Principal Maylanne Maybee writes:
Twenty five people from across the country (and one guest from the US) gathered at St. Benedict’s Centre in Winnipeg from January 28 to 30 for a consultation about CCS’s current curriculum and new directions for our program.
As the incoming Principal, it seemed to me timely to convene this event, at a moment of relative strength and stability in the life of CCS. The core Diploma program we currently offer builds on radical principles of education, ministry, and social justice forged in the 1980s, and reflects a community based model that was developed and consolidated in the 1990s. Since then, CCS has moved to Winnipeg, adapted to incremental budget cuts, restructured its learning circles, and reduced its teaching staff. We made changes and improvements as a result of a program evaluation in 2004, and in 2009 implemented recommendations that allowed the program to continue with diminishing resources. The consultation offered a good opportunity to redirect our vision, our desires, our attention to what is happening around, outside, and ahead of us.
Financial support from the Anglican Foundation, The United Church of Canada, the Montreal Fund for the Diaconate, and the Western Field Based Memorial Fund of CCS, made the consultation possible. In June I was delighted to learn that Pat Thompson, an experienced consultant from Toronto, and Andrew Reesor-McDowell, former moderator of the Mennonite Church of Canada, were willing to serve as our consulting and facilitating team. Since October 2012 they have been working closely with the planning team, made up of Marcie Gibson, Integrating Year student, Ann Naylor, program staff, Walter Deller, Central Council member who also sits on the Program Committee, Lori Stewart, also a member of the Program Committee, and me.
Together we discussed the purpose and agenda, designed the event, identified invitees, and wrote documents about our program to inform and stimulate reflection. We also conducted and recorded interviews with a range of key informants who were unable to attend, but whose thoughtful responses added unexpected depth and detail to the process. Andrew Reesor-McDowell said this was probably one of the best planned events in which he has participated.
Program staff, Committee members, and students mingled with invited guests, selected on the basis of their expertise in theological education, adult education, intercultural engagement, and digital technology. (For a list of participants, see the bios developed by Scott Douglas).
Ted Dodd coordinated participants to lead worship in United, Anglican, Lutheran, Quaker and Aboriginal Spiritual traditions. These times of prayer and song complemented three very rich reflections given by Council member Walter Deller, a biblical scholar in his own right, on the Song of Deborah, the Song of Hannah, and the Song of Mary. These three Biblical stories of women who demonstrated resistance to patriarchy; who acted to empower their communities; and who sang songs of reversal and transformation, created the groundwork for reflecting on the contributions of CCS and diakonia to the wider Church.
The hope of the planning team was that participants would contribute their best ideas as CCS enters its next planning phase. In particular, I wanted to learn about (1) whether there were pedagogical or theological developments that would enrich our curriculum, (2) new technologies that could enhance the delivery or our program, and (3) partnerships we might initiate or strengthen to ensure that the resources of CCS were widely known and used.
It’s one thing for CCS to ask questions, but people who came also had questions and suggestions of their own. It made for lively and not always comfortable conversation.
The opening discussion focused on perceptions about CCS: was it seen as primarily diaconal, primarily United Church, primarily drawing students from west of Ontario? Who held what perceptions? How accurate were they? Were they an asset or a liability for the future of CCS? Questions about perceptions shifted quickly into questions about what was meant by “diaconal”? How do we honour our longstanding commitments to education rooted in diakonia, liberation theology, and feminism while ensuring appropriate attention to other “isms”?
The next session moved the conversation to the program delivery: is CCS making the best use of technology? One participant suggested that CCS has always made good use of technology (such as telephone trees and cross-Canada conference calls), and that what we were talking about was the best use of new technology as a tool for broadening our reach. Julie Lytle counseled us to think carefully about what we were doing and why before getting too caught up in the technical details of webinars, on-line courses, or meeting by Internet.
A third theme concentrated on partnering with other schools and initiatives. We were cautioned that being a partner meant that there would be give and take, that each party would be changed by the relationship.
We explored what it would mean to strengthen and deepen relationships with the Sandy-Saulteaux Spiritual Centre, the Anglican Church of Canada, and the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Canada, and to consider new partnerships.
On the last morning, Pat Thompson gave a nuanced and detailed overview of what she had heard throughout. We spent time responding to one participant’s challenge to think of CCS as a business: what business are we in? Who are the owners? The customers? If monasteries once sustained themselves on the proceeds of honey, cheese, or strong drink, what economic activities could CCS offer? Though some bristled at the “business” image, it got people’s creative juices flowing. We were grateful that Bishop Mark MacDonald could join us for that final session, ending the morning with a note of wisdom and appreciation for the gifts of creation and the gifts of the Gospel.
My goals for convening the consultation were to imagine future directions for the content, delivery, and partnerships of CCS’s program, and to seek guidance on what incremental steps to take in order to move toward such a future. I became aware, from listening to Pat’s summary of people’s feedback, ideas, and questions, that the next step was to deepen and expand the conversation, but with greater clarity about the questions, and stronger assurance of who are companions are.
What happens now? The consulting team will write a detailed report with suggested directions that will then go the Program Committee and from there to the Central Council as part of our strategic planning for the next five years. Thanks to those who came, to those who listened, and those who helped us do both.