by Jo-Ann Badley
I just got back from a meeting of Seminary Academic Deans in Chicago where I met Anna Robbins, one of the other academic dean featured in the Faith Today article by Patricia Paddey. It was such fun to meet her in the flesh, having met her in Paddey’s words.
I would like to build on some of Anna’s comments in the Faith Today interview. She said that she was excited about her work at Acadia Divinity College because she didn’t think what’s coming, is going to look anything like that came before, except that it will be all about Jesus. She called for engaging the culture rather than hiding away in holy huddles. I would have agreed with Anna before I became Dean, but my work in these last few months has made this more obviously true. Let me explain.
In January, Ambrose hosted lunch for some people from outside the university. We invited pastors in the Calgary area to a conversation about church innovation. About 25 people came.
I wanted to hear from them what challenges and opportunities they face. They were happy to share. A couple who have been working to establish a church on the south side of Calgary spoke of the difficulties of walking with people who have been wounded by churches, at the same time that they are meeting people who have no background in the church at all. There are no clear tracks to create a community.
Two men spoke of the challenges of maintaining a helping presence in neighbourhoods where there is no Christian church: among street people and in immigrant cultures. And another young man spoke of his growing church and the exciting ways God is blessing that work.
The questions and conversation that followed the introductory panel were pointed; we even debated the definition of success. What struck me were the differences between the experiences of these pastors. No experience looked like any other experience, even though it was all in Calgary; and it was all still very much about Jesus. Anna is right.
Inside Ambrose, the degree which is flourishing is the specialized MA. This is just-in-time education. Students want the ability to focus on their particular questions and vocation. Classes on topics like spiritual care for persons with dementia draw in new students. This is no longer preparatory training, it is professional development—training alongside, not before. It doesn’t look like anything else I’ve seen before now, yet it is all still very much about Jesus.
This seems to me to be the way of things right now. To work in a seminary means being willing to run with new possibilities, to support those who are trying new ways forward, to look for the new sparks of life wherever they can be found.
It reminds me of the prophets of Israel’s exile—Jeremiah and Ezekiel. They were called to help the people of God re-imagine how their good and faithful God could be at work in a world where nothing looked like anything else they had seen before.
They kept their gaze on God, knew their tradition, and encouraged the people to build houses and plant gardens, to seek the welfare of the strange city where they now lived. We won’t be able to do that if we hide away in holy huddles—Anna’s words. Engaging the culture. Count me in.