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Some dreams come true

15 December 2011

Forty years ago I had a dream.

I had just read a fat book called Theological Education by Extension by a guy called Ralph Winter. It described a means by which the church could rapidly expand its leadership. It had been tried by Presbyterians in Guatemala, and was beginning to be used in other places as well.

On 9 December 1971 the Diocesan Standing Committee of the Anglican Diocese of Namibia met, and I presented them with a proposal to use Theological Education by Extension (TEE) to train leaders for the church in Namibia. It would start with lay ministers — evangelists, teachers, pastors. Then it could go on to self-supporting deacons and priests as well, so that every parish in the largely rural diocese could have teams of priests, deacons, evangelists, pastors and teachers.

Somewhat to my surprise, this plan was accepted in principle by the Diocesan Standing Committee, and they asked me to be convener of an education-subcommittee to implement it.

We already had a diocesan library in Windhoek, which was being developed as a support centre for correspondence students, and something similar would need to be set up in Ovamboland, along the northern border with Angola, where most of the Anglicans in Namibia lived. The library was being developed by Toni Halberstadt, a teacher who had been kicked out of Ovamboland by the government, and John Witherow, an overseas volunteer who had been refused a permit to go and teach in Ovamboland.

The project did not get very far, since three months later, at the beginning of March 1972, Toni Halberstadt and I were deported from Namibia, along with the bishop (Colin Winter) and diocesan secretary (David de Beer).

On leaving Namibia I went straight to a meeting of the Department of Christian Education for the Anglican Church in Southern Africa, and there met Richard Kraft, who had established something similar, on a small scale, in Zululand, training self-supporting deacons and priests. I spend the next four months travelling round South Africe promoting the idea of TEE, until I was banned inn July 1972, and so was out of the loop for the next four years.

About 40 Anglican deacons were ordained in Ovamboland on Sunday 11 December 2011 (photo by Nancy Robson)

But last Sunday, almost exactly forty years after I had proposed this thing, there was an ordination of 40 deacons at Odibo in Ovamboland. Nancy Robson describes the scene:

The President and the Queen joined the procession to the church, probably well over 100 people in the procession.  The 40 to-be deacons and 2 already deacons to be priested were all part of the procession as were 2 Lutheran bishops, the bishop from Angola, our 2 retired bishops as well as our own bishop and the Arch.  Stoles for many of the ordinands were made by the sewing Project at the mission while some of clergy stoles had been made here previously.  A very colourful sight.

Having been deported from Namibia in 1972, and having only been back for one brief visit since, the realisation of that vision of forty years earlier had nothing to do with me. But I still found it interesting that it had come to pass, almost as I had envisaged it back then.

Deacons, bishops, Queen, Archbishop of Cape Town & President of Namibia (photo by Nancy Robson)

After my ban was lifted in 1976 I went to Zululand and worked with Peter Biyela and Theophilus Ngubane on the scheme that Richard Kraft had started, and thirty years ago, in 1981, I was again travelling the coutnry, this time for meetings of an Anglican Commission on the Diaconate. After much effort and expense we produced a report, which was rejected out of hand by the Anglican Provincial Synod, meeting in Port Elizabeth in 1982. Nevertheless, thirty years later, 40 deacons were ordained in Ovamboland.

I still have a dream.

Perhaps, after another 40 years, it will come true, and forty deacons will be ordained in the Orthodox Church in South Africa. The Orthodox Church doesn’t do mass ordinations, so they would have to be ordained one at a time — perhaps one a day during the Nativity Fast. I won’t be around to see it, of course, but I can still dream, can’t I?

Notes and References

Winter, Ralph D. (ed) 1969. Theological Education by Extension. South Pasadena: William Carey Library.
A collection of essays giving the history of the
Theological Education by Extension movement, a report on
a workshop, and an extension seminary manual. .

 

5 Comments leave one →
  1. Irulan permalink
    16 December 2011 8:28 am

    Ralph Winter was an innovative thinker.

    One of his intriguing proposals was to understand evangelical mission agencies along the lines of catholic ‘orders.’ Both structures (sodalities), he suggested, are to be distinguished from larger congregations or ‘modalities.’ In his article, Two Structures of God’s Redemptive Mission, he traces this dualism back to the inter-testamental times, to the Pharisaic missions (sodality) and the synagogue (modality).

    Viv Grigg (Cry of the Urban Poor) applied Winter’s ideas in his own Asian ministry some years ago, and Scott Bessenecker has written about the New Friars, but I wonder if anyone has explored the analogy in South Africa.

  2. 2 January 2012 8:11 pm

    The Rt Rev’d Dr Johannes T. Seoka, D.Min; D.D
    http://www.dioceseofpretoria.org/index.php/profile

    It would seem that Jo Seoka was not a product of TEE but this particular conflict ridden Anglican Bishop seems to set an example of the kind of behaviour that any potential priest should avoid. The experiences of the Anglican Church in Sekhukhuneland also presents a number of examples of ministry styles that should be avoided. How is it possible to get a proper formation of a priest outside of a residential seminary?
    http://www.iol.co.za/news/fired-priest-fights-back-1.1091860

    • 3 January 2012 6:45 am

      The biography you linked to indicates that he attended St Bede’s College, Umtata, which was a residential seminary, and therefore not an example of TEE. A good summary of the system I was advocating can be found in a document called The transformation of the ministry, which was published by the Southern African Catholic Bishops Conference, some time in the 1970s, I believe. The document gave six models, and No 5 was the Anglican model of the time — one of the better-educated people in the community becomes a self-supporting priest. But their Model 6 was of each community having teams of priests, deacons, lay ministers, sisters etc. As far as I know that has never actually been implemented in the Catholic Church, but the Anglicans in Namibia seem to be getting closer to it.

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