Episcopal News Service Listening, Learning & Lent
Monday, March 20, 2006
[Editor's note: Theological Education for the Anglican Communion (TEAC) is a working group established by the Anglican Primates to make recommendations and practical proposals to strengthen theological education within the life of the Anglican Communion. TEAC secretary Clare Amos offers a personal reflection about Anglican theological education and a recent meeting held in South Africa January 14-21]
Listening: Making a difference in Anglican theological education
By Clare Amos
[ENS] Theological Education for the Anglican Communion (TEAC), the Anglican Communion's Theological Education Working Party, held a very fruitful meeting in South Africa January 14-21. The 34 members present represented most of the Provinces of the Anglican Communion. As well as discussions, both in plenary and in small groups, the group engaged with the local Anglican Church -- represented by the Diocese of the Highveld in the Church of the Province of South Africa.
The group appreciated the hospitality offered by a number of local congregations when they visited them for worship on the Sundays, and the kindness of Bishop David Beetge of the Highveld and his wife, Carol, who invited them to their home for a social evening. Many of the group was also profoundly moved as they visited HIV/AIDS projects where they saw the local church in action. The comment made by Sister Sheila Flynn, coordinator of a workshop and crèche project for those affected by HIV/AIDS, will long remain with me. "AIDS challenges us to do theology that is rooted in human dignity, because it reveals how we deal with each other," she said. "Theology is 'God-talk' -- so our theology must be rooted in the reality of people's lives."
It is a real privilege to be involved with such an important initiative of the Anglican Communion. The commitment of both the Archbishop of Canterbury and the Anglican Primates to this work underscores what priority they want to give to seeking to improve theological education throughout the Anglican Communion.
But if you think about it "theological education" is quite an odd expression. Unless you are "in the know" you might not immediately realize what it means. I understand it as "learning and training for ministry in the Church." That certainly includes theological knowledge, but it also refers to the practical skills that are an essential part of preparation for any who seek to minister in the Church.
And then there is the question of "formation" -- something that is quite difficult to pin down or quantify, but certainly includes helping those who are training for ministry to be rooted in a life of prayer and worship, and to discover a spirituality that is both creative and authentic for them, and true to the tradition and discipline of the Church. Actually I think that theological education understood like this is quite an Anglican way of looking at the process -- indeed I wonder if theological education as a phrase to describe this combination of activities originated in Anglican circles. It would be interesting to have the chance to explore this sometime.
Perhaps that hints at something of the task which lies before TEAC. I believe that our challenge is both to help those who are training for ministry both to have a burning passion for theology and to be properly equipped for the tasks of their future ministry.
When Archbishop Rowan made an important contribution to TEAC's presentation at the Anglican Consultative Council, held in June 2005, he made the following memorable comment: "The gospel overflows in theology ... Theology is perhaps first and foremost a celebration -- a celebration that helps us find a way, or a truth that leads us into a life."
How can we help to share this sense of excitement about theology with those who are seeking to minister in the Church? All too often "theology" is regarded as either irrelevant or dangerous -- the hostile foe of "simple faith."
Increasingly, I have come to feel that unless our theological education includes the vision of celebrating and cherishing theology it will have an aridness about it. It may enable people to function in ministry at a certain level -- but will it offer a way, a truth and a life that will help sustain ministers in both good -- and difficult -- years ahead? And as for those who would want to suggest that theology is an inessential luxury in the training of ministers, perhaps other words of Archbishop Rowan, (originally part of a lecture he gave, titled "What is theological education" at the Centre for Anglican Communion Studies in Birmingham, England, in November 2004) provide a response:
"A theologically educated person is someone who is reading the world in the context of the narratives that have brought God alive, savingly and transformingly. That means that a theologically educated person reads the Bible as a record of the changes impressed upon the human world by the living God. A theologically educated person encounters Christian doctrine as the struggle for words large enough and resourceful enough not to be completely misleading about the mystery, the scale of the living God. The theologically educated person is the person who reads the history of Christian communities as an invitation to read the Bible in company and to find education and discipleship in that process."
If that is a description of a theologically educated person, then it would be hard indeed to suggest that theology is irrelevant for any who are training to minister in a mission-shaped church.
During our meeting in South Africa, the Rev. Mike McCoy shared with us the transformed and transforming vision of theological education in contemporary South Africa. Memorably he quoted from John Zizoulas: "The Church is a tree with its roots in the future and its branches in the present."
That is the kind of Church that TEAC believes theological education needs to be preparing people for.
Obviously, that means we need to be making a range of practical suggestions -- better training in the "Anglican Way," perhaps with the setting up of specialist centers for the study of Anglicanism and/or the provision of a distance learning diploma in Anglican Studies; a possible CD/DVD on Anglicanism; establishing clear criteria as to the competencies required for different ministries; finding ways to share resources such as books and personnel more equably around the Communion; tackling the linguistic exclusion Francophone and Hispanic-speaking Anglicans sometimes feel; facilitating the responsibility of bishops for theological teaching and training in their dioceses -- these are but a few of the many ideas which it will be my responsibility as secretary to TEAC and director of Theological Studies to ensure get followed up, either by the members of TEAC or others, over the next few years.
Further information about TEAC can be found online at: http://www.anglicancommunion.org/teac.
-- Clare Amos is director of Theological Studies for the Anglican Communion and secretary to TEAC.
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