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…


October 21, 2009

The Survey of Theological Needs and Resources

Filed under: Needs and Resources,Starting Points — howardpilgrim @ 3:40 pm

A month ago, at our Waiapu diocesan synod, I launched a survey of all clergy in the diocese, together with lay ministers holding a license for preaching or teaching. My purpose is threefold:

* to gain a clearer sense of how my colleagues in this diocese see their own needs for ongoing theological education

* to identify those who are able to teach others in various areas of the curriculum

* to begin building a database tracking these needs and resources so that no potential learner or teacher is overlooked.

The initial reception to my presentation at synod was very positive and so far I have received over 45 written responses: about one third of those holding relevant licenses. This is enough to confirm that the needs and resources are real, that this project has plenty of initial goodwill, and for me to continue with initial planning for the coming year.

Meantime, you may be one of those Waiapu colleagues in ministry who have not yet replied. It is never too late! All you need to do is to download the survey form from this drop-site, then either fill it out in Word and email it back to me, or print it out, enter your responses in longhand, and post it back. I look forward to your contribution.

September 1, 2009

Let’s Hear It From Waiapu!

Filed under: Starting Points — howardpilgrim @ 10:10 am

A funny thing happened on this new blog over the last couple of weeks. On each Thursday I put a notice in our diocesan “E-News” circular inviting its readers  to visit this new blog and leave a comment.  A hyperlink in the text made it easy to get here. The response was immediate: visits logged on the first Thursday were triple my previous daily high, and almost as good the second Thursday.  Waiapu people had started reading my blog, and some of them even said so when we met. Written comments, on the other hand, were lousy. More exactly, non-existent.

So far, mine has been the only voice on this blog from from within the diocese – or it was until I suggested to our bishop David Rice that he should set an example. We now have his blessing for all to see ( as the first comment on my previous post) and as imprimaturs go this one is not to be sniffed at. However, what I really want is a discussion about where theological education should go in our diocese, and elsewhere, rather than a pat on the back. So come on in, the rest of Waiapu, follow your bishop, the water’s fine!

Making a comment is actually unbelievably easy. Just click on the Leave a Comment heading box below and type your thoughts into the Comments box that appears. When you have finished click on the Submit Comment button. If you are anxious that you might lose what you have written, then compose your comment in your favourite word processor and cut and paste it into the Comments box when you are happy with what you have written. If you fill out your name and email address that will make for even better communication, but I have just changed the setting that made this compulsory – if you read Edward’s comment on the previous post you will see why! Your comment will then come past me (to weed out spam) and I will make to sure to welcome it and give a considered response as a further comment in reply.  Others can then add their thoughts on what you have to say. A public conversation, get it?

Here are some important questions, any one of which might start you off.

What place should theological education have in the life of this diocese?

Is it important to have theologically literate clergy … let alone lay people?

If you have done some theological study, what topics did you find most helpful?

Are there some things you have learned which you would like more opportunities to share with others?

What is your preferred method of study – distance education, short courses, small groups for reading and discussion, self-directed learning, or something else?

What resources would you like the diocese to provide to help you in your theological journey?

Alternatively, you can still go back to any of my previous postings and make a comment there.

Now go on, be brave, write something …

August 19, 2009

The Core Curriculum

Filed under: Starting Points,Theological Curriculum — howardpilgrim @ 5:39 pm

What are we talking about here? Just what is this fund of knowledge that is in danger of running dry in our common Anglican life? For those unfamiliar with the “good old ways” of theological education, this post is one attempt to bring you up to speed. Those who are there already might like leave their comments correcting my summary…

One way of tackling this query is by giving an outline of what are generally considered to be the six essential elements in the education of any Christian minister, lay or ordained. This is the stuff we should be passing on to each new generation of leaders in the church,  our accumulated wisdom of what it means to be a competent, educated community of faith. Each of these “elements” is actually a huge field inviting life-long study. None of them could be considered radical or new.

