Students gain pastoral skills in overseas program

Published June 1, 2003

Kevin Arndt embraces parishioner Lois Wiltshire in front of the altar in St. Joseph’s church, Punta Gorda, Belize. Mr. Arndt, now a priest in British Columbia, was then a student at the Vancouver School of Theology.

Recent Wycliffe College theology graduate Emma Vickery said her three months as a pastoral intern in Jamaica last summer taught her what it feels like to be an anomaly in a different culture.

“I am a white Canadian,” she said. “It’s easy to forget there are so many immigrants who do feel out of place in Canada. I felt self-conscious at first in Jamaica, so now I appreciate that.”

Toward the end of her term there, she could speak and understand different varieties of patois and the townspeople protected her so that she could walk freely and safely anywhere in rural Brownstown, where she was posted.

Her stay in the hills of Jamaica was arranged by the theological students international intern program, run by General Synod, the national office of the Anglican Church of Canada. The program has been running since 1992.

Clementina Thomas, program administrator for the national church, said students return from their overseas internships transformed and matured.

Twenty-eight students from theological colleges across Canada have completed placements with partners in Africa, Asia, Latin America and the Caribbean.

Students are chosen for the program following an application process which includes references by the student’s college and diocesan bishop. The program covers an orientation in Toronto, a debriefing after the placement, travel to and from both the conferences and the placement overseas, airport taxes, visa and immunization programs, and a monthly living allowance to cover food and travel within the country.

The host church provides housing during the placement.

Students have been placed in India, Uganda, Belize, the Seychelles, Guinea, the Solomon Islands and South Africa and all return changed, said Ms. Thomas. Their locations are chosen by church staff who work with bishops in different provinces within the Anglican Communion to identify good placement opportunities.

The program, Ms. Thomas added, was originally for students who were going on to ordination, but was recently changed to include “persons seeking professional leadership within the church.”

Although the norm is three students each summer, sometimes there has been just one, and sometimes there are four, as there will be this summer, Ms. Thomas said.

Written testimonials from returning students attest to an unforgettable learning experience and preparation for leadership back home.

Diane Guilford, graduate of Emmanuel and St. Chad Theological College in Saskatoon, went to Uganda in 2000, and wrote on her return, “there was so much learning, but probably one of the most valuable lessons was the importance of relationships and caring for one another.

“The first lesson is to take time to greet people individually. There is almost a ritual when two people greet that takes time and gives value to each person. When entering a room with several people, they take time to greet each one.”

Rev. Jennifer Gosse, a graduate of Queen’s University in Kingston, Ont., who went to Uganda in 1996, in her paper titled A Fabulous Three Months in Uganda, wrote “one might ask why the church should have sent me to Uganda if I can do the same things at home. Though the activities are the same, they take on a completely different meaning when they are happening in a different culture.

“I could have preached my first funeral sermon in my home parish here in St. John’s, but then I would not have had the chance to see the look of understanding and peace on the face of that old lady, who did not speak a work of English and was getting my message only through a translator, as I preached at the funeral for the last of her eight children, most of whom had died of AIDS.”

Ms. Vickery, who hopes to be ordained in her native British Columbia, said she was busy six days out of seven for her entire time in Jamaica, from early morning until night. She worked at an all-girls boarding school, did devotions and pastoral care for the parish, and worked with groups of youth and those in their 20s and 30s. She also made pastoral visits in the town and conducted a vacation Bible school for the children. Interns stress the importance of staying with local families.

Ms. Gosse wrote, “It gave me a great chance to become really close to some of the people and an inside glimpse of what it is like to be Ugandan. Because I was living with them they did not treat me as a foreigner or a tourist but as part of the family. I think they began to trust me a lot sooner because I was willing to entrust myself to them.

“When they did chores, I did chores too, when they were preparing food meals I learned how to prepare their food and worked along with them.”

In 1996 Rev. Kevin Arndt, who was studying at the Vancouver School of Theology, interned in Belize, Central America. He was responsible for a small mission church in the southern part of Toledo District in the village of Punta Gorda.

When he arrived in Punta Gorda, the Anglican community consisted of about 15 people meeting for Sunday morning services and Bible study once a week. His main responsibilities were to contribute to the leadership of Sunday services, to lead Bible study, to teach Anglican history, liturgy and theology, and to conduct baptism and confirmation preparation.

He also made pastoral visits and did repair and renovation work at the church.

“Throughout my internship,” he said, “I was called to use abilities, theological training and previous experiences in ways that I could not have imagined.”

He credits the bishop of Belize, Sylvestre Romero, for giving him both freedom and new responsibilities. “I believe that I learned more about myself, and Christian faith, from the community in Punta Gorda than they probably learned from me, for such a short time overseas is really not sufficient to effect significant change.

“To the contrary, I believe the community in Belize prepared me to perform missionary work back home in Canada.”


Keep on reading

Skip to content