In March 1960 some fifteen Anglican clergy and six laity (including two women) met for 24 hours at Old Jordans in Buckinghamshire with Dr. Donald Coggan, then Bishop of Bradford, in the chair. The meeting recognised the need for in-service training facilities to improve the quality of preaching in Anglican churches. As a result The College of Preachers was set up; it was formally established as a charitable trust in March 1962.
Donald Coggan remained Chairman when he became Archbishop of York and later of Canterbury, and was a strong supporter of the College up to his death. The immediate past Chairman is Lord (Rev. Dr. Leslie) Griffiths, Minister of Wesley’s Chapel; and the post is currently held by The Right Rev. Stephen Cottrell, Bishop of Chelmsford.
In its early years the College had an office in London, served by volunteer staff. On Rev. Dr. Eric Young’s appointment as Director in 1987 the office moved to Bourne in Lincolnshire, with Karen Atkin employed as administrator. From April 2007 to February 2010 administrative support was provided by the Guy Chester Centre, back in London; and today we have a 'virtual office' in Nottingham. With the closure of the College’s own office, its archives, including copies of the Fellowship Paper etc., were deposited at Lambeth Palace Library in 2008.
In March 1960 Rev. D W Cleverley Ford, one of the founders, was appointed part-time Honorary Director. He was asked to run two pilot courses on preaching at Scargill in Yorkshire: 67 clergy attended these courses, which were residential – from Monday evening to Friday morning. Later, weekend courses for Readers and other laity were added; and most courses were held in diocesan centres. The first major conference was held in 1966 at Swanwick.
From the early days of the College, a regular publication – the Fellowship Paper, later to become The Journal and now The Preacher – went out to subscribers. To begin with, this consisted mainly of sample sermons for the coming period, provided by the Director. More recently, a wider range of articles and features has been included to stimulate preachers, though sample sermons continue to be provided (to provoke the preacher’s own ideas for their own context, rather than to be preached as they stand). The College now has a website, which is a means of expanding its role as an agency for training and encouragement.
Ecumenical links were developed quite early in the College’s life, particularly with Methodist Local Preachers attending Readers’ weekends. In 1992 the College took its first steps towards becoming fully ecumenical. By the end of 2009, although Anglicans still comprised the majority of subscribers to The Preacher, they formed less than half of the Executive Committee (the Trustees).
In 1998, after the retirement of Dr. Young as Director, the Trustees recognised the need for more academic homiletic education for preachers in the UK. The College obtained financial backing to develop a Master of Theology degree in Preaching; a new full-time Director, Rev. Dr. Stephen Wright, was appointed; and a partnership established with Spurgeon’s College (and through it with the University of Wales). Academically, this initiative has been very successful; 34 students have graduated MTh., with a similar number currently studying, and 55 have to date taken modules from the Certificate in Theology (Preaching) which Dr. Wright also developed. However, financially the course fees were insufficient to meet the cost of the Director’s time required on a regular basis. In 2006 the Trustees therefore arranged that Spurgeon’s would take over prime responsibility for the MTh. (as well as the Certificate).
A new part-time Honorary Director, Paul Johns – a Methodist Local Preacher - was appointed to succeed Dr. Wright. The new Director continued to develop the College’s activities, particularly with a new website, inter-active training modules and a series of ‘Festivals of Preaching’ (mostly at Cathedrals round the country), until he stood down in late 2013. The position is currently vacant. Now in its fifty-seventh year, the College continues to explore new ways of bringing the Good News of Jesus Christ to the world.
Based on an original article by Geoff Mihell.