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Major expansion of science education planned for ministry training

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Theological colleges and courses will be encouraged to bid for funds to help integrate discussion on science-related subjects into existing theological studies in the latest phase of the Equipping Christian Leadership in an Age of Science (ECLAS) project.

The Archbishop of Canterbury, Justin Welby, said:

“I am delighted that this project is continuing to build on its considerable achievement in promoting the significance of healthy and informed engagement with science to church leaders of all levels, together with resourcing them in this increasingly demanding and important task.

“This new stage of the project with its combination of research and provision of resources will further deepen church-wide understanding of the challenges science and technology pose for society, and continue to contribute to the mission, ministry and theological reflection of senior church leaders as they respond.”

Organisers hope that up to half of all people training for ordained ministry will eventually benefit from sessions where they have an opportunity to discuss topics such as Artificial Intelligence and the questions it raises for society among other themes. This will be funded by the project, run by the Universities of Durham and York in partnership with the Church of England.

Under the plans, the project will also run more conferences for senior church leaders and clergy on areas of scientific interest. This follows eight conferences for church leaders on subjects ranging from neuroscience to cosmology that have taken place over the past four years.

Professor Tom McLeish, Professor of Natural Philosophy at the University of York, said:

“This major grant will assist in realising and deepening the re-discovery that the Church and science are natural partners, as has been the case throughout most of their history.

“Bringing theology, science and engagement with the community together is the powerful combination of ECLAS.”

There will also be an expansion of the Scientists in Congregations scheme, awarding grants for local science and faith projects in churches and cathedrals including science festivals. The scheme will include a new emphasis on working with cathedrals and larger parish churches to pioneer projects that can be replicated by other churches

The funding will further build on policy advice and communication on science within the Church of England. There will also be research exploring attitudes to science and faith within the church and in wider society and public policy.

The planned work will be supported by both US and UK-based scientists and will be funded from a £3.4 million grant awarded by the Templeton Religion Trust.

The project will be led by Revd Professor David Wilkinson, Professor of Theology and Principal of St John’s College, Durham University, and Professor Tom McLeish, of the University of York, along with the Bishop of Kingston, Richard Cheetham and Revd Dr Kathryn Pritchard, Project Director, in the Church of England’s Mission and Public Affairs Division.  They will be supported by Dr Amanda Rees (York University) and Revd Dr Malcolm Brown (Head of Mission and Public Affairs, Church of England).

In response to the announcement, the Revd Dr Patrick Richmond, Chair of Science and Faith in Norfolk and vicar of Christ Church, Eaton, has said:

“I am delighted to hear of this project helping priests in training to engage with the latest science. Science and Faith in Norfolk has been honoured to have the leaders of the project, Professors Tom McLeish and David Wilkinson, to speak in Norwich Cathedral and we know their vision can help people appreciate the positive interaction of Science with Christian Faith and overcome the myth of inevitable conflict.”