The Rev. Gwenda Wells is not formally an alumna of MDTC, she has a long history with the college, not least of all having served as Ecumenical Chaplain at McGill University. She currently serves as rector of the parish of St Barnabas in St Lambert in the Diocese of Montreal.
I am a friend rather than an alumna of the College. However, thanks to years of connection with its students and alumni, I felt drawn to come out and support the Alumni Association. Partly, I suppose, I came because it just feels good to be around those halls of learning, with their atmosphere of community, worship and challenging studies. Partly, I chose to join in because I feel a theological college is such a vital ‘nerve centre’ in the life of a diocese. It provides us with thoughtful and pastorally intelligent clergy. It nourishes us splendidly and joyfully by sending out the ‘rookies’ to our parishes and missions – how can I ever forget my mornings at St Michael’s Mission with In Ministry student Ralph Moore, just hanging out with pots of paint in the presence of some of society’s fragile – and often very gifted – outsiders? Or one Sunday with Rhonda Waters, when she told us about the gift and challenge of parenthood: ‘Gradually, we realized we now had a young scientist in our midst, studying our every move for information about life’.
Finally, the theological college in our midst keeps before us the importance of reflecting prayerfully and intelligently on our experiences. The importance of what Ralph was doing at the Mission was not just that he met with those men and women heart to heart, but that he had the opportunity to reflect on that experience afterwards. Theological colleges give people the tools to look at all kinds of life experiences, their own and those of others, through a ‘God lens’. Where was God in that situation? Did I feel the Holy Spirit at work? Does that moment remind me of any gospel story, of how Jesus might have responded, or of any other biblical message? The art of theological reflection is one of the building blocks for every good sermon and every pastoral occasion. Consider these words from the St Paul to Timothy, about the great responsibility of being a preacher: ‘Follow the pattern of the sound words which you have heard from me, in the faith and love which are in Christ Jesus; guard the truth that has been entrusted to you by the Holy Spirit who dwells within us’. Theological colleges – our own dear Dio among them – teach students how to be guardians of the truth entrusted to each by the Holy Spirit who dwells in us. They learn to do this not just through books and writing essays, but also by learning to read life and ministry as parables.
The great Swiss theologian Karl Barth talked about the word of God being expressed to the believer in different degrees. Most centrally, he says, we know the Word through the pages of Scripture and the Church. From that centre, we move out to other concentric spheres, first to the Word of God as we experience it in the whole mix of people, cultures and events influenced in some measure by the Gospel, then out to the purely secular sphere beyond. Barth calls these ‘secular parables’ which point us to the Word of God as truly as does the Bible. (Church Dogmatics IV,3,1) We might think about the student at St Michael’s Mission studying the Word not only in the classroom, but also in the gritty atmosphere of the Mission, and beyond, in his analysis of the conditions that are causing homelessness in our society. Everywhere, we are called to ‘read the Word’ expressed in this wonderful, crazy, burdened world. That becomes the template for all our ministry.