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Listening: Anglican women share perspectives on theological education

[Episcopal News Service]  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.

In a conversation with Episcopal News Service, TEAC members Sr. Teresa White of the Church of England, the Rev. Natalie Simons of the Church of the Province of Southern Africa, and the Rev. Colleen O'Reilly of the Anglican Church of Australia shared their perspectives about the importance and challenges of offering Theological Education in the Anglican Communion. The full text of the conversation follows:

ENS: Why does the Anglican Communion need to take theological education so seriously?

O'REILLY: We need well-formed and educated clergy who will, in turn, teach the Church. We have faithful laity with little knowledge of the Christian faith, the Church's history or theology. In the West, only a Church which knows its own identity and story can give an account of its faith in the midst of the myriad choices available to people. Ignorance is not bliss; it becomes fundamentalism.

SR TERESA: If we are to reach and have a consensus in the Communion we must have some commonality in our approach to Scripture, tradition and reason (including current wisdom concerning the lives of our people). All Christians need education for their discipleship in whatever form of life to which they are called.

SIMONS: Theological education is important for those who lead the people of God as much as it is important for all Christians. Clergy need to be trained theologically so that they may be better teachers and preachers and the laity need to know how to think theologically so that we can all be better disciples. The Anglican Communion must take theological education seriously because, in my opinion, we are one family and we need to know how other members of our family are being trained, what influences their training and thinking in terms of tradition, culture and socio-economic status, so that when I am traveling to South Africa and the service is three hours long, I am able to understand why.

ENS: What are some of the main challenges being addressed by your sub-group?

SIMONS: Resources and uneven distribution of resources, funding, language, literature, electronic media, access to I.T., personnel, scholarships, variable standards, weak doctrines of God, Church and Scripture, perceived threats such as fundamentalism and "new generation" churches, and issues surrounding "Islam vs. the West."

Other discussions have involved the selection process and discernment for training and licensing/ordination for public ministers, the role of the bishop, Anglicanism as a down-market, un-cool choice. Lack of theological stimulus among us, disenchantment with, distraction from theological study, leading to a depressed appetite for theology -- sometimes caused by the demands of public ministry.

O'REILLY: The challenge for our [priests] sub group is to provide a comprehensively adequate education/formation for ordained ministry for priests. That preparation will vary with the context but depends on adequate resources, and these are very unevenly shared around the Communion. Our group is seriously concerned that the Ordinal's long standing requirement of clergy being trained (to the highest level available and according to their ability) is at risk in too many places. Bishops need to take this requirement seriously in many places.

SR TERESA: In my sub group on (Vocational) Deacons and Licensed Lay Ministers (Catechists, Evangelists and Readers), understanding the different uses of these categories in various places has been a challenge. Some in the group are more experienced in use of Deacons and Readers in first world countries; I think we began to get a more accurate picture concerning the use of catechists and evangelists in Africa. It is a challenge to work out descriptions that would apply in many different contexts without being so general that they give no incentive for improvement and to phrase matters in a way that they can be understood by people for whom English is their second language.

ENS: What were the highlights of the South Africa meeting? What did you personally get out of the meeting and what did you feel you were able to contribute?

SR TERESA: For me, highlights were the visits to parishes and in my case to the Cathedral at Pretoria, conversations with some South African Bishops, priests and clergy, visits to the HIV/AIDS projects and suggestions of how our work could be applied and carried forward between now and Lambeth 2008 and beyond Lambeth 2008.

Also, it was good to get an impression of vibrant churches working in very difficult situations, a renewed awareness of the willingness and ability of Anglicans of various provinces and traditions to work together for the common good.

O'REILLY: The highlights: the depth of global Anglican community formed through worship, friendship and the sharing of a task for the week; exposure to the situation in South Africa and especially the impact of HIV/AIDS; worshipping in a township church. I came back to my parish and lifted their eyes towards our sisters and brothers elsewhere. When I hand over a baptismal certificate I say, "This is your passport to the worldwide Church. Make use of it for you now belong everywhere Anglicans gather for worship."

SIMONS: Being a South African, I was thrilled to share the experiences of day to day life for the majority of South Africans. At our first meeting I felt that not everyone understood the huge gap between those living in the West and those of us who live in Africa and so the visits to the various projects in the Diocese of the Highveld gave them some more insight. I was also able to contribute my own frustrations about theological education in Africa and South Africa since I was recently ordained priest, not without many struggles and challenges -- one of them being gender and race.

ENS: What are the next steps for TEAC?

O'REILLY: To educate the bishops about their responsibility to ordain well formed and informed priests, leaders with confidence who will teach the Church 'who' we are. To help the Communion share resources more evenly. To use Lambeth 2008 to challenge and educate the bishops about the issues. To awaken in ordinary Anglicans a desire to learn about their faith.

Further information about TEAC

[Forthcoming conversations about theological education in the Anglican Communion will include: Jenny Te Paa of New Zealand, bishops group; Esther Mombo of Kenya, Anglican Way sub group; and the Rev. Susanne Watson Epting of the U.S.-based Episcopal Church, deacons and licensed lay ministers group.]