What makes a competent priest?

Some Anglican priests are preaching dynamos. Others are wise historians or gracious pastors. But what basic competencies should be present across all their ministries?

A new document proposes a set of skills and gifts common to Anglican ministers across Canada. PHOTO: E. CARTON ON FLICKR

A new document proposes a set of skills and gifts common to Anglican ministers across Canada. PHOTO: E. CARTON ON FLICKR

For the past three years, a commission has dug into this question and now they are inviting input on their draft proposal, “Competencies for Ordination to the Priesthood.”

“This document is a celebration of the good things that are happening in church and a description of them,” said the Rev. Canon Dr. Todd Townshend, chair of the Primate’s Commission on Theological Education. “It also has an aspirational aspect. We aspire to do these things.”‘

The competencies range from the basic “has read the Bible” to “engages in pastoral leadership.” The sections cover personal and spiritual formation, Anglican heritage and identity, cultural context, leadership capacity, and skills for teaching and learning.

Many points reflect a major culture change in the church-from maintaining institutions to participating in the mission of God. For example, one competency calls for priests to “[assess] strategies for active justice-seeking mission.”

The eventual goal (after full consultation) is for the Anglican Church of Canada to adopt these competencies and commend them to those who develop leaders, especially theological institutions.

This is not a to-do list, said Mr. Townshend. The document is a description of what a person would need to gain in order to fulfill their vocation. Many of these skills develop over one’s career.

Though just a slim four pages, these competencies are a big first in the Anglican Church of Canada. Previously, the only theological education standards were found in a House of Bishops document from 1986 called “Ordination Pre-requisites.”

Over the past decade, Anglican leaders have explored the need for more coordinated standards. Currently, Anglican clergy are trained in some 12 schools across Canada from the Atlantic School of Theology in Halifax to the Arthur Turner Training School in Pangnirtung, NU. No common document guides their formation.

In developing these competencies, General Synod has consulted widely. The 2010 National Gathering on Theological Education was the biggest event to gather input from bishops, priests, educators, and students.

General Synod 2010 asked the Primate’s Commission on Theological Education to refine this and other work into competencies. Now the commission is at its final stages of consultation and will hear from provincial synods, the Council of General Synod, and other Canadian Anglicans before bringing the competencies to General Synod 2013.

“This document is important because it shows a common understanding,” said Mr. Townshend. “We want to have something so that we can all say, that’s a good list, we can fairly expect that, we should support that, and we should get behind making it possible.”

So whether you’re a priest, parishioner, bishop, or educator, you are invited to read the document and reflect on these questions:

1.  What benefits might you see from working with a document like this for if you are a bishop, parish member, student, diocesan candidacy panel, training centre or seminary?

2.  Who else might find benefit from the existence of a document like this in the church?

3.  What gaps do you see that could be attended to in either an amended document like this or other exercise undertaken in the church?

All responses must be emailed to the Rev. Canon Dr. Todd Townshend by Sept. 30, 2012.

Other members of the Primate’s Commission on Theological Education include the Rev. Canon Eric Beresford, Bishop John Chapman, the Rev. Dr. Mark Harris (ELCIC partner), and the Rev. Dr. Paula Sampson.

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