The first two fields in the following list are probably relatively well provided for at present, and as new people are recruited and trained for local ministries, ordained or lay, we have tended to put most of our resources into providing this sort of training. The last four are the traditional fields of theological study that have been most neglected. In an ideal world, all six should be developed side by side in an integrated and life-long manner. The practical problem here is that the four traditional fields are huge, and we often don’t know where to begin without embarking on an intensive course of study spread over several years, which was the traditional solution. Our challenge is to provide accessible (but not necessarily easy!) gateways into each field.

Spiritual Formation

This almost goes without saying: no-one can provide Christian ministry to others unless they have their own  living relationship with God and with the Christian community. Tending to  our own spirituality is our first Christian duty – not by becoming self-absorbed, but making sure our love of God and neighbour is real. The guidance of spiritual directors and a growing familiarity with the long tradition of Christian spirituality are important means of making sure we are spiritually healthy and fit to meet the demands of a life given to meeting the needs of others.

Ministry Skills

The “how to” aspects of ministry to others are not only learned by experience, but can also be taught. Most people in Christian leadership appreciate this and are ready to line up for practical courses in how to do their ministry tasks – liturgy, preaching, pastoral care, group  leadership, and so on. We expect those who lead us to show developing competence, whether or not they are paid for it: any licence involves a responsibility to become skillful. The church makes training opportunities available, and attendance is expected.  No problem there, by and large. Standards of competence and behaviour are expected, and licenses can be withdrawn if people don’t come up to the mark. That mark, however is actually rather low, compared to the large knowledge base available in each of these aspects of ministry. Once again, life-long learning is an appropriate goal.

New Testament Studies

The heart of all Christian ministry is the good news of Jesus Christ, and the wellspring of that gospel is contained within the New Testament. Yet at a recent national gathering, the Theological Hui held in Auckland, Feb 2008, there was a clear consensus that the most urgent need of our church is to learn how to interpret the holy scriptures. For most of our people, what we have learned so far is just not enough to get us by, given the challenges we face together.  Knowing how to work out what a passage may have meant in its original context – that is what we call exegesis. Interpreting its significance for us 2000 years later – that is exposition. Learning how others have done this before you – priceless! (apologies to foreigners who may not have seen the Mastercard advertisement) And yet how little of this knowledge is actually available to feed the people in our pews, or the spiritually hungry in the world around us? A few tidbits gleaned from bible studies of some TV evangelist, or from an internet sermon will not get us there. There is so much more needed, and available.

First Testament Studies

What we are used to calling the Old Testament is not old as in outdated, but old as in our deepest roots, our original source of knowledge about God. The holy scriptures of Israel are simply referred to in the New Testament as “the scriptures”, or by the formula “it is written”. Jesus and the first Christians understood all that happened to them in the light of what they read in those sacred writings, and we cannot begin to comprehend what they were on about without reading what they were reading.  The gap of time and culture we must cross to do so is not all that difficult to bridge – many have been there before us and left a vast heritage for us to explore.

Christian History

We are not the first people to follow Jesus – the Christian movement has been underway for 2000 years now, and there is so much to learn about where we are now by looking back over where we have come.  A warning -“Those who don’t know history are doomed to repeat it”. Enough said! More positively,  studying those who have gone before us can be a constant source of encouragement, as we learn to recognise God’s faithful guidance of the Church through the ages.  Those saints we celebrate throughout the year; knowing more about how to fit them into their historical context gives us a clearer idea of just who we are called to be, of our own potential for transforming our world as they did. And reflecting on how the Church engaged with its world in earlier times brings us new perspectives on how to conduct our own mission today.

