Editorial: Mission Education | ANVIL vol 36 issue 2

The fruits of our international hui

Welcome to this bumper issue on mission education. We are really excited to publish this great crop of articles, all of which (bar one) emerged from our hui in July 2019. We hosted this hui for around 35 people involved in theological education from around the world.

Hui is a Maori word for a particular type of gathering in which not only ideas but also our lives and communities are shared. Had we been in Aotearoa/ New Zealand (NZ) we would have all slept in the same meeting room, but, sadly, I did not think we could manage that in this English context! Maybe I was too risk averse? We were from all over – Kenya, the Philippines, USA, Australia, NZ, Scotland, South Korea, South Africa, Germany, the Netherlands and England. The idea was to have a gathering that was not too structured so that, to a great extent, we could create the agenda and content together. So for four days we listened to one another; we dreamed, created, innovated and learned together.

What follows in this issue of Anvil is some of the fruit of those four days together. Some reflect on the nature of theological education today, some on the particular contexts for it and some give us examples of their practice. Sadly, we could not include all the presentations given but here is a good selection. What strikes me on reading all these articles is the untapped potential there is in theological education.

We can be so much more creative in our delivery, our content, who is involved and what we even think theological education is! I think currently COVID-19 has revealed that to us. Of course, for many it is a tragedy and has caused loss and suffering, but it is also an opportunity to reset, to rethink and reimagine our world and how we want to live in it. It is also a fantastic opportunity to rethink what we believe theological education to be and how we learn and teach. Even prioritising learning over teaching might be a good start! As the prime minister of Aotearoa/ New Zealand said at a VisionNZ Conference reflecting on the country’s future after COVID-19, “Let’s build back better.” This is what these articles offer us – an opportunity to see, to dream and to begin to “build back better”.

The scene and context were wonderfully curated for us by Lori and Richard Passmore, who created four different physical habitats for us to inhabit and ponder.

You can read more about how that worked out and the ongoing impact on our gathering in Lori’s article. John and Olive Drane pick up on the theme of space and place in their article, which walks us through a house to explore theology and spirituality. All sorts of theological insights emerge when we wander from room to room and begin to ask questions that emerge from the space of the kitchen, the dining room or the bedroom. Keeping with the metaphor of home, Jonny Baker and Cathy Ross use the metaphor of theological homelessness as the experience of many pioneer students. They experience a kind of theological homelessness before they can begin to find their way home to their own understanding and expression of theology. This suggests that getting lost may not be such a bad thing as long as there is a supportive environment to help you find your way home again.

Anna Ruddick takes this further by exploring the notion of theological accompaniment and where that idea can lead us in our learning together. She advocates for whole-person-in-community learning and uses the delightful metaphor of embrace as a way of experiencing this. Karen Rohrer explores a similar theme by relating her experience of teaching and living out community practices in her church in Philadelphia, USA, where they developed a number of key postures to help them engage with their local community.

René August from South Africa asks some important questions that we would all do well to heed: what kind of theological education can form, inform and transform all who participate in it? How can our reading of Scripture help us relocate our founding and framing narratives into a life of vulnerability, humility and of decentring power? She reflects on these questions in her South African context and suggests some helpful lenses through which to see and begin to unpack these questions. In a very different context, in London, Ian Mobsby offers a critique of mission and evangelism by challenging commodified and business approaches and calling for a more ancient future perspective.

Steve Aisthorpe was not at the hui but his article is included as it sets the scene for the wider context in the UK. His research is fascinating and is a study of church leavers in Scotland. He found that although many may leave church, they are not necessarily leaving the faith; that for many Christians who have left church, asking questions and exploring doubts is important for their faith. However, they did not find church a welcoming environment in which to do this. This is vital for us to remember in our theological formation – that asking questions, being curious, dreaming dreams, exploring doubts is key to our Christian formation and discipleship. Remaining in Scotland, Sandy Forsyth continues this theme by making a plea for pioneer training in Scotland to be innovative. He hopes that incubators of creativity might renew and enliven the whole church in Scotland.

On the other side of the world, Mark Johnston tells the stories of the “Listening in the Neighbourhood” mission education programme in Aotearoa/New Zealand. This resulted in innovation and incubation in several communities, one of which developed a solar farm and community empowerment project. This led to all sorts of amazing spin-offs including a partnership with a local polytechnic college and funding for a community chaplain and community organiser. James Butler offers three intriguing metaphors for designing a way of training that takes gift, co-creation and dialogue seriously. The metaphors are co-navigators, map-making and treasure chest. The group used these to help them think through how education could be genuinely mutual and reciprocal.

Esther Mombo and Pauline Wanjiru from Kenya write movingly about the centrality of grandmothers in community and family education and of the importance of not only listening to but also learning from them. Henry Mwaniki, also from Kenya, provides us with a fascinating case study of a programme called “Financial Freedom for Families” and how this pedagogical approach has been helpful in the two different contexts of Kenya and Switzerland.

I hope that in the reading of these articles you are inspired, challenged and provoked to try out new things, new ways, new ideas of engaging in theological education. These articles and the ideas explored within them remind us that with creativity, courage, support, perseverance and vulnerability – as well as a willingness to make mistakes – anything is possible. Now we have the opportunity “to build back better” so let’s get on and do just that!

Dr Cathy Ross is head of Pioneer Mission Leadership Training Oxford and lecturer in mission at Regent’s Park College, Oxford University. Until 2016 she was the general secretary of the International Association for Mission Studies. She has previously worked in Rwanda, Congo and Uganda with NZCMS. Her publications include Women with a Mission: Rediscovering Missionary Wives in Early New Zealand, (Auckland: Penguin, 2006), Mission in the 21st Century: Exploring the Five Marks of Global Mission (ed with Andrew Walls, London: DLT, 2008), Life-Widening Mission: Global Anglican Perspectives (Oxford: Regnum, 2012), Mission in Context (with John Corrie, Ashgate, 2012), The Pioneer Gift (with Jonny Baker, London: Canterbury Press, 2014), Mission on the Road to Emmaus, (with Steve Bevans, London: SCM, 2015), Pioneering Spirituality (with Jonny Baker, London: SCM, 2015) and Missional Conversations (with Colin Smith, London: SCM, 2018). Her research interests are in the areas of contextual theologies, world Christianity, feminist theologies and hospitality.

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