Posted by: Titus Presler | October 29, 2009

“Only together can it be a whole” – seminarians testify to cross-cultural transformation

Cross-cultural engagement in other parts of the world is crucial in the preparation of seminarians for ministry.  Here are excerpts from an Oct. 27 news story from the Anglican Church of Canada, entitled “Student interns return from Ugandan, Filipino adventures”:

“It changes you in ways you can’t put into words.” This was Jeffrey Hooper’s response to the three months he and his wife Michelle Taylor spent in Uganda with General Synod’s Theological Students International Internship Program (TSIIP).

The Hooper-Taylors were in Toronto for a debriefing at the Canadian Churches Forum for Global Ministries from Oct. 15 to 18, along with TSIIP participant Nicolas Alexandre, who visited the Philippines.

Through TSIIP, Canadian Anglican theological students spend three months with an overseas Anglican diocese, learning about and supporting their ministries wherever possible.

Mr. Alexandre, a student at the College of Emmanuel and St. Chad, described his time as a “ministry of presence.” His hosts at the Episcopal Church of the Philippines showed him a range of places, from Manila’s squatter communities to the green, lush mountains of Sagada. During his May to August stay, Mr. Alexandre also studied and taught at St. Andrew’s seminary.

The Hooper-Taylors were hosted in a similar way during their January-to-May Ugandan stay. Mr. Hooper, a student at Wycliffe College, Toronto, was welcomed into rural and urban churches, homes, shops, and diocesan schools. Ms. Taylor, a veterinarian, accompanied him and also taught a course at the Ankole Western Institute of Technology, where another Canadian volunteer, the Rev. Dr. Carolyn Langford, worked. . . .

Both the Hooper-Taylors and Mr. Alexandre had a taste of what it is like to be in partnership with Ugandan and Filipino Anglicans. They offered old skills like tech support, and gained new skills, like delivering sermons on short notice. They cleared up misconceptions about Canadians, and made new Ugandan and Filipino friends. They offered suggestions from Canadian ministry, and were inspired by huge youth gatherings, open discussions, and an incredible amount of hope.

Now back at their seminary studies, the Hooper-Taylors and Mr. Alexandre know that their experiences in the Philippines and Uganda will shape their future ministries in the Anglican Church of Canada.

“We both have a piece of how God works,” explained Mr. Hooper, “Only together can it be a whole.”

The students’ comments echo those of many other seminarians who have found cross-cultural engagement crucial to their preparation for ministry.  Hooper’s closing statement resonates with the saying attributed to Max Warren, General Secretary of the Church Missionary Society in the mid-20th century: “It takes the whole world to know the whole gospel.”

The Canadian program, which funded three interns in 2009 and six in 2008, has a counterpart in the Episcopal Church USA.  The Grants Program of the Seminary Consultation Mission, a network among the 11 Episcopal seminaries, makes grants annually to students and faculty to spend a minimum of three weeks in ministry in a cross-cultural setting in Africa, Asia, Latin America or Oceania.  Funded by an endowment established by Venture in Mission, the church-wide capital campaign of the 1970s and 80s, the program has about $60,000 available annually.  This typically offers partial support for the international ventures of about 30 students and faculty.  Usually 50 or more apply, so the funding is not adequate to the demand, still less for the often discussed desirability of requiring such an exposure for every seminarian, and repeated attempts at General Convention to augment the funding have been unsuccessful.  Yet the program is significant, and the lifelong effects on the work of those who participate are profound.  To date no comprehensive study has been made of the impact of SCOM grants, but clergy often testify to the difference SCOM grants made on the scope of their ministries.

Most of the SCOM internships for Episcopal seminarians have been and continue to be for quite short-term exposures, usually three or four weeks, which makes for a fairly high ratio of expense to time.  Here the Canadian program, although reaching only a few seminarians, constitutes better stewardship in requiring three months, and it provides a deeper experience.  A few Episcopal seminarians have used SCOM grants for longer engagement, notably General Seminary student Hugh Grant, who spent a full semester studying at a seminary in Puerto Rico, where his studies substituted nicely for one of his semesters at General.

