Spring is the season of writing grant applications, not least of all for theological students.
I know this season well because I am currently in it myself. For those who have never had the pleasure, writing grant applications is an odd combination of giving your testimony and filing your taxes. After describing how you came to your studies and your hopes for how they will assist you in the future, and after filling in many lines of forms, inputting numbers and checking several small boxes, you hope for a return.
If you are exceedingly lucky (or more likely, a mix of being both skilled and privileged), you will be able to “land the big one”—that most coveted academic prize that will help fund a large portion of your studies for the next year. More likely, you might be able to cobble together a series of smaller grants that, when added up, will still allow you to continue your studies. While the former are more prestigious and compounding (the more large scholarships you win, the more likely you will win large scholarships), it is the latter that sustain the majority of theological students.
And so, as I stared at the stack of grant forms with the same ambivalent expression I usually reserve for the giving of testimonies and the filing of taxes, I decided to start with one of the smaller ones: the Anglican Foundation of Canada’s theological bursary program.
I decided to start with it because, for theological students who are part of the Anglican Church of Canada studying at an Anglican institution, taking the time to fill out an Anglican Foundation theological bursary is almost always time well spent. The forms are not particularly arduous (more testimony than taxes), and for seminarians and graduate students who meet the requirements, receiving a bursary of between $1,500 to $2,500 is likely enough that you can budget on it. While that might not seem like much (about one month’s rent in Toronto), combined with an array of other small grants and funding packages, it is how many students (and their families) survive.
Having filled out the application several times before, within about 30 minutes I finished it, and started to review it before clicking “send.” That’s when I realized my mistake.
When I was in high school, I had a teacher who always stressed “make sure you read the instructions on the test before you begin writing it.” It’s a lesson I have yet to learn. Reading the grant’s instructions after having filled it out, I realized that, having received a theological bursary for the past three years, I was no longer eligible to apply.
And that makes sense. In an effort to make sure that there is enough bursary money to go around, and that it is shared by a spectrum of students and not monopolized by a few like the larger scholarships, the Anglican Foundation has set limits on how many times a student can receive its funding. At a certain point, the hope is that as students complete their studies and secure a regular income, they will move from being recipients of Anglican Foundation grants to being Anglican Foundation members who will then make a financial contribution back to the institution that supported them.
The same principle holds true for the Anglican Foundation’s grant and loan programs for churches: that each parish in the Anglican Church of Canada will support the Anglican Foundation by becoming members (at a minimal cost of $50 a year), so that when a parish needs a grant to start a new ministry, or a loan to fix up their church building, the Anglican Foundation will have the means to give it to them. By helping to build up the Foundation’s capacity, we thus help not only ourselves, but our neighbouring parishes and dioceses; they can draw on it in their times of need, remembering that the donors of today may become the recipients of tomorrow and vice versa.
Yet looking at my own diocese, Quebec, I see that we are far from living up to this principle. Out of our 68 congregations, only 18 are members, and while we have collectively drawn on about $300,000 of grants and loans since 2007, we have contributed around $17,000. More striking still, of the nine congregations that have received the Foundation’s funding since 2007, only five are members today.
The motto of the Anglican Foundation, drawing on one of our church’s most beloved prayers, is “Imagine More.” Through its funding of theological students and new ministries and building infrastructure, I believe the Anglican Foundation has indeed helped us to “imagine more.” And so, drawing on this same prayer, I think we need to challenge ourselves to “ask more”—to ask ourselves both as individuals and as churches to take more responsibility and better support the institutions that help sustain our common life.
This is a principle rooted within our eucharistic liturgy, where we who “share [Jesus’] body, live his risen life,” where “we, who drink his cup, bring life to others.” The Eucharist teaches us that we must become for others the good gifts we receive from God. we must become what we receive. In the words of theologian Miroslav Volf, “Inscribed in the heart of God’s grace is the rule that we can be its recipients only if we do not resist being made into its agents; what happens to us must be done by us.”
I’m ashamed to say that as I sat there, my cursor hovering over the “send” button on my completed grant application, I was tempted to ignore the instructions and to submit it anyway. After all, I had already completed it. Maybe nobody would be counting and my application would slip through. But if I did, if I continued to receive without contributing, to consume without becoming, I would be undermining the very institutions that have made my studies possible.
Chastened, I closed that application and opened a new one: a membership to the Anglican Foundation. In less than a minute, it was complete. I don’t think I even read the instructions.