This interview originally appeared in the March 2018 edition of the Anglican Montreal
The Rev. Dr. Jesse Zink became principal of Montreal Diocesan Theological College (“Dio”) on August 1, 2017. Born and baptized in Vancouver, Jesse grew up in Massachusetts and was ordained in the Diocese of Western Massachusetts in the Episcopal Church. He comes to Montreal by way of Cambridge, England where he has been living, working, and studying for the last five years. He answered some of our questions about his work and his vision for the college.
Why is theological education important to you?
We hear the word discipleship a lot in the church these days—and for good reason. Disciple comes from a word that means “to learn.” As Christians, we are called to go deeper into our faith and learn more about the love of God for us, for one another, and for the whole created world. Theological education is vital to the church because it is in theological education that we are led deeper into growth in discipleship and can grow together into full maturity as followers of Jesus Christ. Without theological education, the church can’t possibly hope to make disciples of Jesus.
I have been fortunate to have had the opportunity to travel widely in the churches of the Anglican Communion. Wherever I have gone—Nigeria, Rwanda, China, South Sudan—I have always sought out theological colleges. I find in theological colleges a wonderful combination of commitment to the church and its mission but also a healthy willingness to be thoughtfully critical of the church and think faithfully about how the church needs to continue to change to proclaim the gospel of Christ. I want to be part of that energy, that critique, and that thinking and that’s why I, personally, have long felt called to the ministry of theological education.
What attracted you to Dio specifically?
Dio has a number of strengths. We have a rich history and tradition stretching back to 1873. I love walking into our chapel and feeling the prayers of so many people in that place over so many years. We have a number of important and well established relationships—including with McGill and the other colleges of the Montreal School of Theology—that allow us to offer a wide variety of programs. But we also have a fair amount of flexibility that means we can adapt our programs as the church continues to change into what God is calling us to be in this generation.
What goals do you have for the college in the next few years?
I believe that Dio has an opportunity to grow in two directions. First, I think that we can deepen our relationships across the diocese. It is a great benefit to a diocese to have a theological college within it. We send our students out as interns in local churches and our programs can enrich people nearby. So I want to learn more about how the college can support and enrich the ministries of this diocese. But I also think that the college needs to grow beyond the diocese. With our low costs, flexibility, and strong relationships, we have a great opportunity to attract students from beyond this diocese and this province. So I’ll be working to raise the profile of the college within Canada and beyond to continue to recruit new students so that they can learn about mission and ministry in the urban, secular, and pluralistic context of the city of Montreal.
What are the biggest opportunities and obstacles for the college?
Like many other institutions in the church, we confront serious medium- to long-term financial challenges. If we keep going the way the college has been going for the last many years, we will work our way out of business. That is to no one’s benefit. More significantly, we need to demonstrate to people that investing in theological education is of benefit to the church. Research shows that people who prepare for priestly ministry in a residential setting (as opposed to a distance-setting) are more likely to continue to be in ministry five, ten, and twenty years after ordination. There is an upfront cost but it pays off in the long run for the church. When lay people have taken our courses, they have consistently told me how enriching they have found it and how it has transformed their membership in church. We need more people like that who are willing to take a risk and deepen their faith and grow in discipleship.
As the landscape of theological education changes in Canada and North America, there are great opportunities as well. Our combination of tradition and academic rigour, combined with our flexibility and adaptability, puts us in a good position, I believe, to thrive in the current climate of theological education. In order to do that, we’ll need the support of many people in this diocese and beyond who are convinced that a thriving church puts theological education at its centre.
How have you found Montreal? (other than cold!)
After college, I spent a couple of years living in rural Alaska so I’m delighted to have weather that reminds me of that time in my life and to live a place where outdoor activities in the winter are so commonplace. I’ve also really enjoyed getting to know some of the diversity of places in this diocese—from the Eastern Townships to the Ottawa River to border communities near New York to the Laurentians—and look forward to more exploration as the seasons continue to change.