It is equally important that seminarians in other parts of the world have opportunity to engage the world outside their own contexts.  Financial constraints have meant that there is little or no provision for short-term exposures such as are provided for the Episcopal and Canadian Anglican seminaries.  An endowment toward that end would be salutary.  What does occur with some frequency is that clergy from other parts of the world have opportunity to study in seminaries in North Atlantic Anglican settings: the UK, Canada or the USA.  Often this is for advanced degrees, especially the D.Min., Ph.D., and Th.D., the aim being that they return to their home settings prepared to contribute to theological education there.

Currently there are a couple of outstanding and ongoing westward exposure programs that are fairly short-term: The Seminary of the Southwest in Austin currently has its fifth clergyperson from the Diocese of Peshawar in Pakistan.  Some have come for a semester, others for a year.  St. James Church, New York City, sponsors one clergyperson each fall semester from the Diocese of Southern Malawi to study at General Seminary and participate in ministry at St. James.  These programs make a major contribution in focusing on particular dioceses where the bishops (Mano Rumalshah in Peshawar and James Tengatenga in Southern Malawi) recognize the importance of global exposure and are prepared to support their clergy both going out and coming home.

Currently there is little publicity about SCOM grants, but here is a news story that went out in late 2004 about the 2005-06 grants:

32 seminary students and faculty receive SCOM grants for cross-cultural learning

Austin, Texas – Thirty-two grants for cross-cultural learning have been made to seminary students and faculty of the 11 accredited Episcopal seminaries by the Seminary Consultation for Mission (SCOM).  Grant recipients will learn in settings in Africa, Asia, Latin America and Eastern Europe between January 2005 and August 2006.

“Members of our seminary communities are growing in their vision for learning in God’s mission beyond the USA,” said Dean Titus Presler, chair of the SCOM Grants Committee, in announcing the grants.  “Such exposure forms students for ministries both in the multicultural USA and abroad.  Their international experiences will also deepen mutual understanding amid the current tensions in the Anglican Communion.”

Five students from Berkeley Divinity School, Episcopal Divinity School, and the Seminary of the Southwest will work in the Diocese of Maseno North in Kenya as they serve internships with Nan and Gerry Hardison, missionaries of the Domestic and Foreign Missionary Society (DFMS) engaged in theological education and medical work.

Seven students from Virginia Seminary will participate in a mission exposure trip to the dioceses of Hpa’an and Toungoo in the Province of Myanmar, which was hit by the recent Indian Ocean tsunami.  They will be led by the Rev. Kitty Babson, a DFMS intermittent missionary and an adjunct lecturer at Virginia, who has led several such journeys.

Three students from Sewanee will work with people recovering from addictions in a variety of settings in Romania.  That journey will be led by Prof. Robert Hughes, who has led similar trips.

Reflecting the growing emphasis on Hispanic ministry in Episcopal seminaries, Prof. Lizette Larson-Miller of Church Divinity School of the Pacific and Prof. Paul Barton of the Seminary of the Southwest will undertake intensive Spanish immersion courses in Mexico.

Sixty percent of the grantees will go to African countries — Kenya, Tanzania, South Africa, and Uganda — and eight will be in the Asian countries of Myanmar and Pakistan.  Eighteen are men, and 14 are women.  Grantees also come from General Seminary and Trinity Episcopal School for Ministry.

“As we rejoice in the grants we were able to make, we regret that 14 grant applicants did not receive funding,” said Presler, dean of the Seminary of the Southwest.  “Generally we were able to make grants at only 66% of an applicant’s request.”  SCOM had about $61,000 to grant this year, but requests totaled about $143,500.  Funds come from an endowment established by the Council of Episcopal Seminary Deans through a grant from Venture in Mission, the church-wide capital campaign of the 1980s.  The council appoints a committee to make the grants annually.

The 2003 General Convention urged seminaries to include cross-cultural learning for all students, and the Standing Commission on World Mission’s vision statement, “Companions in Transformation,” calls on General Convention to provide more funding for cross-cultural seminarian internships.

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