How Canadian Seminaries Go Global. Even at Home

When Global South Scholars Call Canada Home, a story in Sept/Oct Faith Today, examined the lives and mission of three Majority World scholars studying in Canada. Now the president of a seminary that hosts Global south scholars unpacks their significant impact — and what else Canadian seminaries do to go global

By George Sumner

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Wycliffe College is on the campus of the University of Toronto

Seminaries and theological colleges in a financially pressed Church necessarily live betwixt and between.

The needs for ministry have increased and the budgetary means have, in many places, diminished. One area where this is clearly true has to do with the global dimension of education.

The great global shift which a scholar like Philip Jenkins shown us is not a subject of debate. Preparing men and women for the ministries to which they are headed requires some real experience of the Majority World Church.

This is more than the raising of awareness in a general sense. This global Church is already found in our global cities. In addition, we have a chance to see what Christian witness looks like in a post-Christendom world. Offering all students a semester abroad would be great, but it is more than we, and likewise most schools, can manage.

How then do we convey this reality in the most effective way?

Some of the rules of thumb are obvious. They are the same that would pertain in a congregation.

  • We make sure that guests and shared ministries naturally suit us. A few years ago, when I was invited to lead the student retreat at Trinity Theological College, Singapore, its theological roots and style of student life made it seem like Wycliffe College transposed into southeast Asia. In addition it has a natural missionary catchment across the region. It was like and unlike us in just the right way, and we have maintained a student exchange with them.
  • Our annual research professors, bishops Josiah Idowu-Fearon of Nigeria, a scholar of Islam, and Mwita Akiri, an African church historian, are both our fellow evangelical Anglicans. And we have commenced sending our own faculty to global Anglican partner schools, most recently the Alexandria School of Theology. Proximity banishes exoticism.
  • Our approach might best be called mixed media: both faculty and staff coming and going. My wife and I recently led a holistic academic study/village life/parish placement/development tour with a dozen students in northern Tanzania, whose highlights included a conversation with local traditional practitioners and a 30-choir youth jamboree. Though expensive, it was intellectually and personally rich. Other years, we place students on internships throughout southeast Asia, from Thailand to Vietnam through our adjunct for global relations, the Rev. Kim Beard.
  • Finally we look for the most strategic places from which to receive students. A professor from Nanjing Seminary is completing her doctorate here. In collaboration with another natural partner, Langham Partnership, an Indonesian Methodist pastor begins advanced work in theology. A Vietnamese pastor needs a Doctor of Ministry for the Bible school work he envisions. We hope to find the means to invite a young scholar from the Middle East. We seek to train leaders from key places on the global scene.

What then is our goal in the expansive but also stressed time in which Canadian theological colleges now minister? We hope that each student should have some personal contact, and hence greater awareness of what the Holy Spirit is doing in this day in which a truly global Church rises.

And, equally importantly, we must ensure that our efforts actually do, for our brothers and sisters, some modest good.

George Sumner is Principal and Helliwell Professor of World Mission at Wycliffe College in Toronto.

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