On September 7, adult learners hailing from the desert to the coast, North County to South Bay, made history in the Episcopal Diocese of San Diego by being the inaugural class of the new School for Ministry.
These first students will explore the worlds of biblical studies, theology, church history, and liturgics for the first time as postulants for holy orders, just as prospective ordained leaders in our church will begin that journey of academic discovery at seminaries and divinity schools across the country. The difference for our students, however, is that a rigorous academic preparation for ministry has not obligated them to pack up everything and leave town with their loved ones to spend three years away at a residential seminary setting.
For the first time, our diocese will have a truly local option for training those whom God has called to serve in the Church. Not only is the School for Ministry local and accessible, it is affordable. A newly ordained minister in the Episcopal Church having completed three years of residential seminary education is fortunate to begin ordained life with $50,000 of debt. The students who go through the School for Ministry should not incur any significant debt, with annual tuition costs set at $1,000 per year.That the School for Ministry is accessible and affordable is a significant asset as the shape of clergy deployment changes rapidly across the church. It is clear that the traditional norm of a working life’s-worth of full-time parish ministry awaiting newly ordained priests is no longer certain. There is every likelihood that bi-vocational ministry will become increasingly common, that the mission of the Episcopal Church will become increasingly diversified and the roles of parish priests less homogenous.
Into the future, we might see traditional parish ministry roles combine with community organizing roles or leadership of community non-profits. With clergy deployment in such a fluid state, having the capability to prepare the future church’s deacons and priests for ordained life without asking them to incur considerable debt and disrupt their current working lives is a major boon both for students and for the mission of the
diocese. With the capacity to tailor-make our curriculum for the changing shape of our context for ministry, the School for Ministry offers our shared mission as a diocese an adaptability that will serve us well into the future.
It is not only its local, affordable and adaptable nature that means that the School for Ministry will serve our mission in this time and place. In establishing our own center for learning, we have been able to choose a pedagogical model that fits twenty-first-century needs of church leadership.
Across educational institutions and workplaces, a shift has been taking place from a model of learning that had its roots in the Industrial Revolution, that understood training for work as the relative mastery of a certain trade or profession. With the explosive growth of fields of knowledge that the Information Age has witnessed, many schools and colleges, as well as workplaces and professional cultures have moved toward a skills-based understanding of intellectual and practical training. A skills-based pedagogy is one that understands the goal of the learner to acquire and hone an essential set of skills that can be transferred to other areas of work in the future, some of which may not even exist yet.
The School for Ministry seeks to cultivate the skill-set of to-be clergy as practitioner-theologians. While the curriculum will require students to become acquainted with the great thinkers and theological themes of our tradition as rigorously as any seminarian being formed in the Episcopal Church today, it will also require them to become incisive critical thinkers, intellectually adept at responding successfully to a rapidly changing ecclesial landscape.
With all of these great reasons to cheer on September’s launch of the School, we would do well to remember that in the service of God, church leaders should exercise their gifts with appropriate humility.
As the great medieval theologian, Thomas Aquinas, looked back on his life’s work, he is famed to have remarked that it was “all but straw.” May we begin this new endeavor trusting that however well we can manage to prepare the leaders of tomorrow’s church, the future belongs to a God whose grace is always enough. +
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