Systematic Theology

How can we integrate all that we learn above with everything else we know about Life, the Universe and Everything? Attempting to do so was what once led to theology being called “The Queen of the Sciences”. Medieval theologians used to try to formulate a grand theory of everything, but nowadays we leave that to the physicists, who make it simpler by not trying to bring God into the picture. Nevertheless, we cannot get far in Christian ministry without trying this, at least on a personal level: that is to say, trying to bring what we know together into a coherent whole, especially the things that are most important to us. We need to gain some sort of “simple vision” that places our identity as believers within  the biggest picture we can see. This, of course is a life-long task, no matter how we go about it. It is a very personal task, a necessary part of our spiritual development (bringing us back to our starting point above), but it is more than personal if we are to guide others along the way, and studying how some of the great Christian thinkers have done it before us can be both enlightening and inspiring.

So …. if that is the curriculum, where is the  school? Don’t miss the next exciting episode. More to the point, send me some feedback in the Comments box so that we can work on it together!

August 2, 2009

What’s Missing?

Filed under: Starting Points — howardpilgrim @ 10:07 pm

“If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it” Most of us subscribe to that commonsense maxim, so why on earth does Waiapu need a diocesan theologian? Is something missing in our common life? Obviously both Bishop David Rice and I share the view that something is seriously out of order, which is why I got this job: it is not just an honorific title acknowledging my worth as they ease me out to pasture.

A Little History is in order

About two decades ago Anglican dioceses throughout New Zealand began to promote a new way of providing for parish ministries: known variously as “The Nevada Model“, “Total Ministry” or “Local Shared Ministry“, it promised a way forward for parishes unable to sustain the costs of supporting full-time stipendiary vicars. Rather than being promoted as a matter of expediency, a last resort for parishes in trouble (although often experienced as that by those on the receiving end of diocesan visitations), this model of parish structure was held to be more life-giving for all parishes than the more traditional model in which the ministry of the vicar dominated most aspects of parish life. It made strong connections with the New Testament metaphor of the Body of Christ in which every member has a distinctive gift to bring to the common life, and new ministry gifts are constantly given birth by the Holy Spirit.  It appealed to our natural congregational affiliations by asserting that every ministry needed by each parish was already present among the people, or just about to walk through the door.  Acknowledging that theological literacy and pastoral expertise were widespread throughout our Anglican laity, some advocates for this new system adopted a revolutionary slogan, “Ministry is a calling, not a profession”.

Having recently completed a professional, theological education as my preparation for ordination, I must say this got me alarmed, no matter how much I could assent to key parts of the new rationale. It seemed that my church, to which I had returned largely because of its commitment to theological literacy among its clergy, was suddenly abandoning the values that had inspired my calling. Now a significant number of deacons and priests would be ordained as part of team ministries in which the traditional functions of clergy were shared within a team. On this basis, it would no longer be necessary for clergy to invest in the years of theological study formerly required before ordination. More to the point, the church at large was relieving itself of the responsibility of financing that study. What I had struggled to undertake largely at my own expense, many others receiving a call to ordination would find impossible, and it would not be encouraged, let alone required.  Theological study was set to move from the heart of ordained ministry into the category of personal hobby. The accumulated social capital of shared theological knowledge would be enjoyed by my church while it lasted with little institutional commitment to its replenishment.

Nothing I have written above should be read as a criticism of our Local Shared Ministry clergy. They give their devotion, time and energy without any financial reward to meet the needs of the parishioners entrusted to their care.  If they lack theological education, whose fault is this? In many cases their call to holy orders came with promises of ongoing training that were never properly carried through by the church leadership. This is our shared problem as a church, and it is time we did a lot more to make up the deficit. In my conversations with LSM clergy, they are generally the first to say they need more training, resources and  opportunities for theological study.

But don’t we have plenty of fully trained clergy?

Yes, we do still have some ordination candidates undertaking a full theological education, but no there are not very many of them, and not many are young adults. I wonder why … Could it have anything to do with our devaluation of ministry as a profession for life?

“Fully trained”, now let’s think about what that means. In most professions t doesn’t just mean an initial period of study, but includes ongoing study to keep that knowledge current.  Nowadays there is something my wife calls CPD (“continuing professional development”) that is required if she is to maintain membership of her professional association, as in many others.  I have not run into this idea inside the church (or at least not until I was talking to our new bishop). Why not? Are we afraid to talk about our fully trained clergy keeping their qualifications current when they are surrounded by colleagues who haven’t been required to undertake any of that initial training? Oh right – we are a calling, not a profession.  We don’t actually have any standards of theological training for our clergy.

