Wednesday, 14 July 2010
Minister's Conference - Final Day
“Good ministry is good ministry wherever it is practiced.” With this assertion former ICUU President David Usher began our final day together. He acknowledged how local context shapes our ministries but added, “Despite the limits of local context, there is a fluidity, openness and possibility to share these skills of ministry between us. I want to encourage the possibility of more fluidity in all trained ministry.”
We had learned much about our differences, in education and formation, in the practice of ministry in different lands, in theology and in the expectations placed on the minister. This would be the day to seek solutions or perhaps reconciliation. This would be the day to discuss what we had to offer each other, and how we might overcome the limits of educational expectations and credentialing processes. It is a tall order, of course. This would be but a first conversation.
The most important factor at this turning point was unspoken: we were colleagues. None of us had checked each other’s credentials on the way into the meeting. There was an assumption from the first moment that we were all ministers no matter what our country and no matter what our church (considering we had a few representatives from the Dutch Remonstrants and NPB groups – not ICUU members.) We treated each other with respect and sought to learn about each other ministries. I have never experienced a collegial gathering quite like it.
Very quickly in the day one theme emerged. Nihal Attanayake of the Philippines and an ICUU Executive member was the first to give it voice. We want this connection we have discovered to keep going in some form. Later in the day Sara Asher of the US would suggest the creation of an International Minister’s Association. Several people volunteered to work to make that happen (taking the responsibility off the shoulders of the staff and Exec of the ICUU – very generous!) Who knows what will come from the process, but something new is starting.
In the afternoon leaders in education and professional associations presented. I expected to learn only of barriers, but instead these colleagues spoke in terms of solutions and in terms of cooperation. Where I expected rigidity (a bias on my part, I suppose) I found creativity.
We had already noted how in many developing countries, ministry is organic and entrepreneurial. That is to say ministers emerge from communities. They are recognized for their natural abilities and faithfulness. That spark is then nurtured and allowed to grow. Their training is largely done through an apprenticeship model, learning by working with an older minister. There may or may not be formal education as well, sometimes only coming after ordination.
As someone who grew up in the ‘go to school to become a minister’ model, I confess to not understanding this way of doing things and being a bit suspicious of it...which is funny, because I have never been much of a scholar or academic. I learn better by doing and then learning from my mistakes.
Then Lee Barker and Qiyamah Rahman stood up from Meadville/Lombard Theological School in the US and outlined a new educational model called “Touchpoint”, now in effect. It is based on keeping the student in their home communities and more importantly keeping them connected with both home church and other placements where they may serve. Throughout their three years they do field placement work while taking course work in intensives and connecting with students and professors through conference calls and other technological means. In other words, they are borrowing some of the best elements present in the organic models found in developing countries.
Lee Barker was delighted hear from the Africans and Filipinos and noted that the developed world and North America specifically could learn a lot from this.
Alex Bradley of Manchester College outlined the UK model which has always had a more direct connection and noted how a changing student body –more often older persons pursuing second careers - is requiring a similar shift to training in home situations.
Perhaps the best thing about the Minister’s Conference was that planners were not aiming for a particular outcome. They believed it would be enough to simply give us time to tell our stories and listen to the stories of others. It was a format that worked.
So what is coming out of this? One group wants to think about an International Minister’s Association. Another wants to explore partnerships between churches that are similar to each other, for instance, congregations in the Czech Republic and the Netherlands, partnerships of mutual cultural and theological support. Interesting idea. There is a willingness to share and translate resources and to share them through the ICUU.net website.
But the biggest surprise for me, and one that was a little humbling for this citizen of the developed world, was how my western colleagues came to understand how much the developing world churches had to teach us about growing ministry. In places where there are no theological schools, they still develop liberal ministries.
The ICUU Minister’s Conference ended Monday evening with a great deal of warmth and passion, a little dancing and a pleasant party in the downstairs bar. A former vaulted brick store room from the days of the Monks, the bar is dark and cool. There is a grand tradition of meeting in the bar at ICUU events whether one drinks or not. Without a doubt the highlight of the last evening came when the energy and goodwill bubbled over into song. As usual the Transylvanian’ began singing their traditional folk songs, but soon there were responses from the rest of the world...American folk and Gospel tunes, “Land of Hope and Glory” from the Brits and even a few Canadian tunes. It was a lovely, warm finish to a good event.