Toronto’s Wycliffe College, which has a long history of interaction with the people of the North, is launching a series of online theology courses designed specifically for use in northern aboriginal communities.
According to the project’s co-ordinator, the Rev. Julie Golding Page, the seminary had received requests from northern clergy for such a program. When Wycliffe asked whom it should serve-listed clergy, lay readers, other leaders, people interested in becoming lay readers or being ordained, or people who just wanted to learn more about the Bible and the church-the answer came back “all of the above,” said Golding Page. “So we have the difficult but very fruitful task of having to make the courses accessible to anyone.”
Some courses, such as a survey of the Old Testament, are more basic and could be used by anyone wanting to know more about the Bible. Others, such as a study of the Book of Exodus, will require more knowledge of the Bible.
Since English may be a second language for many northerners, the material is written in an accessible style that is respectful of indigenous students’ cultures, educational backgrounds and life experiences.
The Wycliffe doctoral students and professors writing the drafts have worked collaboratively with northern pastors, bishops and lay people. “Every course will have input from all those different kinds of communities and will not be just something produced here in the South for the North, which we know was the typical missionary model from the past,” said Page.
The collaborative model has many challenges, including different time zones and unreliable Internet service in many parts of the North. “But we’re making some good headway and learning a lot in the process,” she said.
Although the courses could be used by individuals at home, they are really intended for group study. “Then they can turn it into more of a spiritual formation experience, where they eat together, talk together, share together, study the Bible together and pray,” Page said. Wycliffe will provide the courses free of charge.