Tag Archives: Wycliffe College

Maybe the Church should make a spectacle of itself more often

By Judy Paulsen

We arrived at the appointed place and time. We’d been told there would be someone at the front gate to let us in.  Sure enough a man approached the gate from the other side of the high fence and we made our way over to him.  “Your purpose?”, he asked; waiting for the secret password.  “We’re here for worship”, my friend and I replied in perfect unison.  He quickly opened the wrought iron gate and directed us to the side entrance where we should enter.  The gate was then firmly shut behind us. Gradually more people trickled in and took seats in the dimply lit, silent space.

Judy Paulsen runs the Institute of Evangelism at Wycliffe College, University of Toronto.

We weren’t in a house church in Communist China, Saudi Arabia or North Korea.  We had just entered Westminster Abbey on a typical Sunday morning in London.  The apparent threat was not watch-dogs of an atheistic government, religious police, or ISIS militants.  The threat was tourists; and there were hundreds of them milling around outside the Abby. Westminster Abbey is closed to tourists on Sunday mornings.

Tourists there to see and take photos of the magnificent arches, masonry, and carvings; the tombs embedded in the floors and walls; the coronation chair in which English kings and queens have been crowned throughout the centuries.  Tourists there to experience and record the extraordinary beauty and history of this place of worship without participating in worship.

I got it. I understood the reasoning behind our cloistered state.

Who wants people milling about taking videos and selfies, when you’re trying to worship God? Shouldn’t there be a space and time when Christians are free to sing praises, lift prayers, hear the Scriptures, offer confession and receive Holy Communion, without the whole thing being viewed as some kind of religious spectacle by hoards of people with mobile phones?  Indeed, the amazing music of the boys and men’s choir lifted us all in our praise of God that morning.  The Scriptures were read beautifully and were solidly unpacked during the sermon. What a joy to belt out ancient Christian hymns and lift our prayers to God in that magnificent space!  All of it offered without the distracting presence of tourists. Shouldn’t we Christians be able to worship God in peace and dignity? The longer I sat there the more sure I was the answer was ‘no’.

The image I couldn’t get out of my head that morning was the New Testament woman who made such a spectacle of herself at the home of Simon the Pharisee.  She offered worship of a most extraordinary sort. It was full-bodied passionate worship; aromatic oil, sobs, tears, kisses, and undone hair. She made a spectacle of herself before what were most assuredly astonished, curious, incredulous, or even highly offended dinner guests. There is no evidence from the story that any of them joined in her audacious act of worship.  Were there a few smirks? It sounds like at least Simon displayed a few.

Yet, Jesus pointed to the offering of this nameless woman as an act that will be remembered across the ages. He said she had been forgiven greatly and so loved him greatly.  What a simple and beautifully motivation for worship. Maybe it’s time for the Church to again be willing to make a spectacle of herself.

What would it be like for the Abbey to open her doors every Sunday?  What would it be like for the rest of us to take our worship outside the safe enclosures we have constructed?  Perhaps even into settings in which no one expects worship to occur. Would we be willing to offer audacious worship in a context in which we’d likely receive more than a few smirks?  For the love of Christ, perhaps in this age, in which we are surrounded by so many non-Christians, it is time again for the Church to be willing to make a spectacle of herself.

Judy serves as Professor of Evangelism and Director of the Institute of Evangelism at Wycliffe College, a theological college associated with the University of Toronto.  She teaches courses at the graduate and post-graduate level on evangelism, the intersection of gospel, church & culture, and leading organizational change.


That beautiful debate

It is a beautiful thing to have a debate about God and faith, right in the heart of the University of Toronto campus. That’s what happened just this past Friday night.

The topic of the debate was “Is God a figment of our imagination?” and the guests were Dr. Alister McGrath (the renowned Christian and prolific author) and Dr. Michael Shermer (the renowned atheist/skeptic and very popular author).

Dr. Alister McGrath and Dr. Michael Shermer at the “Is God a figment of our imagination?” debate, moderated by Faith Today’s Karen Stiller.

Faith Today was one of the sponsors of the debate, and I was the moderator, although I preferred the word “host,” and made sure I used it in the introduction. Words matter, after all. So, when I use the word “beautiful,”  here, I don’t mean what was actually said, but the fact that it was said at all. The dialogue was at times challenging, sometimes funny, at other moments frustrating. The guests were sometimes locked into each other’s points, sharing their insights, a smooth back and forth contrasting of ideas as befits two authors of their stature. At other moments, they talked past each other, which happens.

