The working group Theological Education for the Anglican Communion (TEAC) ended its week-long meeting in South Africa January 21 with commitments from its members to continue working on concrete proposals for professional, ecumenical, and contextually sensitive theological education.
The 34-person group gathered at a conference center just east of the Johannesburg International Airport on January 14 to draft its proposals for the reshaping of Anglican theological education, as mandated by the Primates in 2002.
The secretary general of the Anglican Communion, Canon Kenneth Kearon, also attended the TEAC meeting. It demonstrated, he said, "the importance of theological education for Anglicans and its potential as a unifying force within the Communion."
"The work achieved this week will influence the direction of theological education within the Communion for many years to come," he added.
TEAC's members spent much of the week in five "target" groups, working on proposals to renew theological education in the Anglican Communion.
Four of the groups focused respectively on the formation of lay people; vocational deacons, catechists and licensed lay leaders; priests and transitional deacons; and bishops. The fifth group worked on "the Anglican way," drafting suggestions for enriching the distinctively Anglican elements in theological education at all levels, from parish and diocesan training schemes to Provincial seminaries, ecumenical TEE programs, and universities.
TEAC's ongoing work will mainly be carried forward by Clare Amos, newly appointed director of Theological Studies in the Anglican Communion. It will be overseen by the TEAC steering group chaired by the Primate of the Southern Cone, Bishop Gregory Venables of Argentina, or -- when he cannot attend -- by the Rev. Canon Robert Paterson, until recently Principal of the Council for Mission and Ministry of the Church in Wales.
The target groups will remain in contact with each other through email and correspondence. Members of TEAC were also encouraged to share its work with their local church.
TEAC's work-in-progress will be considered by the Primates early in 2007, and then taken to the 2008 Lambeth Conference. In the meantime, the draft documents of the target groups will be available for testing and comment in TEAC's pages on the Anglican Communion web site, and practical elements in the target groups' proposals will be implemented in appropriate ways.
A culture of teaching and learning
During the meeting, TEAC endorsed four principles for theological education drafted by the TEAC steering group and target group conveners in July 2005. The principles declare that, within their common life and worship, Anglicans will:
- encourage a culture of teaching and learning across the Anglican Communion to support the life of all the baptized;
- strengthen awareness of Anglican identity and promote an understanding of the Anglican way;
- be a communion of Word and Sacrament, Christians who read and study the Bible together;
- and strive to deliver theological education with professionalism and ecumenical awareness appropriate to context.
'Restore mission to the heart of theological education'
On the first evening of its meeting, TEAC heard an appeal for Anglican theological education to rediscover its missional heart. This came in an address by the Rev. Mike McCoy, a course coordinator at the ecumenical Theological Education by Extension College of Southern Africa (TEECSA), corresponding secretary of the African Network of Institutions of Theological Education Preparing Anglicans for Ministry (ANITEPAM), and chaplain to the TEAC meeting.
McCoy outlined the major changes experienced by South African institutions of theological education, following changes to legislation governing education in that country. This had led to a far-reaching revision of the style, methods, and content of theological education -- including a decision to make missional perspectives central to the study of Christian theology and ministry.
Urging the discovery of a common purpose in theological education as one way to promote Anglican unity, McCoy suggested that this should be "to equip all God's (Anglican) people faithfully and courageously to embody, enact, and announce the good news of God's realm of peace -- the long-awaited reign of God made present in Jesus Christ."
"We need to rediscover a passion for serving God's transforming mission, and give it its rightful place at the heart of our endeavors in theological education," he said.
The local church encountered
Recognizing that worship is central to the Anglican way, TEAC members spent much of Sunday, January 15 in nearby parishes in the host Diocese of the Highveld, attending parish eucharists and meeting local people.
On the next evening the group had dinner at the home of diocesan Bishop David Beetge and his wife Carol.
On Wednesday, January 18, TEAC visited diocesan HIV/AIDS projects. (See Listening: South African HIV/AIDS projects show 'hope amidst despair' http://www.episcopalchurch.org/3577_71071_ENG_HTM.htm)
Thursday, January 19, was given to learning about the African context of theological education. Canon Oliver Duku, principal of the Bishop Allison Theological College -- a college of the Episcopal Church of Sudan (ECS) currently based in Arua, Uganda -- outlined the history of the Sudanese church and of its trials under persecution and civil conflict since the 1960s.
Despite -- or because of -- its suffering, Duku said, the church in Sudan was the fastest-growing in the Communion.
However, the years of upheaval had severely disrupted theological education. Since 2002, ECS had sought to reconstruct it, and was now planning a four-tier structure with one university-level college, four Provincial Diploma colleges, several Bible schools serving clusters of dioceses, and diocese-level training schemes for laity and untrained pastors.
