Waiapu Diocesan Theologian

October 22, 2009

The Shaping of a Theological Academy

Responses so far to our diocesan survey of theological needs and resources (see my previous post) have helped shape discussion among those engaged in initial planning for launching the Waiapu Theological Academy early next year. Already we can see that it will need to operate an these four levels:-

A.  Supporting Distance Learning

Clergy and lay members of the diocese are already engaged in a variety of courses of theological study provided by established tertiary institutions. We have no desire to compete with these providers in the short term, and certainly will only start jumping through NZQA hoops when forced to do so – for example, if other programmes start collapsing. What we do need to provide for their students from Waiapu is recognition and appropriate support. Distance learning is hard enough without feeling that it is all happening under the diocesan radar … tell me about it!

For those who have gained theological qualifications, recently or in the dim past, we want to encourage them to keep current, to attend conferences and other academic gatherings, and to offer their learning to others in the diocese. “All learners, all teachers” is our guiding principle, and for none more so than those who are most academically qualified.

We also need to integrate courses studied and qualifications gained into a broader picture of the total ministry training of each license-holder in the diocese. Some of the training has been decidedly “bitsy”. A more explicit scheme defining core competencies for different types of ministry will enable those responsible for ministry training to both credit prior learning and identify gaps for which we need to provide further learning opportunities.

B. The Diocese as a Gathered Learning Community

Gatherings such as our annual clergy conference provide opportunities for experiencing ourselves as a community of lifelong scholars in which learning and teaching are shared among all those gathered. Those who are relatively unlearned can find that their contributions to a discussion are valued, and those whose theological formation happened long ago are stimulated by the questions and insights of those new to the field.

We plan to develop this dimension of our diocesan community in the form of theological workshops, calling on the expertise of our own people, who will be shoulder-tapped and encouraged to present short papers and lead discussions, sharing their enthusiasms and special knowledge and receiving the recogniton they deserve from their colleagues in ministry.  Guess who has the role of chief shoulder-tapper? See me coming …

Clergy conference is only one venue in which such workshops may be organized. Others may well happen in the regions, for easier access. Some will draw special interest groups together from around the diocese. All this will depend on the time people have to give, and that in turn will be related to how worthwhile they find the workshops to be.

C. Training for Local Shared Ministry

Those called to local shared ministry roles are of particular concern, as I indicated in my earlier posts. In the training of LSM license-holders, and especially clergy, the general approach in this diocese has been to balance demands made on them for training time against the fact that they are all volunteers, giving their precious spare time to ministry tasks. in short, we weren’t very demanding at all, and sometimes a bare minimum of training got done. Our present bishop, and others involved in ministry training, have come to realize that we are doing no-one a kindness by vesting people with responsibilities for which they are not adequately trained.

In short, we are going to be hearing much more about required training, especially for clergy members of LSM teams. For all who carry responsibilities for preaching and teaching in parishes, we will begin to specify levels of theological competence expected at each level of licensing. More training may be expected in advance of licenses being issued, and a commitment to programmes of in-service training will be agreed between the bishop and those licensed.

Delivering that training will include some involvement in distance study and the diocesan gatherings described above, but will also need specific training days in the regions.  We trust that those already carrying LSM responsibilities will find this extra training so valuable that the time given to it will not feel burdensome. Rather, we hope that all LSM clergy and lay ministers will discover a vocation to lifelong scholarship, gathering personal resources to sustain their ministries to others.

When I attended the diocesan LSM conference at Flaxmere last Saturday a group of four in which I took part discovered that we had one ministry in common – scholarship! We all loved to study, and we all took pride and confidence from others recognizing that we “know stuff”. I suspect that this may have been true of most of those in the room. It is certainly very Anglican, and a good omen for the future of shared ministry.

D. Parish-Based Theological Training

Most Anglicans are glad to be part of a theologically-informed church, and the arena in which they usually experience this is their own parish.  So theological education has to be delivered at this grass-roots level as well as in more specialized settings.

The first way of organizing parish-based theology is by making sure that parish clergy have the resources they need to teach their own people – see all the training opportunities above, but think also of a diocesan study centre you can call on for books, journals, and other shared resources. All of this is coming together in Napier, but think of further ways we can share what we have accumulated over the years. Think about what that book allowance is meant to be for, and make sure it gets spent, and that resources are shared across parish boundaries.

Finally, an offer from your diocesan theologian. I am open to invitations to visit your parish for a weekend of teaching and preaching. Maybe one a month at this stage, while everything else is coming together. As this begins to happen, I hope to be just paving the way for others to do likewise. Think about that new expectation that stipended clergy will give a fifth of their working time to ministry outside normal parish boundaries, then think about what this could mean for sharing our gifts of teaching and preaching more widely.

This is just a beginning, and I am not the One creating the story…

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