MONTREAL Diocesan Theological College is 127 years old and is housed in an impressive, brown, 19th-century brick building. Yet, it is far from stodgy in history and outlook.
Today’s student body of about eight reflects the diversity of our times, said Canon John Simons, the principal. “We have a retired teacher, a refugee woman from Pakistan, a director of volunteer services at a hospital and a student who was a weather reporter,” he said.
The study course gets out into the real world, too, expanding the students’ life experiences. “One thing we emphasize here is an introduction to the global and inter-cultural context of the church’s mission today,” said Canon Simons. Students have visited Mexico and the Mohawk reserve at Kahnawake in Quebec. “The point is to give students exposure to the cultural and economic realities in which much of the globe lives,” he noted.
Founded in 1873 by Ashton Oxenden, the second bishop of Montreal, Montreal Diocesan College became affiliated with McGill University in 1880. Three other Protestant theological colleges were also affiliated with McGill (Congregational, Presbyterian and Wesleyan) and Montreal Diocesan became part of an early experiment in ecumenical theological education.
In 1912, a joint board of the theological colleges was incorporated and a joint faculty was set up. All academic courses other than those with specific pastoral or denominational components were pooled and an interdenominational chapel was built.
Today, students of the theological colleges (now three – Anglican, Presbyterian and United) continue to study together and also, as of 1970, participate in a joint final year of practical training in ministry.
The program “helps to break down barriers between students of different traditions,” the college’s information material states. Total number of students among the three colleges is currently about 45, Canon Simons said.
Montreal Diocesan has expanded its offerings by signing an agreement in 1999 with the University of Montreal that allows candidates to pursue a Master of Divinity (M. Div.) degree in French. The M.Div., which is earned by most candidates for the ministry, may also be earned in English.
Among other degrees offered are the Master of Sacred Theology (S.T.M.), the Ph.D through the Faculty of Religious Studies at McGill, the Diploma in Ministry (Dip.Min.) and the licentiate in Theology (L.Th.). The school also has courses for those who want to increase their knowledge of religion but are not interested in ordination.
Recently, the college held a “vision conference,” and one priority that emerged was lay education, Simons said. “There’s always been an evening course, but there hasn’t really been sustained progress in lay education,” he commented. The college is developing a certificate in lay ministry, partly as recognition that “there is a greater consciousness among Christians that ministry is not only the preserve of the ordained,” he said.
The school’s greatest challenge, he said, is “how to prepare people for ministry in a world and a church that is changing rapidly.”