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Flexible Education

harris“I’m looking forward to what I hope will be a more modern approach to clergy formation and training,” states Christopher Harris, canon for congregational development at St. Paul’s Cathedral, postulant for holy orders, and member of the inaugural class of the diocesan School for Ministry (SFM). A former practicing attorney, Harris reflects on the importance of integrating the theoretical with the practical, saying, “Law school is mostly an intellectual exercise and a law school education is not always helpful once you are in the field, practicing. I imagine some seminary education is the same way. The SFM offers a nice blend of traditional training with an eye on what is happening now.”

Harris’ expectations are consonant with what the School hopes to achieve. It is located in the Episcopal Church Center (ECC) in Ocean Beach, which currently functions as a multi-resource center for many segments of the Ocean Beach community, including the hungry, the homeless, those who need medical care, and more. It is also the site of 12-step meetings, worship services, and fellowship. Conducting classes on Saturdays at the ECC will integrate classroom learning with on-site opportunities for practical application of the principles and ideas presented in class.

The SFM fulfills one of the major objectives for worship and formation in the Mission Plan, the strategic plan for the diocese. That objective to launch a school for ministry reflects the basic tenet declared in the plan: “We are daring and fearless followers of Jesus, empowered by dynamic and transformative worship and spiritual formation practices and programs.”

Creative visioning of space use has been key to the SFM’s development. The sanctuary in Trinity Chapel has been cleared of pews and will function as the classroom. Modular, easy-to-configure tables have been set up. To allow additional light into the learning area, the dark, stained-glass windows were replaced with clear, beveled panes. Worship occurs in the east end of the chapel for the students and faculty, and the central area and west end of the chapel can be cleared so that it may be used in its entirety for worship as needed. Also key to the School’s progress is its affordability for students. The $500 per semester cost reflects the diocese’s desire to make theological education affordable for all.

Reflecting on this novel approach, Harris observed, “Going to a school like this is freeing because it allows me, and others, to pursue our vocation economically, where we couldn’t otherwise. It frees me to be more experimental and opens up more possibilities for formation and ministries to which we are called.” +

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