St Mellitus College was borne out of a new vision for theological training, and out of a spirit of partnership.
Named after the first Bishop of London, whose territory covered London and Essex, the College was founded in 2007 by the Bishops of London and Chelmsford. It emerged as the coming together of two institutions – North Thames Ministerial Training Course (NTMTC), based in the dioceses of London and Chelmsford, and St Paul’s Theological Centre (SPTC) which grew out of Holy Trinity Brompton. In 2012, St Mellitus College (SMC), London moved from shared spaces in other venues to a dedicated building in Earl’s Court.
The College now has four centres across the UK – London, Chelmsford, the North West and the South West - providing vibrant, innovative, and rigorous theological education. In 2013, five North West (NW) Dioceses (Carlisle, Chester, Blackburn, Manchester and Liverpool) invited SMC to enter into a partnership for the provision of a version of SMC’s ‘Full-Time Church-based’ (FTCB) pathway, based at Liverpool Cathedral. This was in response to the absence of full-time ordination training provision in the region for over 40 years. The intention was from the start a ‘partnership in the gospel’, set up so that the NW context would influence not just the Liverpool centre but also the whole College. In 2017 the Dioceses of Exeter and Truro entered a similar partnership with SMC. The aim is to replicate something of the model we have developed in the North West, but having its own South West (SW) flavour, and responding to some of the particular missional contexts and challenges of the SW. In God’s generous economy we anticipate this will also bring positive influence to the whole College and therefore offer a rich national vision for ordinands and other students.
SMC was founded under the leadership of Graham Tomlin, its first Dean and Principal. In September 2015 Rt Revd Dr Graham Tomlin, was consecrated as Bishop of Kensington. Following this, the board appointed Bishop Graham as President, working largely in an ambassadorial and advisory capacity. Revd Dr Andy Emerton, Assistant Dean since 2008, was subsequently appointed as Dean with strategic and operational oversight of the college. The Dean and President are further supported by the two Assistant Deans (Dr Jane Williams and Revd Dr Lincoln Harvey) and the Management Team.
SMC prepares students for ordained, Reader (LLM) and lay ministries in the Church of England, and for leadership in other churches. It delivers non-residential, part-time and context-based training in theology and ministry. SMC offers a variety of programmes to suit all kinds of students. Our Beginning Theology programme, providing access into the study of theology and higher education academia, began in 2009. In 2011 we introduced a BA degree in Theology and Youth Ministry, and in 2012 we began delivering our first postgraduate programme, an MA in Christian Leadership, which is now offered alongside an MA in Theology, Ministry and Mission.
Our college is named after one of the least known but most significant figures in the establishment of the church in London and Essex, St Mellitus, whose story is told in Bede’s Ecclesiastical History.
At the end of the 6th century, inspired by his growing awareness of the needs of this far-flung part of Europe, Pope Gregory the Great sent a group of missionaries to Britain. There had been Christian churches here since at least the 4th century, but the land was still largely pagan.
This new mission was headed by Augustine, who was appointed the first Archbishop of Canterbury. In 601 AD Augustine sent back to Rome to ask for more help in evangelising the mainly pagan East Saxon tribes, and so Gregory sent more missionaries to help him, including Mellitus. Mellitus was probably a well-off Roman nobleman, whose devotion to Christ had led him to enter the monastic life and later become abbot of the Monastery of St. Andrew on the Coelian Hill in Rome, to which both St. Gregory and St. Augustine had belonged.
In 604, with the help of the Christian East Saxon King Saeberht, Mellitus was made the first bishop of the growing city of London. His jurisdiction also covered the land to the east - what we know as Essex, now covered by the Diocese of Chelmsford.
As a result of the work of Mellitus and his friends, the church grew. Yet it was not without cost. After King Saeberht died, his sons reverted to pagan worship. Seeing Mellitus celebrate the Eucharist one day, they demanded to be given the bread, even though they had not the slightest commitment to Christ and his church. Mellitus refused it to them unless they were baptised; as a result, Mellitus was banished from the kingdom, spending the next few years in Kent and then Gaul in France. Mellitus was later recalled to Britain by Laurentius, Augustine’s successor in Canterbury, and after Laurentius’ death in 619, he was appointed as the third Archbishop of Canterbury.
Mellitus was a missionary bishop. Naming our college ‘St Mellitus College’ is not an act of antiquarian curiosity - it is laying claim to that same costly spirit of missionary love, the desire to see Christian churches grow and God’s Kingdom coming across this region and beyond, and seeing theology in service of that aim. That spirit is as important to Christians in our modern 21st Century world as it was for their counterparts in the pagan 7th Century land of the East Saxons. So we pray:
God of grace and wisdom,
who called your servant Mellitus
to leave his home and proclaim your Word:
grant to all who belong to the college that bears his name
diligence for study, fervour for mission,
and perseverance for ministry,
that they might shine with your love and truth
in these dioceses and beyond,
for the sake of your Son, our Saviour, Jesus Christ. Amen.