pointed out that less expensive courses were on offer to lay people in Southwark, including one in catechesis run by the Maryvale Institute in Birmingham.