If you came into the debate a Christian, or even just a theist, I’d guess you left the same. If you entered Convocation Hall or tuned into the livestream as an atheist, you likely still think that way. Such is the nature of debates.

So, how was it beautiful?

In church yesterday, in that sacred space, with crying babies and communion, preaching and prayers, faith is nourished and nourishing. That matters. But in the debate arena, faith is stretched and challenged and survives. Yes, faith is strong enough to be debated. It is intellectual and rigorous. It is not a crutch. It has legs. And our atheist friends want to talk. They have good questions. There are good answers. They make good points and we should be bold enough to youtube and livestream how we respond to them for all the world to hear.

I like that Faith Today is a sponsor of the Religion and Society Series. I applaud Wycliffe College, the evangelical Anglican seminary on campus who started the whole thing and does the majority of the heavy lifting. I feel a solidarity with the other sponsors of the event, both Christian and non-Christian. These are people who aren’t afraid to talk, with no guarantee how it will all turn out. I really like that.

This is what Wycliffe says about the series: “The Religion and Society Series seeks to generate critical conversations on matters of faith, society and public interest. The purpose of the series is to play a catalytic role in helping shape discourse around topics that deeply matter to individuals and society.”

And that kind of talking really is beautiful.

Karen Stiller is a senior editor of Faith Today. You can watch Religion and Society Series events online

Is God a Figment of our Imagination? The debate is coming…

So far, it is Alister McGrath: 2, Michael Shermer: 1. That’s not actually a score, it’s my book tally as I prepare to moderate a September 15th “Is God a Figment of our Imagination?”debate at the University of Toronto.

In the last month, I’ve read McGrath’s Inventing the Universe and The Passionate Intellect, and I  finished The Believing Brain by Shermer. Now I’m reading Shermer’s The Moral Arc. And it’s a very big book.

Join us in person if you are in Toronto, or live stream anywhere around the world.

What have I learned so far? That my book tally will be the only real score kept surrounding this event. Both of these authors and thinkers are leaders in their field. And they are both very respectful of those with whom they disagree. I think this will be less of a debate and more of a deep dialogue.

As I picture Convocation Hall filling up on that night, and groups around the world live-streaming the evening and then launching into discussions, I think that everyone – whether Christian, a person of another faith, or a person with no faith at all – will be challenged. I know we will all learn something new and have to rethink something old. I have already just through my reading.

It is such a privilege we have in our society to disagree openly, to debate loudly, to interact and exchange ideas with those with whom we share the most important and fundamental beliefs about ourselves and the universe, and with those with whom we do not. So, come to this event if you live in the area. Or live-stream it with a rowdy group of friends. Engage in this conversation.
Continue reading Is God a Figment of our Imagination? The debate is coming…

Theological education is especially important here: An interview with Glen Taylor in The Gambia

Jul/Aug Faith Today profiles the work of Wycliffe College professor Glen Taylor, and the four year degree in Christian Studies he helped create in The Gambia, West Africa. We interviewed Taylor (GT) via email, while he is in The Gambia this summer to find out more.

Professor Glen Taylor and his class this summer in The Gambia.

FT: Glen, what have you learned from the Church in The Gambia?

GT: Probably the biggest lesson concerns the depth and vitality of faith in Jesus. More church folk here seem unquestionably faith-full than at home. It is almost like they have extra powers of perception to see the living God in everyday life. One reason for this is that many Christians (and others) make so little money that making ends meet is often a miracle in itself.

FT: What is the greatest need of the Church there?

GT: Probably resources and a greater sense of cooperation across denominations. Regarding resources, the Anglican bishop lamented to me that if capital was available the diocese could, for example, construct an office building to house its diocesan office, rent out space to others and be able to generate revenue. In other words, it takes money to make money. The lack of the former is exasperating to those who can imagine a different economic scenario. As it stands, money is short and church buildings and such seem only to get more dilapidated.
Continue reading Theological education is especially important here: An interview with Glen Taylor in The Gambia

Kim’s Convenience Creator Reflects on his background as a theology student

Ins Choi is a Wycliffe College graduate and the creator behind the hit CBC show Kim’s Convenience.

