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‘New beginning’ seen at struggling Emmanuel & St. Chad

By Tali Folkins on June, 22 2016
The chance to provide theological education in the local context of the prairies is a big part of what attracted him to the position of Emmanuel & St. Chad principal, says Dean Iain Luke. Photo: Contributed 

A small, struggling Saskatchewan theological college is hoping that a new plan and a new principal will help set it back on track.

This spring, the College of Emmanuel & St. Chad, which almost ceased operating in 2013, announced it had hired a new principal—the first person to take on the position on a permanent basis since it was eliminated, also in 2013, as a cost-cutting measure.

Effective August 1, Dean Iain Luke, former assistant professor of theology and director of the Institute for Anglican Ministry at St. John’s College, Winnipeg, will be Emmanuel & St. Chad’s new principal. 

“We may not have closed Emmanuel & St. Chad, but we came close, so it certainly marks a new beginning,” Michael Hawkins, bishop of the diocese of Saskatchewan and president of the college’s council, says of the appointment.

The college’s origins go back to 1879, and it has been the officially accredited theological college for the ecclesiastical province of Rupert's Land since 1967. In recent years, however, Emmanuel & St. Chad has been, like many theological colleges across North America, facing the twin difficulties of dwindling finances and declining enrolment, Hawkins says. There has also been growing competition from dioceses with their own schools of ministry or alternative programs for training and discernment.

In 2006, the college sold its buildings to the University of Saskatchewan, but even this didn’t solve all its financial problems, Hawkins says. In 2012, its council announced the college would suspend operations the following year, while it would work to come up with a three-year restructuring plan. In 2013, however, the council said it would continue operating for the time being, by working with its partner schools in the Saskatoon Theological Union (STU)—St. Andrew’s College (United Church of Canada) and the Lutheran Theological Seminary.

By this time, the principal’s position had been eliminated, and the faculty was down to a single professor.

Things are now looking more hopeful for the college, Hawkins says. Since 2014, it has been working on a plan to offer its licentiate of theology (LTh) mostly remotely, online, with the support of locally-based mentors and tutors—an offering intended, he says, as training for diaconal ministry or for locally-raised priests.

“It’s a shift of the focus away...from the residential emphasis, to a more online or distance education—but also to being responsive to the particular needs of dioceses throughout the province,” Hawkins says. “Some of Iain’s work will be teaching, but the majority of it will be trying to get this program organized.”

The college hopes this program will be available for students next January.

In the meantime, Emmanuel & St. Chad’s, despite having no professors for a year now, has been able to continue offering its more traditional master of divinity (MDiv) program with the help of a small number of adjunct faculty and by partnering with the STU. This May, it graduated four students, Hawkins says, and is hoping to have five students enrolled next year.

Hawkins says he’s known Luke since the 1980s, when they both pursued undergraduate degrees at the University of King’s College in Halifax.

“He’s a brilliant scholar, and he’s an experienced pastor,” Hawkins says. “I think those two gifts will be a real blessing to the college, and to the church as a whole.”

Luke’s academic credentials include not only an MA in theology from Oxford University, but a PhD in economics from Cambridge. Since 2007, he has been serving as dean of the diocese of Athabasca and rector of St. James’ Cathedral in Peace River, Alta.

Luke was born and raised in rural Saskatchewan, and Hawkins says he believes his small-town roots and experience in rural prairie ministry will help Emmanuel & St. Chad build on one of its historic key strengths.

“One of the gifts of the college has been that it’s provided theological education that was sensitive to the context, especially of the prairies, and I think there’s a new hope for that,” he says. “Iain presented a paper, when he came for the interview, on what rural ministry could teach urban ministry that was thrilling, so I think there’s also a sense here of going back to some of our rural roots as a college, and affirming and focusing on the particular context we’re in.”

For his part, Luke says the chance to provide theological education in the local context of the prairies is a big part of what attracted him to the position.

“I have a real attachment to the prairies, and the way of life, and the people, and that kind of combination of rural and urban that’s a part of our life here,” he says. “The college in Saskatoon is kind of the one place where that’s really been allowed to flourish in terms of leadership development in our church, so the opportunity to be part of that and particularly to renew that now as the college looks to new ways to serve that constituency is really appealing to me.”

Luke says he’s also excited to be playing a role in the college’s development of new programs, and new ways of delivering those programs.

“It’s stimulating to be part of that, and...if we do create a new pattern for training and relationship between the college and the church, that would be a really fulfilling thing to look back on and say I was part of.”

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By Tali Folkins| June, 22 2016
Categories:  News|National News

About the Author

Tali Folkins

Tali Folkins

Tali Folkins has worked as a staff reporter for the Law Times and the New Brunswick Telegraph-Journal.  His writing has appeared in The Globe and Mail and The United Church Observer

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