Fresh Polish on Ancient Touchstones

Revised curriculum emphasizes mission, discipleship, evangelism

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Two years ago, when the Rev. Dr. Ruth Meyers began to think about CDSP’s new Master of Divinity curriculum, William Temple was on her mind.

Temple, archbishop of Canterbury from 1942–1944, reportedly said, “The church is the only institution that exists primarily for the bene t of those who are not its members.”

“Today we recognize even more clearly that we must articulate and embody the good news of God in Christ not only within the church but especially in our pluralistic world,” says Meyers, CDSP’s academic dean and Hodges-Haynes Professor of Liturgics. “Our revised curriculum is organized to form students who learn to do that by studying the core Christian concepts of mission, discipleship and evangelism, and practicing the core leadership skills of contextual awareness, critical reflection and public conversation.”

CDSP’s faculty began designing the new curriculum in 2014 with the initial assistance of the Lilly Endowment’s Wabash Center for Teaching and Learning in Theology and Religion. From the outset, says the Very Rev. Mark Richardson, CDSP’s dean and president, the goal was to build on CDSP’s historic strengths.

“As founding members of the Graduate Theological Union (GTU), CDSP has always provided rigorous academic and spiritual formation to leaders who understand the distinctive gifts that the Episcopal Church offers to a diverse world,” Richardson says. “The West has always been rich with religious and cultural pluralism, and so in some ways, we have had a head start in preparing people for Anglican ministry in a post-Christian culture. Our new curriculum builds on that historic strength by focusing on the ancient features of mission, disciple- ship and evangelism interpreted for Chris- tian life today.”

The GTU is a consortium of eight theological schools and eleven centers and affiliates that includes Lutheran, American Baptist, Roman Catholic, Buddhist, Muslim, Hindu and Jewish institutions. CDSP’s membership in the GTU allows students to cross-register for a much wider variety of electives than are typically available to seminary students. The opportunity to seek theological breadth, however, is matched by a requirement to study deeply in the Anglican tradition. CDSP’s residential and low-residence Master of Divinity students take most or all of the courses covering the six canonically required areas of study for ordination to the priesthood in the Episcopal Church at CDSP. Those areas are Holy Scriptures, history of the Christian church, Christian theology, Christian ethics and moral theology, Christian worship, and the practice of ministry.

They’re learning in a thoroughly Anglican environment,” Meyers says. “However, it’s not unusual to have GTU students from different faith traditions in those classes. So from the very beginning of their academic preparation for ministry, they’re learning to articulate Anglican perspectives and explain Anglican traditions to people who come from other contexts, just as they’ll need to do in the congregations and ministries they serve after graduation.”

The Rev. Dr. Susanna Singer, associate professor of ministry development, helped develop the new curriculum and is enthused by its focus.“For me as a teacher, centering on mission, discipleship and evangelism is really exciting, because I can see how I can make my course design more effective. It helps me sort the wood from the trees. There are lots of things I can teach, but this helps me narrow it down and helps me assess my courses’ effectiveness.”

The new MDiv curriculum will be instituted during the June intensive session that includes low-residence students. The curriculum includes a new cornerstone class for students in the low-residence program. Residential MDiv students will take the same class during their first semester on campus.

This summer, Singer and Jennifer Snow, assistant professor of practical theology, will teach the cornerstone class, in which Singer says students will “learn how to think like an Episcopal ministry leader.” The reading and writing intensive class is designed to introduce students to spiritual practices and traditions from across the Anglican Communion and help them to articulate where their own ministry fits into the Anglican landscape. Along the way, students will undergo something of a boot camp experience in academic writing, systems theory, critical theory and core com- munity organizing concepts. “We’re putting it all in the context of developing yourself as a leader,” Singer says. “There’s tons of writing, spiritual practice, hymnody and prayer.”

Singer has also piloted CDSP’s com- munity organizing course, which has been taught as an elective in partnership with the Industrial Areas Foundation (IAF) since 2013 and is now required for all MDiv students. Faculty will rotate teaching the course in collaboration with Joaquin Sanchez, lead organizer at the Bay Area Industrial Areas Foundation. Snow taught the course last winter. 

“Part of the community organizing course is to go see an action,” Snow says. “An action is a very well-planned event by a group of people who are already com- mitted. When I taught the class last January, the action was full of people who were eager to be there. It was full of people who had relationships and wanted to go deeper. I compared that to so many of our congregations, where people don’t sit together and don’t have a clear sense of why they are there.

“Community organizing training isn’t just for outreach or community work. It
is to build those kinds of relationships— that kind of relational power—that can be part of the entire institutional structure,” Snow says. “It’s about building power with instead of power over.”

The new curriculum’s focus on mission and contextual awareness is particularly well-suited to Snow, who studies 19th and early 20th century missionaries in Asia
and Africa. In spring 2017, she will teach
a class on missionaries and the Anglican Communion.

“I want people to understand how our contemporary global Christian context has been shaped by missions and the work of missionaries,” she says. “When we don’t understand it, we can be blind to the ways that our history has shaped the debates we’re having now in the Anglican Communion.”

In particular, Snow hopes to help students understand the complicated role of colonial missionaries, who are sometimes regarded more as agents of empire than servants of Christ. They shaped Anglican churches in many parts of the Global South where today Episcopalians strive to nurture partnerships across vast theological and cultural differences and inequities.

“There’s a tendency to blame missionaries for our dominant society’s complicity in colonialism and imperialism. I want students to begin to grasp that while missionaries have often been implicated in structures of oppression, they frequently struggled against them as well. Students are having similar experiences today as they discern how to teach, talk and share about Christianity in a society that is very aware of the colonial and imperialist past,” she says.

Richardson thinks that the new curriculum, with its focus on ministry in a world of pluralism, will help CDSP continue recruiting energetic students who will build the church of the 21st century.

“Christians today have to invent practices of ministry that meet the world on its own terms with a distinct voice,” says Richardson. “But invention can only succeed over time if it is borne out of deep and faithful grounding in the tradition. Our new curriculum will help students become the inventors of the church of tomorrow.”