Ins Choi (IC) is an actor and a playwright, who has been called “Canadian Theatre’s breakout star.” His award-winning play “Kim’s Convenience” has been adapted for television and is a new hit for CBC.

But in the halls of Wycliffe College at the University of Toronto, Choi is remembered in part for his creative take on reading assignments for his theology classes. Choi graduated with a Master of Theological Studies from  Wycliffe, an evangelical Anglican theological college affiliated with The Evangelical Fellowship of Canada. Wycliffe’s magazine Insight interviewed Choi recently about what a theological education meant to his development as an artist.

Here at the Faith Today blog, we thought it would be fun to reprint the interview with the creative mind behind the television show that many Canadians are loving.

You come from a long line of pastors. Is that where Wycliffe enters the story? Were you going to be a pastor as well?

IC: My father’s older brother was a pastor, his youngest sister, my grandfather, five cousins are pastors. It’s a pretty pastoral family. 

I wrote a play called “Subway stations of the Cross.” In that play, which is really more of a spoken word piece, with song, I talk about what made me, me. And in that story is this back and forth relationship with pastoral ministry –  a call to be a pastor professionally and at the same time my call to be an artist, to be a writer, a performer, an actor. It’s a long story and it’s the content of that show. I struggled with both. After I went to York for acting I went to Wycliffe, I began an MDIV but I transferred out of it and ended up with an MTS. I did this while being a children’s pastor at a church for about five or six years. I was at Wycliffe for about four years, semi-part time as I was trying to juggle an acting schedule and trying to get gigs at the same time.

Did studying theology make you a better artist?

IC: It made me a better writer. That was a discipline I didn’t have, the craft of writing. I was never that academic in high school, but being at Wycliffe I was forced to read a lot, and try to be clearer about what I read, and what my thoughts were about what I read. It was that scholarly activity, which is reading and reflection and trying to be precise with words.
Continue reading Kim’s Convenience Creator Reflects on his background as a theology student

Why Are We Doing a Webinar on Clergy Wellness?

By Karen Stiller

“No sabbatical. No help with counseling. No clear picture of what’s expected.”

Screen Shot 2016-01-13 at 1.29.38 PM

Those are the three main reasons given by hundreds of former senior pastors for why they left their pastorates, in a recently released report by American firm LifeWay Research.

Meanwhile, we hear fairly often that the depression rate found within the clergy community is twice as high as that of the general population. You can even buy a Pastor Burnout Workbook to “burnout proof your ministry.” It’s probably a great resource, but toiling  alone through a workbook on burnout sounds a bit depressing in itself.

So, what can we do in the Church to help clergy — who seem to face huge and unique job challenges — remain well and healthy? What can clergy and church leaders do themselves to stay well and put in place the protective boundaries they need for their own health and the health of the Church? Not to mention their family at home.

Those are the kinds of questions we will be exploring in the next EFC Webinar, on clergy wellness. We’ve invited Wanda Malcolm and Mark Vander Vennen to be our guests. Malcolm is professor of pastoral psychology at Wycliffe College and lead researcher of the Wycliffe Wellness Project, investigating what brings wellness to clergy and others engaged in ministry.

Vander Vennen is a marriage and family therapist and executive director of the Shalem Mental Health Network. His concern for the mental well-being of clergy led Shalem to create the Clergy Care Program, a counselling service designed specifically for pastors and their families.

This webinar happens at the same time Faith Today is running a national contest to send hard working pastors away on a short, restorative retreat.

I am really looking forward to our conversation with Wanda and Mark next Wednesday. As a clergy spouse I know well some of the struggles — and of course the multiple joys — of people in the ministry life. If even half of the statistics are true, we need to take better care of clergy, and clergy need to take better care of themselves. Join us!

Karen Stiller is a senior editor of Faith Today. Remember our contest.

Digging Deeper Into Ministry Wellness Project

The May/Jun Faith Today featured The Wycliffe Wellness Project, a research project to discover what brings wellness to clergy and others engaged in ministry. You can read the article here. We decided to have an update from Wanda Malcolm (WM) lead researcher and professor of pastoral psychology at Wycliffe College in Toronto. We asked her what she has been learning so far.Screen Shot 2015-09-21 at 9.12.55 AM

FT: What has surprised you the most so far in your wellness project findings?

