Last Tuesday was my final day at the Queen's Foundation for Ecumenical Theological Education. I leave with profound mixed feelings, having worked there for the past five years. Although I have some exciting and challenging roles lined up, there is also a real sense of loss at leaving this community of scholarship and formation.
Of course, the last five years have been some of the most turbulent in the history of Queen's and its predecessors. I arrived in Birmingham in the aftermath of the Fruitful Field debate and decision at the Methodist Conference in Plymouth. It is fair to say that Methodism was rocked by the decisions of that Conference in a way that continue to rumble on. There was a feeling, at least for a while, that Queen's had lost by being chosen as a Centre in the new Methodist Learning Network. Comments were published and myths circulated about the lack of calibre of staff at the Foundation that almost became true in the telling. Some suggested that this was a Methodist take over of the first truly ecumenical college in England and this seemed to disturb some of the horses.
What I leave, five years on, is an institution with a remarkable staff team and beginning to emerge from the shadows. I sense that when colleagues announce they are from Queen's in the future, people won't ask where it is anymore. I still think it punches well below its weight in both the academy and the Church, especially in a Church of England that has lost confidence in the ecumenical endeavour as it struggles to hold itself together. Methodism needs now to own the decision it made and invest in a proper Network that brings colleagues together in proper and effective collaborations.
Queen's has grown from a relaitively small theological college into a major player in theological education in the UK. The next five years will be critical as it looks to provide prophetic leadership for the future. For me, this will mean embracing its USP's of prophetic witness and inclusive justice, of global commitments and interfaith engagement. Openly tackling thorny questions raised by authentic ecumenism, post-colonial thinking and LGBTQI inclusion will set it apart, and ruffle many feathers, but is the only way to remain true to its roots.