Anglicans Learning to See with the Eyes of Christ
by Lori Stewart
This summer, I was privileged to attend two online conferences with Anglican colleagues: The Colleges & Universities of the Anglican Communion (CUAC) Annual Meeting and virtual seminar on July 7, 2021, and the Association of Anglican Deacons in Canada conference July 9-10, 2021.
The theme of CUAC seminar was “the Identity and Character of Christian Higher Education” with the Rt Rev’d Dr Rowan Williams as keynote speaker. His talk – “Inherent Connection” – can be accessed from the CUAC videos page.
While the Centre for Christian Studies is not part of CUAC, we do have values that align with its members and with the sorts of things Rowan Williams talked about: Our students come here to learn how to make connections and make sense of the world. Here there is a “universe of enquiry” where different priorities and passions are held together in tension. No one person has the truth—in community students learn from one another how to “inhabit the truth as a social endeavour”. This way of connecting demonstrates theological values to the world in relationships and in learning from one another.
Dr. Christianna Singh, one of the respondents, spoke about how important it is for higher education to prepare people for meaningful work that contributes to relationship and nation building. Prof. Rama Thirunamachandran took this point a step further when he talked about the challenges of climate change and environmental degradation. He said that Christian higher education has the “opportunity, obligation, and responsibility” to tackle these challenges in a way that goes beyond employment (a key performance indicator of higher education’s effectiveness) so that graduates are able to offer leadership in shaping society.
The discussion touched on the tension between employment and vocation; where the second is more about aspiring to “human well-being”. However, as human beings, we are prone to error in this endeavour: the folly of Residential Schools was raised as an example. This is a time to rethink our role in society as educational institutions. Spiritual grounding in Christ can only contribute to the future if our students learn how to listen more than they speak.
As part of the CUAC Annual Meeting, a document was presented called, The Identity and Character of Anglican Higher Education Institutions: A Declaration of Ideals. It can be found here: https://cuac.anglicancommunion.org/identity-and-character-declaration.aspx
It will be interesting to put this document alongside our values statements at CCS to see where we stand in relationship to these ideals for Anglican higher education.
Three days later I attended the virtual conference of the Association of Anglican Deacons in Canada (renamed Anglican Deacons Canada at this meeting). It was a time of rich worship, contemplative prayer, challenging speakers, good discussion, ecumenical greetings, members meetings, and webinars.
The most thought-provoking part of the conference for me was Archbishop Linda Nicholls’ keynote address. She spoke about the ways this pandemic has exposed how we are not healthy as a society: racism, underpaid but “essential” workers, and residential school burial sites.
The church in particular has been vilified for past actions and will be judged for what we do about it now. We are called to repent, and Deacons have an important role in confronting and moving away from colonial impulses in order to serve the world God loves. Archbishop Nicholls affirmed that the church is being called into a long season of deaconal ministry. Deacons will be the guides with their ears to the ground and the eyes of Christ.
If we take seriously Archbishop Nicholls idea of the church being in a season of deaconal ministry, what will that mean for CCS as an educational institution? Can deacons and diaconal ministers, who have been immersed in a colonial system, learn to see with the eyes of Christ?
It was amazing being in the midst of deacons, even virtually. It was a chance to “inhabit the truth as a social endeavour” and to deepen faith and ministry. Together, sharing what we were learning, asking questions, and struggling with the way forward, gave me hope for the future of the diaconate and the Christian ministry.