February 26, 2010
In a contextual education class, and after listening to an Associate Pastor talk about his ministry including his ministry to newcomers, I was asked why we had to keep on talking about theology when welcoming a newcomer was a relatively simple matter of learning someone’s name, writing a note, being gracious and following up. I agreed that, as with any program in the church, common and humane sense will go a long way and that the opportunity to learn the latest technique is always available. What we are about however is theology in context (‘orthopraxis’ for those who remember the 80s theological buzzword) and knowing why we are doing whatever we do, learning to test our instincts and intuitions against both what we believe to be right and proper and against the realities of our context as it presents itself. (David Kelsey’s reflections on Wisdom Literature in Part 1 of his Eccentric Existence are particularly helpful here.)
In the same time frame I was asked to reflect on what I consider most important for a seminary in the next five years. My answer was something along the line of wanting a seminary to prepare students for a wide variety of congregational forms of life and settings, with the ability to function effectively as members of staffs or head of staff in any of them.
And so along comes another special edition of the Anglican Theological Review (Winter 2010, Vol. 92, No 1—available in our parish library) on ‘leadership. It contains a mixture of personal stories of leadership in particular situations, literature review and articles of theological reflection—a mixed bag some of which I will write about later. It serves to highlight the problem that we all want to educate for ‘leadership’ but do not really know how to do that. In a essay called Theological Education in the Twenty-First Century Ian Markham, Dean of the Virginia Theological Seminary proposes that “successful leadership should be judged by the impact made on the wider denomination.” I could probably see that as one measure and one that provides some correction to ‘do your own thing’ leadership provided that it is not another way of hemming in creativity under the guise of ‘community’. Joseph Britton, Dean of the Berkeley Divinity School at Yale has developed a ‘rule of life' for the seminary community that gets a little closer to what preparing church leaders might entail in practice. He sometimes uses the metaphor of ‘language’, describing Anglicanism as a ‘first language’ for BDS/Y students with ‘ecumenism’ as a ‘second language’. I wonder if music might not provide another metaphor for what we are after. Church leaders need to know their scales and maybe an instrument or two, perhaps some idea of what goes into composition, all in the service of their being able to improvise in a variety of contexts. This would mean that the content of seminary education must offer basic disciplines (Bible, Theology etc.) but always in conversation with what these things mean for the life of the church in a variety of concrete, specific, ecclesial situations.