Theological Education by Extension

My cell phone lights up and the screen indicates a message. ‘Stuck on the M1 – accident,’ it reads.

As I wait for my ride over to the TEE College (Southern Africa), I think back on my introduction to theological education by extension (TEE). I was living in Kenya at the time, the dean of studies of the Diocese of Nairobi’s residential theological college. The Trinity Grants Program from Trinity Church, Wall Street, was pouring money into Africa, East Africa in particular, in support of TEE. They saw it as a healthy alternative to residential seminaries – more accessible, more contextual, less expensive. Local writers were busy designing TEE workbooks, on the gospels, on church history, on African traditional religion. Trinity Grants supported writing conferences, and resources in multiple languages were churned out, some quite good, some not so.

Behind it all was a strong vision for alternatives to traditional seminary studies, and East African Anglicans embraced TEE, especially for laity.

TEE was a late arrival in East Africa. It originated in Latin America in the 1950s. The name Ross Kinsler returns to my mind as I wait for transportation here in Johannesburg and reflect on those years in which I worked myself up the learning curve about TEE. To this day his name is associated with the founding of the movement, and in fact he spoke at TEE College a few years back on some anniversary of theirs.

The burden of TEE in Africa has been to demonstrate that its programs and resources have depth and integrity. Some have been very simplistic, which is why they continue to be relegated to lay education and to be looked down upon by some leaders of residential seminaries.

But that is changing. When I left Kenya there were those who were developing degree-level TEE programs, a sign that TEE was moving forward and might serve broader needs.

Which is what brings me to TEE College here in Johannesburg. For many years it has been offering quality resources and programs leading to solid diplomas and degrees. I visited them some years back. Now I want to be clear about what they are up to these days, and to see whether, and how, their programs might be useful to the Diocese of Botswana.

 

Craig Dunsmeir has extricated himself from the M1 and pulls up in front of my lodge in Melville. He is the new administrative head of TEE College, an Anglican priest serving at an ecumenical institution. We drive back to the College, his kindness over and beyond the call of duty, even though the M1 has cleared.

The College is between terms, so few staff are around, but even during term there are not many students around – some local ones come to use the small library – since it is, after all, distance learning.

They enroll over 4,000 students from throughout South Africa and beyond. Their motto: ‘Equipping anyone anywhere for ministry.’

We talk for quite awhile in a cold office. They are good at the academic substance of their courses, Craig says, but he acknowledges that the nature of TEE makes ministerial formation, especially in community, hard. He’s been working with the folk down at the residential College of the Transfiguration in Grahamstown, where Botswana already sends ordinands. My mind starts working on the notion that Batswana ordinands might remain in Botswana for two years of their course of study, enrolled with TEE College, then head to Grahamstown for a final year of residency. I run the idea by Craig.

He takes me over to where their resources are located, and I look at a few samples. Dense. EfM’s (Education for Ministry at Sewanee) are more attractively laid out. But it’s good stuff. I’ll take substance over appearance any day.

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South African insights on ministerial formation

At a fine farewell dinner the conversation gravitates away from the Church to the World Cup (which has its own theology). In that frame of mind – otherwise I am not quite ready to leave – I depart Botswana on a short flight to Johannesburg the next morning.

There, united with son Trevor, who has just flown in from London, I drive south toward Ladysmith. Complete with snow flurries.

Two days later we are in Pietermaritzburg, staying at the Church Land Program guest house, with meetings scheduled throughout the day. Soon-to-be-seminarian Trevor tags along.

Besides being the capital of the province of KwaZulu Natal, Pietermaritzburg is a university town. It used to host the Federal Seminary, an ecumenical effort that could not survive apartheid pressures. Now there is the Cluster, a cooperative arrangement among separate denominational seminaries.

The Anglican House of Studies (AHS) here is still working out its identity, for the Church of the Province of Southern Africa (read, ‘the Anglican Church’) has had a hard time figuring out what it wants it to be. The AHS needs to ensure that it’s not seen as in competition with the College of the Transfiguration, the Anglican theological college down in Grahamstown. To do that it has taken on a post-ordination role, and soon will have formal links with the University of KwaZulu Natal’s School of Theology.

I want to know whether this model may be helpful as Botswana designs its own AHS.

Peter Wyngaard heads the Anglican House of Studies, and we spend a stimulating couple of hours talking less about the politics of a House of Studies and more about ministerial formation itself.

He divides formation into a trilogy: Academic, spiritual, and the practice of ministry. The academic he considers easy to accomplish. He would, in a university environment with a highly-regarded School of Theology. The practice of ministry he considers secured by the placement of ordinands in parishes under senior experienced priests. It’s spiritual formation where he sees the challenge, and the priority. How do ordinands maintain a spiritual discipline and reveal maturity in faith? How does the Church discern spiritual qualities among ordinands as their period of formation continues?

I’ve been thinking on these things during these past two months in Botswana. How, I wonder, does a sense of community fit into all of this, especially if numbers are tiny, as they will surely be in Botswana? Can we even be formed in the faith without meaningful community?

Sigh.  I picture another clump of paragraphs in my final report.

 

Lunch is with Gerald West, who came onto the international Anglican stage in his role designing the Bible study at the last Lambeth Conference, and now with the Bible in the Life of the Church project.

He’s on the university faculty and head of the Ujamaa Center, what used to be called the Institute for the Study of the Bible.

His program follows the old Institute of Contextual Theology (ICT) model, a South African variation on the Latin American theologians’ liberation approach to the Gospel. (The ICT is especially known for its role in the creation of the Kairos Document during anti-apartheid days.)

The Ujamaa Center, I learn, offers required courses for theology students, and places the students in the Center’s community-based projects.

‘Could Batswana ordinands come down for an intensive course?’ I want to know. He’s enthusiastic. ‘Absolutely!’ is the answer. ‘We can tailor it to their needs.’

‘How much will it cost?’ I finally ask.

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