Gathering to tackle national expectations for theological education

If two women—one in Yellowknife, one in Regina—hear the call to be priests in the Anglican Church of Canada, the steps they will take to become ordained are quite different. Although both will wear collars and be “the Rev.” in the end, their assessment and education will depend on their diocese’s unique program, which could range from an informal mentoring relationship to specific course requirements.

A national conference—to be held January 5 to 7, 2010, in Montreal, Que.—will examine this diversity. Representatives from theological colleges and dioceses, students, and pastors will explore differences and discuss what should be core and common in preparing people for presbyteral (priestly) ministry in the Anglican Church of Canada.

People may be surprised to learn that there are minimal national standards for such preparation, said Dr. Eileen Scully, General Synod’s coordinator for ministry and worship, and conference staff support. All that exists is a 1986 document called “Prerequisites for Ordination” from the House of Bishops and the Advisory Committee on Postulants for Ordination (ACPO), which assesses candidates in discernment weekends, then offers non-binding recommendations to their bishops.

National standards have certainly been tackled before. In 1999 a task force on theological education was set up to develop a core curriculum for all Anglican institutions. Many theological colleges challenged this work, saying that the national church was setting a narrow standard for a variety of contexts. The resulting Bays Report (2001) reflected these concerns and recommended that, in pursuing national norms, the church should be more aware of non-traditional theological institutions, including Aboriginal schools.

In 2006, the topic again came to the fore when the House of Bishops and the Council of General Synod asked the Faith, Worship and Ministry Committee (FWMC) to convene a national gathering on theological education.

Remembering the Bays Report recommendations, FWMC refined the mandate and assembled a lively and diverse team, chaired by Bishop John Chapman. The group prepared a report on the current state of theological education and planned a working meeting on the subject.

Approximately 80 people will come together in January for this intense gathering. All Anglican institutions will be represented—from the Dr. William Winter School of Ministry in northern Ontario, to the Atlantic School of Theology in downtown Halifax. Stakeholders from the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Canada will also attend, as will many bishops. (The spring House of Bishops meeting was moved so they could convene immediately after this.)

“By the end of the meeting we hope to have a very honest and clear set of proposals for the church,” said Ms. Scully. FWMC will meet three weeks afterwards and she expects they will refine related resolutions for the next national meeting, General Synod 2010.

Ms. Scully thinks the time is ripe to set up national expectations; but it’s more than just establishing a “cookie-cutter” model. “There’s a sense of wanting to have some assurances that the training has been solid and that someone does not become ordained to the priesthood without being properly formed,” she said. “It’s not just spiritual formation and vocational formation. There also needs to be a deeper formation and intellectual, educational training in Anglicanism, reading scripture, and other subjects.”

Ms. Scully also anticipates that the meeting will draw out creative solutions. The report, to be issued to participants soon, floats a number of best practices and unique ideas for theological education, including a “travelling roadshow” of professors who can travel to more remote institutions, and more education bursaries from the Anglican Foundation.

Furthermore, Ms. Scully is energized by the stories of formation that she’s hearing from across Canada. She notes that the upcoming report reflects a “missional” church, one that is outward-focused and innovative. She also said she is hearing amazing stories of non-traditional Aboriginal schools doing “their own creative unpacking of Anglican Christianity” and making it into “something authentic in their own Indigenous contexts.”

She is hopeful that, after several years of work on this subject, the January 2010 meeting will harness the energy into tangible results.

“I’m excited about this conversation and getting people in the same room together,” she said. “The orientation is all towards discerning the best way to be equipping, forming, and assessing candidates for the future of ordained ministries in the Anglican Church of Canada.”

For more information on the gathering, visit the conference website or email Dr. Eileen Scully, coordinator for ministry and worship.

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