The founders of All Saints’ Cathedral College in Edmonton take the view that Christians need solid education to function as people of the gospel in this complex modern world. In fact, they need to tap into their inner theologian to hone missional skills adequate for the challenges of the global village.
“Our driving principle is to equip Christians to have a strong and credible voice in the world,” says the college’s academic dean, the Rev. Dr. Joanne Neal, a professor of education at Concordia University College of Alberta, where the college’s courses take place. “They need to be informed about the secular issues, but they also need to understand the theological underpinnings of our arguments on these issues.”
To that end, one of the aims of this joint venture between All Saints’ Cathedral and the diocese of Edmonton is to get laity and clergy thinking of themselves as emerging theologians as they pursue continuing education to enhance ministry.
Committed to promoting the five Marks of Mission, the college, whose “campus” is a virtual one (www.allsaintscathedralcollege.com), construes ministry broadly. Ministry is the act of being engaged in any social service dedicated to the improvement of society and the world community-a mission in which both clergy and laity have crucial roles to play as the church carries the gospel message into the world through words and deeds.
Continuing education is part of the college’s mandate through its affiliation with the Indiana-based Graduate Theological Foundation (GTF). Set up after Vatican II in 1962, GTF is an international and ecumenical society committed to continuing professional education. The degree-track programs open the door to study in Oxford and Rome. “A lay person has the option of taking a PhD in theology, with the degree co-ordinated through GTF,” says Neal, adding that lay people can thereby end up being more theologically credentialed than clergy.
Less formal learning options, public lectures and professional development for clergy are also on offer.
Last winter, the college launched its inaugural round of four 15-hour courses at $75 apiece. A special fund provided for people unable to afford the fees. Courses included “Two Thousand Years of Mission”; “Church Mission and Gospel in the 21st Century”; “Christianity and Environmental Stewardship”; and “The Christian Implications of Globalization.”
The turnout was modest, concedes Neal, but adds that “…we are gathering momentum.”
The college plans to beef up its career-track side to attract those interested in the vocational diaconate and the “locally raised-up priest” route to ordination. The latter is aimed at people who want to become priests but cannot, at this stage of their lives, travel across the country to spend two years in seminary.
In line with that goal, the college is bringing over the Rev. Dr. Robin Gibbons, director of the Centre for the Study of Religion in Public Life at Oxford University, to give a practical seminar in preaching. Installed as ecumenical canon in May, Gibbons will teach for a week or so in Edmonton at the end of February 2013.
The college is backed by a diverse faculty with a broad range of expertise. Among its clerical members are the Rt. Rev. Jane Alexander, bishop of Edmonton, and the Rev. Canon Dr. Vincent Strudwick of Oxford’s Centre for the Study of Religion in Public Life. On the lay and scientific sides are psychologist-theologian Dr. John Morgan of the GTF and Dr. Geoff Strong, a retired atmospheric scientist who teaches courses at King’s University College and the University of Alberta. Strong’s special interests are the science of global climate change and environmental stewardship.
One enthusiastic participant is the Rev. Stephen London, who taught a five-week course on the history of the church from Emperor Constantine to Cardinal Newman. “We had 10 lay people in the course, one of whom was ordained as a vocational deacon at the midway point,” he says. London will give another course over the coming fall and winter in the main figures and movements of the church in the 20th century.
The college’s 2012 fall semester launched in September with a new lecture series, “Caring for All Creation.” Other course options in theology and history include: “Introduction to the Old Testament”; “Paul-Apostle to the Gentiles and Man of Letters”; and a lecture series, “The Church After Christianity.”
“We’re still very interested in having lay people participate,” says Neal, conceding that there’s still much work to be done in getting the word out through the diocese.
While preparing Christians for maximum effectiveness in the modern world, the All Saints’ Cathedral College acknowledges its early medieval roots: the schools that first sprang up around cathedrals in sixth-century Spain and laid the foundations for the great universities of Europe.
For more information, call 780-429-6379 or go to www.allsaintscathedralcollege.com