Our diocese has struggled to find the right way to educate and train persons for ordained ministry as non-stipendiary priests in small rural communities. The canons of the church assert that a priest is a priest is a priest - that we do not have two classes of ordained clergy, one above the other. What the canons assert does not square with the reality of seminary educated clergy serving in financially healthy congregations and locally ordained clergy serving without pay in small congregations of limited means. There is a two class system, and it’s obvious. But we could do a better job bringing them closer together academically.
For some years we trained those to be locally ordained through a diocesan program managed with great enthusiasm while producing inconsistent results. That has changed. We have made a connection with the TEEM (Theological Education for Emerging Ministries) program at Pacific Lutheran Theological Seminary through our own denomination’s Church Divinity School of the Pacific. TEEM provides a three year curriculum built around relatively brief on site sessions three times a year, and year round study assignments that, in the end, approximate the essentials of a seminary education. The key to TEEM’s success is that each student must have a qualified local mentor who agrees to meet weekly with the student as an extension of the faculty.
Somehow I ended up as a mentor, and have just returned from a couple of days on campus learning what that means. I found what it doesn’t mean. It doesn’t mean “Hey Steve, will you be a mentor for this guy? It won’t take much time or be very demanding.” Moreover, there are some aspects of the program that are specifically Lutheran. We will skip those and substitute Episcopal/Anglican classes in their stead through CDSP.
As for my student, he is sixty years old serving as a lay pastor for a small congregation a hundred and thirty miles away from me. We meet by Skype, which seems to work fairly well. He’s just starting this three year odyssey, and we shall see how it goes. His most recent foray into academic study was forty years ago in high school, and his foundation in bible and church hisotry is what he learned in Sunday School. Nevertheless, he is enthused, energetic and willing to do the work. Between the two of us we can make it.
In the end we will still have a two tiered clergy system, no matter what the canons say, but those who are locally ordained will have a far greater understanding of what it means to be a Christian, a priest, and a pastor firmly anchored in scripture, tradition and reason. They will be more fully equipped for the work to which they have committed. It promises to be a huge improvement over past practices.