By Rev. Grayhame Bowcott
For many faithful Christians serving in the Church today, the opportunity to attend a seminary to explore their faith and equip themselves with the theological learnings for ministry has been an inaccessible dream.
For some, it’s the restraints of time, balancing work and family commitments with a schedule that can’t make room for “full time” study. For others, it’s the significant expense of post-secondary education. There are also some people who have always wondered about studying theology but have always felt that perhaps the work might be too difficult for them.
Despite these barriers, many who wonder about these questions faithfully serve in our churches.
They are the steadfast lay leaders who are the backbone of small congregations. They step into the gaps when clergy are spread thin. Their care holds our faith communities together, even if sometimes their effort goes unrecognized.
Over the past decade, Huron University College has been exploring new ways of making theological education accessible. Recognizing that the Anglican Church needs to inspire learning in our congregations, affirm the leadership gifts of many already serving in our communities and equip future leaders for ministry, we have come to understand that the best way of doing this isn’t always within the traditional training received in seminary institutions. If Christians are called to “go out into the world”, shouldn’t this be the same commissioning of our theological schools too?
In order to equip leaders and learners, the foundations for a new form of distance theological education were laid prior to the COVID-19 pandemic. The idea was simple: bringing passionate instructors of theology to their students and drawing on the gifts of local scholars and ministry practitioners to teach students in their own ministry contexts.
In 2020, when the COVID-19 pandemic disrupted our historic patterns of worship and ministry in Canada; theological institutions too began to explore new ways of innovation to meet the ever-changing needs in ministry. Huron’s Licentiate Program had been exploring possibilities of reaching new students in remote areas across Canada and the pandemic provided the perfect opportunity for us to try a new approach to providing theological study.
What if we could eliminate the barriers of distance, financial burden for students and accommodate the working schedules of many potential students? Would this inspire new students to explore theological education?
In 2021, the Diocese of Brandon applied for a $10,000 grant from the Council of the North. The goal was to cover the costs of instructors in the LTh Program to then waive the tuition fees for the students attending virtual classes. A second grant was sought through the Anglican Foundation of Canada to augment the courses being offered freely to all students within the Council of the North dioceses/territories.
This is the first time that a complete range of theological courses have been offered freely in a virtual seminary program that can allow for lay leaders and postulants for ministry to access the same quality of theological education available in seminaries, but now delivered in a format that has dropped all the barriers that made the same courses previously inaccessible.
Would this inspire new students to explore theological education? The answer is YES! Since the launch of the Council of the North Cohort, enrolment in Huron’s Licentiate program has grown to more than 160 students from fourteen dioceses/territories across Canada. Most are first time students of theology and loving it!
Following the success of the Council of the North program, we wanted to turn our focus to providing the same opportunity to local students from the Diocese of Huron. With thanks to Huron’s Grants and Loans and Diocesan Council, we have now made $10,000 available for students in our own Diocese to explore LTh courses free of charge.
To do so, potential students simply need to have an email or a letter from their parish priest referring them to our Leaders and Learners program with a few words about how the student would benefit from their theological studies. Our hope is to encourage new students to take their first steps in enabling their vocational journey! “Our Calling is to Equip You to Answer Yours!”
Rev. Dr. Grayhame Bowcott is passionate about fostering congregational relationships and sharing our Anglican vocation with others. He serves as rector of St. George’s, The Parish of The Blue Mountains and as Program Director for the Licentiate in Theology program at Huron University.