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

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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
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 Saskatchewantheological college is hoping that a new plan and a new principal will help setit back on track.

This spring, the College of Emmanuel & St. Chad, which almost ceased operating in2013, announced it had hired a new principal—the first person to take on theposition on a permanent basis since it was eliminated, also in 2013, as acost-cutting measure.

Effective August 1, Dean Iain Luke, formerassistant professor of theology and director of the Institute for AnglicanMinistry at St. John’s College, Winnipeg, will be Emmanuel & St. Chad’s newprincipal.

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

The college’s origins go back to 1879, andit has been the officiallyaccredited theological college for the ecclesiastical province of Rupert’s Landsince 1967. In recent years, however, Emmanuel & St. Chad has been, likemany theological colleges across North America, facing the twin difficulties ofdwindling finances and declining enrolment, Hawkins says. There has also been growingcompetition from dioceses with their own schools of ministry or alternativeprograms for training and discernment.

In 2006, the collegesold its buildings to the University of Saskatchewan, but even this didn’tsolve all its financial problems, Hawkins says. In 2012, its council announced the college would suspend operations thefollowing year, while it would work to come up with a three-year restructuringplan. In 2013, however, the council said it would continue operating for the timebeing, by working with its partner schools in the Saskatoon Theological Union(STU)—St. Andrew’s College (United Church of Canada) and the LutheranTheological Seminary.

By this time, theprincipal’s position had been eliminated, and the faculty was down to a singleprofessor.

Things are now lookingmore hopeful for the college, Hawkins says. Since 2014, it has been working ona plan to offer its licentiate of theology (LTh) mostly remotely, online, withthe 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 theresidential emphasis, to a more online or distance education—but also to beingresponsive to the particular needs of dioceses throughout the province,”Hawkins says. “Some of Iain’s work will be teaching, but the majority of itwill be trying to get this program organized.”

The college hopes thisprogram will be available for students next January.

In the meantime,Emmanuel & St. Chad’s, despite having no professors for a year now, hasbeen able to continue offering its more traditional master of divinity (MDiv) programwith 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 fivestudents enrolled next year.

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

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

Luke’s academic credentials include notonly an MA in theology from Oxford University, but a PhD in economics fromCambridge. Since 2007, he has been serving as dean of the diocese of Athabascaand rector of St. James’ Cathedral in Peace River, Alta.

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

“One of the gifts of the college has beenthat 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 ministrycould teach urban ministry that was thrilling, so I think there’s also a sensehere of going back to some of our rural roots as a college, and affirming andfocusing on the particular context we’re in.”

For his part, Luke says the chance toprovide theological education in the local context of the prairies is a bigpart 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 andurban that’s a part of our life here,” he says. “The college in Saskatoon iskind of the one place where that’s really been allowed to flourish in terms ofleadership development in our church, so the opportunity to be part of that andparticularly to renew that now as the college looks to new ways to serve thatconstituency is really appealing to me.”

Luke says he’s also excited to be playing arole in the college’s development of new programs, and new ways of deliveringthose programs.

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

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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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