The Revd Michael Hopkins, minister of Farnham and Elstead United Reformed Churches in Surrey, believes he’s made history with his acceptance of a place to study for a doctorate on the Archbishop of Canterbury's Examination in Theology. Mr Hopkins is believed to be the first non-Anglican protestant to be offered a place on the prestigious programme.
The Archbishop of Canterbury's Examination in Theology derives from an ancient right of the Archbishop to grant degrees. The degrees awarded are full (not honorary) degrees, and are fully recognised by the Quality Assurance Agency for Higher Education.
He will be studying part-time for a Ph.D and is planning a thesis on the history and influence of the Presbyterian Church of England, one of the constituent denominations of the United Reformed Church. Last year Michael was awarded an M.Phil. research degree by Birmingham University for a thesis on the history and development of Congregationalism in Oxford, which is currently being published as a book.
Mr Hopkins first became interested in church history when taught by Dr. Elaine Kaye, at Mansfield College Oxford, and has been encouraged and nurtured in his interest by the URC’s History Society, on whose council he has served since 2001. He concludes: "I believe really understanding our history and heritage is vital for the present and future mission of the church. It's not about trying to turn the clock back, or stop progress, but about knowing where we've come from in order to know where we're going.”
Since writing this piece we’ve heard from the Revd Paul Pells, a retired URC minister now living in Preston, correcting our history and telling us that he believes he can claim to be the first URC Minister to receive an award in the Archbishop’s Examination in Theology. His thesis was entitled The Scheme of Salvation, about the place of doctrine in preaching and he graduated as a Student In Theology (STh) on 26 May 1987 at a service in the Chapel of Lambeth Palace, presided over by the then Archbishop Robert Runcie.
Mr Pells adds: “Before he retired, Archbishop Robert introduced the degree of MA, and the present Archbishop has introduced the MPhil and PhD. I understand the STh is no longer available and that no new entrants are being accepted for the MA. So, I may be the first and only minister of the United Reformed Church with the STh, whereas I hope Michael Hopkins will be the first of many MPhils and PhDs!”