Our beginnings in 1959
Our origins lie in an unusually brilliant idea that sparked between a pair of episcopal ears when, in 1959, the Bishop of Southwark took the controversial step of devising a wholly new pattern for ministerial formation.
Men (as it was then) would no longer leave their daily lives and their working communities in order to live in colleges that were still echoes, if distant ones, of monastic communities. Rather, these students would study theology and learn the practices of ministry whilst remaining productively embedded in their local contexts.
The Southwark Ordination Course helped its students make the vital connections between learning and ministry, theology and practice, from the very beginning of their ministerial
Today, as St Augustine’s College of Theology, we have maintained and developed this vision of embedded, contextual formation.
What was innovative in 1959 is now familiar. Today, non-residential colleges take their place alongside their residential counterparts, offering an education that is distinctive but equally thorough, and utterly necessary for the mission of the Church.
South East Institute of Theological Education (SEITE), 1994
SEITE was the product of merging the Southwark Ordination Course with the Canterbury School of Ministry, to serve the dioceses of South East England through the ministerial formation of men and women for both licensed lay and ordained ministry.
Twenty years on, SEITE had responded to the challenges of change and, in addition to training men and women for ordained ministry in the Church of England, welcomed students from other denominations, students training for licensed lay ministry, and those simply studying theology.
In 2014, the Church of England introduced ‘Common Awards’ a set of qualifications from Certificate level to Masters, accredited by the University of Durham. All our students now study for these Common Awards qualifications.
Also under the provisions of this scheme, SEITE began to work in partnership with the dioceses of Canterbury, Chichester, and Rochester, to provide accredited continuing education to curates during the first four years following their ordination.
“When I speak to clergy and talk about training, I am so glad that I chose SEITE. The standard of teaching is second to none and the staff are very accessible, approachable and supportive. So too are fellow students who share the same demands and pressures, both in their studies and in daily life. It was a big step for me, giving up much that I was comfortable with in order to study. Would I do it again? Without a moment’s hesitation I would.”
As we began to expand our course offerings, developing our Master’s degree, and attracting more students wishing to study independently, it became clear that we needed another teaching centre, similar to our Southwark one, providing a place in which we might worship as well as learn and also have a growing library. Our administrative needs were also growing and we were sorely in need of more flexible space and somewhere better suited to welcoming guests and prospective students. In September, 2016, therefore, we shall say goodbye to our present accommodation on the campus of Canterbury Christ Church University and move our Canterbury classes and our offices to the St. Benedict’s Centre at Malling Abbey, West Malling. Here, we shall enjoy excellent classrooms, our own library, use of the Pilgrim Chapel, and study rooms for students. We shall also find support in the prayers of the Abbey’s Benedictine community.
We remain, though, a community dispersed across, and embedded, in all our sponsoring dioceses. These relationships sustain our mission.
A new name
In 2015 we began an extended review of the ways in which we presented, explained, and advocated our mission within the dioceses of the South East and to the Church at large. As a result of this review, our governing Council decided unanimously that it was time to change our name. ‘SEITE’ has served us well for twenty years but the name has always posed problems of pronunciation, spelling, and an occasional – though, perhaps, ironically appropriate – confusion with SETI (the Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence). We needed something less enigmatic, more memorable, and, as it were, down to earth. After a lengthy process of consultation, we chose to adopt the missionary saint of Southern England, St. Augustine, who landed on the Isle of Thanet in 597, and became the first Archbishop of Canterbury. His careful attention, under the guidance of Pope Gregory the Great, to what we now would called missional respect for cultural context, is a very worthy inspiration.