Vicars blessed with personality tests

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The Independent Online
ANDREW BROWN

Religious Affairs Correspondent

If you can choose shapes which fit together with each other and arrange four sentences in a logically compelling order, then you could become Archbishop of Canterbury. From next year the 700 prospective candidates for the Anglican priesthood will have to undergo psychological tests as part of their formal interview.

The Rev Christopher Cunliffe, director of vocations at the Advisory Board for Ministry, the central Church department responsible for the selection and recruitment of priests, said: "The new tests are meant to give a more accurate assessment of a person's capacity for training. They might advantage those who don't present particularly well at the moment. You may have a candidate who talks very fluently and presents well but is not right; or you might be missing candidates who are good at thinking at depth but not good verbally."

The classic example of the second type would be Dr Michael Ramsay, who became an outstandingly holy Archbishop of Canterbury despite what was regarded by his colleagues as a legendary social incompetence. Chris Brain, the leader of the Nine-O'Clock Service cult in Sheffield, who passed all the hoops of the Anglican selection procedure, would be an example of someone the new tests might help to exclude, Dr Cunliffe said.

The new tests, which will be regarded as a mixed blessing by many, will be added to the present selection process. This derives from that used by the army to select its officers.

Psychological testing is already used by the Roman Catholic Church to screen its candidates for the ministry; but theirs places a greater emphasis on psychological stability under the strains of celibacy and loneliness, which are not expected to afflict Anglican candidates to the same extent.

The problem which confronts many Anglican dioceses is that many of their prospective priests come from a narrow background, and have little feeling for the traditional role of the Church of England as something open to everyone. Their model of a congregation is of a self-conscious group clearly distinguished from the rest of society; while this may be the fate of the Church of England, it is one which the authorities are anxious to avoid.

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