Gerry Poirier, diocese of Central Nfld., joined more than 100 delegates at the first national theological education conference.
Anglican bishops, heads of theological colleges and seminaries, students and professors who gathered for the first National Conference on Theological Education have agreed to re-examine how they discern and prepare candidates for ministry.This includes setting common national standards for the ordination of clergy.
At present, very little exists in terms of national standards, and dioceses have their own methods of preparing and accepting candidates for priesthood. What exists is a 1986 document, Prerequisites for Ordination, from the House of Bishops and the Advisory Committee on Postulants for Ordination (ACPO). This document is used to evaluate those who seek training for ordination in the Anglican Church of Canada. However, ACPO recommendations are non-binding.
“Good leadership leads to healthy communities and congregations,” said the diocesan bishop of Ottawa, John Chapman, who chaired the task force that planned the conference. There was some agreement that these national standards and outcomes will be “regionally interpreted, adapted, administered and mutually accountable.” There was also a commitment to continue the ongoing local adaptation of ministry.
Bishop Chapman said all the feedback and recommendations from the conference will be forwarded to General Synod’s faith, worship, and ministry committee. In turn, this commitee will develop a proposal for common standards and outcomes. A request will also be made for the primate to create a commission on presbyteral formation and education.
“We need to change what we do,” said Canon Eric Beresford, president of the Atlantic School of Theology. The church can no longer stick to training practices that may have worked in the 1950s, he pointed out. “It’s like making canoes in the desert.”
Bishop Chapman described the conference, held here January 5 to 7, as “a fabulous beginning. The church is such these days that there is an appetite for collaborative work and that’s exciting.”
Delegates interviewed by the Anglican Journal enthusiastically echoed the assessment made by Bishop Chapman. ”We set out the principles and ideas that people are going to work with…,” said the Rev. Iain Luke, diocese of Athabasca. He added that delegates were talking about “equipping leaders for a changing church.”
Canon John Mellis, provost and vice-chancellor of Queen’s College, St. John’s, Nfld., said he had been skeptical about what national standards could emerge, given “the different assumptions” about theological education. “I’m actually a little bit more hopeful now that some kind of national standards might emerge, partly because of the goodwill among people here who bring different approaches to theological education into the mix,” he said.
One of the biggest debates concerns the adequacy of so-called local training versus a university-based master of divinity (MDiv) program. While the MDiv program trains on a broad range of disciplines, the other trains for specific situations, particularly cultural ones. “What I saw here was a tendency for those to converge,” said Canon Mellis.
Delegates also explored the idea of a “national faculty” accessible to various parts of the country and a national scholarship that would make theological education, currently at a prohibitive cost of roughly $40,000, more accessible.