From the Worldwide Faith News archives

[ENS] Deputies encourage language cultural study for priests

From "Mika Larson" <>
Date Tue, 5 Aug 2003 18:58:59 -0400

August 5, 2003

Deputies 'encourage' language, cultural study for priests

by Sarah T. Moore and James Thrall
[ENS] A resolution (A060) proposing that seminarians study contemporary
language and engage in cross-cultural programs is bouncing back and
forth between the two houses as deputies and bishops wrestle over
whether such training should be mandatory or simply "encouraged."

"It's had a tortured legislative history," joked House of Deputies
Secretary Rosemari Sullivan Tuesday morning as the deputies worked for
clarity on the voting sequence.

In their consideration of the resolution, the House of Bishops amended
the language offered by the Committee on Ministry in order to make the
training mandatory. The committee, however, chose to restore its
original wording of "strongly encourage" before passing the resolution
on to the House of Deputies for their consideration. 

After protracted debate Monday, deputies voted Tuesday morning to
approve the committee's version. It now returns to the bishops for their
concurrence, although House of Deputies President George Werner said he
would be working to set up a joint committee to help work out the
differences between the two houses.

Deputies and bishops agree at least on the intent of the resolution to
address one of the core concerns of the 20/20 movement in the church -
that church leaders move more quickly to better engage the changing
landscape of cultures and voices across the country.

As os Tuesday, the resolution recommends that all dioceses strongly
encourage those preparing for ordination to study a contemporary
language other than their native language and participate in an
intentional cross-cultural program. Earlier, the resolution, as
originally amended and passed by the bishops, was worded more strongly
to revise the ordination canons to require study of language or culture
and intercultural field education.

In discussion in the House of Deputies on Monday, Deputy Mary Jane
Nestler of Los Angeles proposed a compromising amendment that would have
left the "strongly encourage" language in place but would have called
for canonical revisions to "address the church's need for multilingual
and cross-culture competency among clergy and lay leaders," with a
report to be brought to the next General Convention. Deputies defeated
that amendment.

"We don't need three years of study to move into the 21st century," said
Sarah Lawton, vice chair of the Standing Commission on Domestic Mission
and Evangelism, chair of the 20/20 Strategy Group, and lay alternate
deputy from California. "By 2020, not to mention by 2050, we're all
going to be faced with this. For instance the Hispanic culture is the
fastest growing in the south, in the Carolinas. We're not just seeing it
in certain areas of the country. Bringing everyone to the center of the
community, we need to develop an intercultural sensitivity."

The Rev. Carol R. Tookey of Navajoland Area Mission said that she
studied French in elementary school and Spanish in college, neither of
which has helped her in ministries with Danish-Americans and Navajos.
Still, she said, she felt that her language training was useful, and so
she urged making language training a canonical requirement.

Catherine F. Martenson of San Diego, however, raised questions about the
word "cross-cultural competency" in the amendment, suggesting it would
"open a can of worms" as to "who will judge competency."

The Ven. Eric V. Heidecker of  Nevada argued that the resolution with
the amendment was "far superior" to the original wording. "It gives us
the wiggle room we need as Anglicans," he said. The amendment also
refers to lay leaders, he pointed out. "That inclusion of lay leaders
talks about the whole church; fixing the church isn't the same as fixing
the priest." 

The Rev. Patricia Hanen of Ohio, who described herself as "a 55-year-old
woman with, I think, it's now eight languages not counting the dead
ones," argued against requiring language study. "People don't learn them
well when they are required to learn them. They learn them when they
want to speak to other people," she said. "I don't think this, well
intentioned though it is, belongs as part of our canons. We need to
remain flexible and realistic in what we require both of our priests and
our lay leaders."

Nell Toensmann of the Churches of Europe maintained that, as important
as language knowledge is to clergy living in Europe, cultural
sensitivity is more important. "We welcome the clergy who come among
us," she said. "Some of the have language skills, some of them don't.
Some of them attempt to learn the languages when they're there. The main
thing is that they are people who are culturally sensitive to the people
among whom they live."

Even the English-speaking congregations in Europe may have "people from
30 different cultures," she said. What's most important is for clergy to
"be able to reach out and . make them feel that they are welcome."

Several speakers pointed out the difficulties a language requirement
would create for clergy raised up out of local communities to address
the needs of specific groups. A language requirement would place "an
added burden on those being trained for local ministry while holding
full-time jobs,"  noted the Rev. Jo Ann Smith of Kansas.

Speaking with the help of a sign-language interpreter, a priest from
Central New York who is deaf said that "many deaf people are not
completely competent in English and can't learn another language." She
urged deputies to "be aware that if we direct the church to include this
in the canons, later people will want to make it compulsory and that
would be bye-bye 20/20 and bye-bye local ministry. I don't think that is
what you want." 

Dana Allen of the official youth presence said she wanted to remind the
deputies of "the importance of the word 'encourage.'" For those with
"certain physical disabilities . and learning disabilities, such as
attention deficit disorder," it can be "extremely hard, if not in some
cases, impossible to become fluent in additional languages beyond the
required Greek and Hebrew."

The amendment failed by a wide margin. Before deputies approved the
resolution itself, the Rev. Ian Douglas of Massachusetts, professor of
mission and world Christianity at Episcopal Divinity School, argued for
passage. Douglas said he is convener of the Episcopal Seminaries'
Consultation on Mission, which he described as "a two-decades-old
venture under the auspices of the deans of the seminaries to support
mission studies and mission experiences in your seminaries." 

Through an endowment of more than $1 million, the organization provides
$60,000 a year for grants to support seminarians in cross-cultural
experiences, he said. "I stand here and I urge your adoption of this
resolution," he said. "I pledge that through the Standing Commission on
World Mission, your seminaries will continue to extend this important
educational experience."

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