Ordinands from 'out of town'

The final trip to Gaborone of students from Matsiloje, Serowe, Letlhakeng and Lobatse – ordinands too far away from Gabs to come to our regular weekday classes – is this past week. They have come before: My first week here in January (see my ‘St. Augustine Theological School’ posting below), again in March, and now in late April. They will sit for exams in mid-May.

                                       Fr. James Amanze in class

This has not been ideal, and we all know it. Regular classes, with time to reflect between them, week after week, is far preferable educationally to full days of seven different courses, one after another, followed by weeks of little to no contact. But it’s not clear what the solution is. We don’t have sufficient funds to be traveling north, which would be less demanding on our students. Oddly enough, it turns out to be cheaper to have them come here, and they have to get away from work and other responsibilities.

But we do what we can. Each day begins with Morning Prayer, and then away we go: This term its Biblical exegesis, the Pentateuch, the synoptic gospels, the doctrine of the Trinity, sacramental theology, the history of the Reformation, and ‘ministerial calling and spiritual formation.’

At lunch we head to the Y.W.C.A., which has a cafeteria with food that is inexpensive and filling and, to some extent, traditional. As the day ends, the ordinands return to a Catholic retreat centre, where we have found lodging for them.

                     Bonny Bashe welcomes Karen Spencer

                     Bonny Bashe welcomes Karen Spencer

Thursday night they remain until I finish my class with our Gaborone ordinands – Fr. James Amanze urges me to finish early! – and then the School hosts a welcoming reception for Karen, who arrived a week or so before. Fr. James has some fine things to say, and he is followed by Bonny Bashe, the president of our student association, who does as well. It suddenly occurs to me that they will expect Karen to say something, so I whisper the news to her.

Karen does fine. Really, very fine. And happily, she resists the temptation to say that what she really missed in the three-plus months I have been gone is that I do most of our grocery shopping and cooking. I am grateful for that.

Friday Karen and I have the ‘out-of-town’ students over to our place for dinner. Fr. John Hamathi, our other lecturer, and his bride come, along with one of the student’s wives and another’s university daughter. It is all very relaxed and pleasant until I ask what we at St. Augustine’s could do to improve their experience.

There is awkward laughter, then a few exchanges in Setswana that no one translates for me, then silence. But as the conversation moves on, one comes over and sits next to me. He leans over. ‘We need to be placed in congregations under a priest while we are in this program,’ he says. ‘Those in Gaborone are, but we are not.’ He is right. There are good reasons why this is the reality, but he is right. I thank him.

As my final Saturday class winds to an end, I wonder if I will ever see these men again. They will probably remain in Francistown for their exams, and we may have someone there invigilate for us. And then, only a few weeks later, Karen and I head back to the United States.

I have prepared a final handout, which contains the wonderful General Thanksgiving that appears in our American prayer book. It’s the one written by my liturgy professor at Virginia seminary, Charlie Price, a man for whom I have had the greatest respect and affection. At the end of the class, we stand together and offer that prayer.

There are two parts of the prayer that I am especially drawn toward. ‘We thank you for setting us at tasks which demand our best efforts, and for leading us to accomplishments which satisfy and delight us.’ I have reminded the ordinands that they have faced demanding tasks here at St. Augustine’s, and they have accomplished things that really should ‘satisfy and delight them.’

But I also love the next part of the prayer: ‘We thank you also for those disappointments and failures that lead us to acknowledge our dependence on you alone.’ I cannot remember any other prayer in which we thank God for ‘disappointments and failures.’ It’s part of Dr. Price’s great wisdom that has us say this today.

Then we end with the prayer for Africa that is in our prayer book here in the Church of the Province of Central Africa. ‘God bless Africa…,’ we say together. And then we go on our way.