What difference has this made to the standing of our church within our social context in which the professions have increasing status? And what difference has it made as we compete for credibility with every pastor and his wife who set up their own church and present themselves as the new face of Christianity?  We may assure ourselves that we have a better connection with the 2000 year Christian tradition than some of these upstarts, but is our pride justified? How much effort do we actually put into studying that tradition with all its rich heritage of wisdom, reflection, and inspired proclamation?  What steps are we taking to ensure that our children and grandchildren have access to this heritage?  And how will they even know it is their birthright unless they see that we are passionate about appropriating it for ourselves?

In Summary…

Something is definitely broken, and we must find a way of fixing it, together.

July 10, 2009

Where to Start?

Filed under: Starting Points — howardpilgrim @ 5:10 pm

Here are some of the immediate tasks I face in the first few months of my new half-time job as Waiapu Diocesan Theologian, in no particular order

Learning Blogging, for one thing…

Although I have posted comments in other people’s blogs, which is a good way to get familiar with the territory, this is my first actual blog! You may have noticed it has been a week or two since my first posting – the time between has involved a lot of background reading, on blogging in general as well as exploring the features of WordPress software.  Now I am almost ready to roll … any helpful hints from experienced bloggers along the way will be most welcome. What’s more, if you are a blogging novice like me then you may feel less nervous about adding a comment, knowing that you are in sympathetic company.

Getting Around and Meeting People

The most important task I face for the rest of 2009 is talking with as many  people as I can within the diocese on the topic of theological education.  I have a strong sense that this is an area of our common life in which something is seriously lacking. David Rice our new bishop obviously agrees with me, as do other key diocesan leaders, or else I wouldn’t have landed this job.  Anglicans often like to think of ourselves as “Thinking Christians” … but do we really deserve such a label?

What is your opinion?  Do you see your church as a community of scholars  that encourages all its members to engage in life-long learning about the Christian faith? If it is not like that, do you want it to be? What would you like to learn more about? What do you wish others knew more about?  What are you able to teach others?  These are some of the questions I will be asking you when I corner you soon.  Of course you could save me the trouble by starting to share your thoughts in the comments box below …

Another thing the bishop has helpfully done is asking me to take over some of Erice Fairbrother’s duties as regional ministry convener in the Southern and Central Hawkes Bay region for the next three months while she is on study leave. I agreed only because this will give me opportunities to explore the life in the one part of our diocese I am least familiar with, observing what is going on, chatting with people about their needs and resources, and using this experience as an initial sampling of the wider diocesan situation.

Setting up a Study Centre

An integral part of my long preoccupation with theological study has been my almost compulsive buying of books, especially in my major interest area of biblical studies: at the last estimate, somewhere over 1500 volumes! This was not only driven by my natural acquisitiveness, but also by my need to overcome our relative isolation, in New Zealand, from the academic resources available in other parts of the Western world.  I do not want these treasures to be buried with me when I die, and nor do I want them sent off to some second hand bookshop to get lost or dispersed.  So I have offered them to the diocese to form the nucleus of a shared library. Others are hereby invited to offer their contributions to this common pool, and we are budgeting for ongoing spending to extend the stock and keep it up to date.

Dean Helen Jacobi has offerred the use of some of those rooms out the back of the cathedral where the diocesan offices used to be, and once we get them cleared of someone else’s precious junk, (the cathedral archives was that?) we can set up a proper study centre where you will be most welcome to drop in at your convenience, to read, to borrow, or to consult an evergrowing set of online resources.

A Structured Teaching Programme

Well, that will come next year, after we have surveyed the diocese’s needs and resources, and recruited some people who are both willing and able to teach others.  Much as I enjoy teaching theology,  I do not propose to do it all myself …

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