In the course of our meetings, the Dialogue has been impressed with the degree to which theological education happens ecumenically today. We have seen a variety of examples across Canada, from coast to coast, in Vancouver, Saskatoon, Winnipeg, Toronto, Montreal, and Halifax. We have encountered serious efforts to do together what can be done together, so that students, clergy, and scholars are more likely to have a real understanding of other kinds of Christianity. There is no substitute for the kind of conversation that occurs when people work on serious theological questions in the same classroom.
However, theological education is not merely a classroom matter. Much of the real work of learning and growing happens through informal encounters in the chapel, cafeteria, or study sessions. Here, efforts to be in close proximity to one another shine, offering the chance to swap stories, share advice, and participate in the joys and sorrows of life in other church contexts. Together, people in ecumenical theological arrangements are able to meet church life in all its richness and complexity, which is excellent preparation for whatever life brings.
We have discovered some challenges for theological education for the twenty-first-century church. One of the most pressing has to do with relations between Indigenous and non-Indigenous peoples. We yearn to see theological education undertaken in ways that honour the wisdom of Indigenous people. We hope to see theological education ensuring that non-Indigenous theological students gain a deeper understanding of Indigenous culture, theology, history, and perspectives. We hope to see our churches, Indigenous and non-Indigenous, working in partnership to create a learning environment in which all are challenged and yet in which all feel at home.
Since 1986 Indigenous and non-Indigenous students have been studying together in the Native Ministries Consortium Summer School at Vancouver School of Theology.
In addition, we hope to see increased preparation for work in Ecumenical Shared Ministries contexts. Common theological training is helpful, but more specific focus on Ecumenical Shared Ministries is necessary to meet the particular challenges raised by this form of church. We note that ecumenical theological education is uniquely equipped to respond to these challenges.
Imagine this: a small town in rural Canada where the clergy of three churches, United, Anglican, and Roman Catholic, had all studied and trained at the same theological school! That was the case in Parrsboro, Nova Scotia. Although they had not been students at the same time, their mutual respect and common experiences fostered a special spirit of co-operation and opportunities for shared ministry. This spilled over into their congregations such that it became possible to embark on a Vacation Bible School together. Lay people, children, and clergy all enjoyed getting to know each other better in Christian fellowship. “When I walk down the street now, children I didn’t know before say hello and wave to me! I can stop and chat with any of them!”
The founders of the Atlantic School of Theology (1971) had such a vision. For more than three decades now, clergy and lay people have worshipped and studied together at AST. They have fanned out across the Atlantic Provinces, and indeed across the country, making such co-operation more possible than it might have been (and even resulting in clergy marriages crossing denominations!). This story is but one example. Imagine more! How can you put this shared training and experience to work for you in your community?
In Brooklyn, Hants County, Nova Scotia, members of the Anglican and United Churches have frequently joined in study programs together, during Lent for example. In 2006 they participated in the KAIROS study on water. Their mutual concern for the issues raised in both global and local contexts led to engagement with the local community through a community watershed protection society, The Avon Peninsula Water Protection Society. Ecumenical learning and commitment made this action possible.