Summit on Theological Education
As part of the celebration of the 100th anniversary of the Montreal School of Theology (MST) founded in 1914, a Summit on Theological Education took place on September 26th 2014 in the Faculty Club of McGill University, preceded by a meeting of Deans and Chairs on February 13th 2014, and prepared by Don Walcot and Gerbern S. Oegema, who also chaired the meeting. This Summit was attended by members of the Diocesan College, the United Theological College, the Presbyterian College, McGill’s Faculty of Religious Studies, the Faculté de Théologie et Études religieuses de Université de Montréal, the Faculté de théologie évangélique, the Grand Séminaire, the Institut pastorale des Dominicains, and the Department of Theology of Concordia University.
The topic of the Summit
The topic of the summit was exploring the possibilities of cooperation, looking into ways of resource and course sharing, expanding the basis of the MST and the B.Th. program, or even looking into a complete new way of organizing our theological education in Montreal. The 1-day bilingual summit was divided into two general sessions and various discussion groups focusing on :
- Institutional situations and challenges
- Course/instructor exchanges
- Offers of Pastoral Studies
- Offers of Theological Studies
- Possibilities of Interfaith Encounters
- What if we could start all over again?
After a brief introductory general session, there was the Keynote Address by Dan Alshire of the Association of Theological Schools (text), and a first round of group discussions. After the lunch there was a second round of group discussions and a closing general discussion. The various discussion groups had a chair and someone writing down the outcomes.
In general, it was felt that one priority for the immediate future was gaining greater clarity around what each group is doing in terms of theological education and information for ministry.
It was suggested to send out a questionnaire asking, how many professors teach, which courses are offered, how many are online courses, and which ones are French only, English only etc. (see now the search function on this website). As far as languages are concerned, some institutions are training people for ministry primarily in Quebec, whereas others, like Presbyterian College are training people for ministry in Canada as a whole.
And related to it: Do our ecclesial bodies have a vision for French ministry? And if so, what is that vision and if not is there a way to develop such a vision?
Another topic was that of a greater possibility in cross registration privileges. Can one envision an M. Div. or equivalent that does more than train for ministry in a congregational context, for example by equipping people for the business world or NGO opportunities as people with a good theological education? Finally, it was suggested that it would be good to apply to the Wabash Center for putting together all of the various programs in one place.
Another group underlined the importance of some course sharing, common research grant applications and joint graduate supervision, but not bilaterally between two institutions, but multilaterally between the various schools of theology/departments teaching theology. This group suggested the creation of a common platform (preferably a website), where interested schools/departments could send their course offerings (with some descriptions, if possible) for the others to see what is being on offer. This platform could be coordinated by a future Council of Theological Education of Montreal group.
As for course and resource sharing, two proposals were made: Greek, Hebrew, Latin pose one set of issues; providing learning opportunities for other important languages pose another: Coptic, Aramaic, Arabic, etc.
Concordia is now developing an on-line Biblical Hebrew course (the first 3 credits): the on-line format should permit materials and delivery to be bilingual, and it will available to the student in the medium-language of choice on a common platform; on-line delivery should also free the instructors and students (and the University) from the problems of providing physical space and times for meetings. If other institutions bought into the Concordia course, they could independently appoint local Teaching Assistants to lead institutionally-specific study/contact groups and so mix the on-line and classroom models.
Courses offered by CREPUQ-covered institutions are readily transferred for credit across universities, though targeting for program requirements is less automatic. Even for FTE/Acadia a few students moving either direction is not prohibitively expensive, if it is academically justified. McGill has long aspired to offer a Summer Language Institute for classical/biblical languages between Religious Studies and Classics, but the aspiration has not yet become concrete in a context of shrinking summer budgets in both Faculties.
There exist, however, some obstacles to sharing course-offerings across institutions: All recognized the serious challenge of delivering biblical/classical language teaching to students with declining knowledge of native-language grammar. The langue d’enseignement is a serious barrier to students moving around. Wouldn’t it be interesting to teach/learn a biblical language in a fully bilingual teaching setting, where English and French were both being used for instruction/comparison?
It is difficult for students to discover accurate information about language classes across our institutions. Do we need to name a coordinator, who will be personally responsible to keep track of biblical/theological language offerings around the city? Doctoral students need not only to master the languages for themselves, but also to acquire the skills to teach the languages. We each want our grad students to receive experience offering language teaching. These obstacles matter most for the first three credits of language learning: should we focus on cooperating on more advanced courses?
In all three areas for cooperation were identified:
- On-line delivery;
- Summer programmes;
- Student exchanges.
In terms of Pastoral Studies, the following suggestions for further cooperation were made:
- To inform each other about the formation activities each year;
- To circulate each other course syllabi;
- To organize meetings between professors to learn about each other and each programmes;
- To inform and invite each other to all relevant activities and events;
- To share each other’s contact information;
- To organize a course on the supervision of pastoral formation.
One working group made the following proposal for a Council of Institutions for Theological Education: A principal aim of a Council would be the presentation to the public of a “unified face” of theological education in the city of Montreal.
A Council should consist of the heads of member institutions, or their delegates together with two student representatives who might represent respectively the francophone and anglophone membership of the Council. There should perhaps be representation on the Council of non-academic professionals (as was the case in the founding of the Joint Board of Theological Colleges in 1912).
The Council should formulate a protocol for collaborative action on the assumption of a series of small steps:
- Study best practices of comparable bodies elsewhere in Canada, e.g. Vancouver School of Theology or Toronto School of Theology;
- Share course listings, and address duplication;
- Pilot collaborative teaching;
- Look at the question of the balance between Christian theology and religious studies in member institutions;
- Publish a common theological journal;
- Investigate the possibility of a shared academic programme in Interfaith Studies;
- Think co-operatively toward the future.
During a Second Summit on April 26th 2015 it was decided to establish a Council of Theological Education in Montreal with the following text and a majority of votes in favour of it:
“We, the participants of the Summit on Theological Education in Montreal agree to create a continuing body of cooperation called ‘The Council of Theological Education in Montreal’ in order to further cooperation.”
This website, initiated during a meeting on February 16th 2016 by the representatives of the participating institutions and created in June-July 2016 with the financial support of a private donor, who is very much dedicated to theological education, is meant to support this further cooperation and is part of a 3-year pilot project, in which the above mentioned goals are being tried out and hoped to be realized step by step.