The Rev. James Massey, principal of the TEE College of Southern Africa (TEECSA), told TEAC how the college was responding to legislated changes in education in South Africa, and outlined the courses and qualifications it offered its 2,800 students, built on the principles of outcomes-based education. (See www.tee.co.za)
These qualifications, he said, were the result of wide consultation with the churches about what they sought in their emerging leaders. As a result, the courses focus on developing students' competence rather than just giving them knowledge.
"Mainline theological education in South Africa has always been contextual," Massey said. "Now transformation is also central to what we do."
Members of the ANITEPAM Governing Council -- who met immediately after the TEAC consultation, and attended several of its sessions -- then gave TEAC an impression of the state of theological education in Africa.
Representing West, East, Central, Southern, and Francophone Africa, they described distinctive challenges each of their regions faced, as well as common issues they had to resolve, such as the acute lack of resources.
They also described ANITEPAM's support for theological education in Africa through staff and student exchanges, continent-wide consultations, book grants to theological colleges, regular news bulletins and a journal, and a web site (www.anitepam.org) dedicated to theological education in Africa.
'The plane has taken off'
The rest of the TEAC gathering was given to refining the work of the target groups so that their recommendations could be tested around the Communion.
In the meeting's final session on Saturday, January 21, Clare Amos told TEAC members that there were several ideas and proposals that TEAC could implement even while it awaited the response of the Primates in 2007.
These included a joint project with the Compass Rose Society to send a core collection of books on Anglicanism to seminaries around the Communion; to compile a database of Anglican theologians; to develop the TEAC section of the Anglican Communion web site (www.anglicancommunion.org/teac); and to edit and publish resources for theological education.
Canon Andrew Norman, secretary for International, Anglican Communion, and Ecumenical Affairs at Lambeth Palace, used a topical image to describe TEAC's work.
Alluding to the nearby airport, he said that TEAC was like a plane that had taken off. "We must now make sure that it doesn't just circle the airport, but goes somewhere," he said.
That "somewhere" is the way that theological education is actually delivered around the Communion.
Walking and working together
TEAC's chair, Bishop Greg Venables, said that the Primates wanted theological education to be done much better, while respecting one another's autonomy.
"The present crisis [over human sexuality] has made us more open to asking who we are as a Communion," he said. "The real issue is how we do theological education as Anglicans, and act in a united way. How do I walk with an Anglican who does things differently? How do we stay in communion? That's an issue for theological education."
The Primate of Brazil, Bishop Orlando de Oliveira, agreed. "We want to share resources regionally and around the Communion. The process we have started here may help us with all the difficult issues that divide us. TEAC is showing us that it is possible to live together, work together, and do theological education together."
'God responds to the cries of our hearts'
Canon George Hobson of the American Cathedral in Paris, France, felt that TEAC was a sign of God's providence. "It is very encouraging that TEAC was raised up just as the crisis of division [over human sexuality] was happening. This is providential: God is responding to the state of the Communion, answering the cries of our hearts," he said.
The Rev. Dr. Guen Seok Yang of the Sungkonghoe Anglican University in Seoul, Korea, urged the Communion to look beyond the dispute over human sexuality. "There are life and death issues in the world," he said. "We need to hear the voice of the Primates and the Archbishop of Canterbury on these issues too -- they are the real background to what we do in theological education."
Old and new treasures
The TEAC meeting ended with a Eucharist in the conference center's small chapel. In a short homily, Robert Paterson, vice-chair of TEAC, drew attention to the parables in Matthew chapter 13, and in particular to those about the treasure in a field and the pearl of exceptional value.
"These are stories for disciples of Jesus, the people of God, among whom we are all included, no matter how well qualified, nor how humble or exalted in the hierarchy we may be," Paterson said.
"If we are convinced that improved theological education will change the Anglican Communion -- indeed, change the world -- for the better, it will not happen simply by improvements in the education of ministers."
"Only when the people of God, 'the salt of the earth', also are helped to be more articulate in God-talk will we begin to notice the change we long for," he said.
Paterson urged Anglican theological educators to become learners too. "Teachers who become learners acquire a treasure-chest which has in it for us to pull out what Jesus calls 'the old' - the inheritance, the tradition, that which is faithfully handed on from one to another."
But, he added, "from that treasure-chest also come 'new things' -- the immediate, the local, the contextual, that which stares us in the face every day."
Paterson concluded: "We who are deeply concerned about Theological Education for the Anglican Communion must be learners in the ways of God's reign, recognizing our dependence on the Lamb of God, the way, the truth, the resurrection and the life. And we must stay there, always learners in the kingdom school, having the new and the old to bring out from our treasure."