WM: I am most surprised that what started out to be a research project has become a self-assessment tool. This is because we have developed a confidential Feedback Summary which shows them, from a fresh perspective, what they personally find most satisfying and most stressful about ministry life from a fresh perspective. The feedback conversations we are having with participants are very rich, both in giving them insights into potential changes they might want to make, and in helping us to understand what we are learning about the ups and downs of ministry life from the perspective of those in ministry.

FT: What is the one thing you wish churches did better in terms of actively caring for their clergy?

WM: Remember that far more of what our pastors do is invisible than visible to the average church-goer. Because of this invisibility, we may not realize that they often have to juggle competing demands on their time; many of which are important but unpredictable (like funerals and hospitalizations). If we can support them to get regular Sabbath rest and opportunities for refreshment and re-creation, they will enjoy their ministry more, and in turn be better enabled to minister to us.

FT: What kind of folks are you looking for to participate in the study?

WM: We are interested in speaking to people who are engaged in ministry life; those who are at the beginning of their ministry life right on through to those who are semi-retired or retired but still actively involved in supportive roles within the ministries they gave themselves to vocationally. While this started out as a study exclusively about clergy life, we have broadened our interest to include those who are engaged in the kinds of ministries that take place outside the church walls or that run alongside formal clergy roles within the walls of the church; youth ministers, family life ministers, chaplains and spiritual care providers, parish nurses, and those who work with the homeless or near homeless or are involved in not-for-profit ministries outside the church walls.

FT: What are the top four things those in ministry could do, right now, to better care for themselves?

WM: If I were sitting with an individual who asked me this question, I would tell them…

  1. Participate in the study! We are confident that doing so will be an affirmation of what you already know – that ministry life has ups and downs – and both joy and stress are bound up in those ups and down. Beyond the affirmation, participating in the study will help you gain clarity about your own experience, and may well help you identify some potential avenues of change.
  2. Pay attention to those things (in and outside of ministry) that replenish your energy and enthusiasm, and make sure you are engaging in them on a regular basis. Cultivate the understanding that you aren’t just doing this for your own wellbeing, but also for the sake of your family, friends, and those you minister to. This is because we can give of ourselves more wholeheartedly and wisely when we are drawing from a plentiful reserve than when we are trying to give from an empty reservoir!
  3. Establish and maintain friendships with trustworthy colleagues (even if you can only get together infrequently) who know you and have earned the privilege of speaking into your life when they see signs that you might be getting derailed by stress. The same would go for listening to your spouse when he or she says that you are showing signs of being stressed. Do this even if you don’t like the way they tell you! Consider the possibility that because they know you well, they will see early warning signs long before your parishioners or colleagues will.
  4. Cultivate prayerful attention to the way you go about the activities of ministry life, and the way you engage with those you minister to. Learn to notice how your task focus and interpersonal style shift when the balance tilts, and the inevitable pressures of ministry life exceed its life-giving capacity for you.

FT: Thank you Wanda!

Find out more about the project here. And subscribe to Faith Today here!

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

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.

Continue reading How Canadian Seminaries Go Global. Even at Home

Second Thoughts About Evangelism?

Wycliffe College professor John Bowen’s book, Evangelism for ‘Normal’ People, was published in 2002. Since then it has sold 10,000 copies.evangelismnormalppl The  book is used as a textbook in several Canadian seminaries. But 2002 is a long time ago. Here’s what the author thinks now.

-By John Bowen

The Gospel is always bigger: I think my appreciation for the sheer bigness of the Gospel has increased. I would go further, and say that the Gospel should actually be the starting point for all of our theology. Some think the starting point for theology should be the mission of God (the “missio dei”) but surely the only way we know that God has a mission to redeem the world is because of Jesus’ announcement of the Gospel! The Gospel is the key to understanding what a Christian is (an apprentice of Jesus in the mission of God), what church is (the community of apprentices where the Gospel is spoken and lived out), what worship is (our hearts’ response to the Gospel), and (of course) what evangelism is (inviting others to respond to the Gospel). The Gospel is absolutely key.

These days, I am reluctant to say anything about evangelism until we have talked about the Gospel. Until there is passion for the Gospel—the evangel—there will be no healthy evangelism.

Continue reading Second Thoughts About Evangelism?