CCS staff person Scott Douglas reports on the first Praxis on-line gatherings. Praxis is a component of the new program structure.
The Centre for Christian Studies held its first online gatherings of students in its first Praxis year on September 18th and 20th. “Praxis” is a (kind of) new component in CCS’s diploma and certificate programs.
Program staff member David Lappano described Praxis as the “spine or backbone” of the diaconal ministries program. The introduction of greater flexibility for students gave rise to the need for something to hold all those different components together. In any given year a student can choose to enroll in one, two, three, or more theme learning circles, a practical field placement, or not, and any number of their required eight external academic courses. Hence, the Praxis component; the spine to which all the other limbs attach.
Required each school year for every active diaconal ministry student, the Praxis component asks students to do regular reflections, integrating their learning from other areas (learning circle, externals, field, etc.) into their diaconal ministry identity and practice. Students are also asked to meet regularly with a diaconal mentor, exploring the meaning and implications of diaconal calling for themselves.
Praxis students also connect with CCS staff and with other students throughout the year. Students set their own learning goals; program staff and learning partners support them in pursuing those goals. (All of these are activities that students are familiar with, from prior “theme years” and field placements. The Praxis year pulls together a lot of the activities between and around learning circles.)
One of the challenges of having a student body spread across the country, from Victoria to St. John’s, is how to create and maintain a sense of community. Some students meet face to face at learning circles in Winnipeg, but not all the students. The Praxis component seeks to nurture a sense of a broad learning community, even when participants are not in the same physical or geographical space.
On Monday evening, half of the thirty-plus students gathered for a video conference to worship, get to know each other , and, in smaller online “breakout rooms” talk about their individual contexts and learning goals. On Wednesday afternoon the other half of the students gathered.
Students were invited to send in introductory slides, with a words or pictures about themselves. We got to see Ken’s love of nature, and Lorrie’s grandchildren; Alison’s enthusiasm for canoeing, and Lisa’s for Harry Potter; John’s sense of humour, and Bri-anne’s knowledge of fictional robots. All of these things will help us get a sense of each other, even over distance and differing contexts. Both gatherings ended with a brief conversation about what will help us maintain a sense of connection.
One of the tasks of deacons and diaconal ministers is to nurture community, but increasingly we live in a world where community is not limited to one’s immediate geographic locale. Discerning the nature of community-building in the twenty-first century is the ongoing practical reflection of the Praxis year. With the online gatherings, the students are off to a good start.