The Rev. Anderia Arok's vision of establishing continued theological education for Sudanese clergy in the Episcopal Church has expanded to include others as it comes into focus.
"There are more than 30 Sudanese Episcopal priests here in the United States," said Arok, a Sudanese priest in the Diocese of Colorado. "Since we have come here, there has been no [formal] program that has brought us together for continued training."
Arok shared his concern for the lack of education, empowerment, and support for Sudanese clergy with the Rev. Carmen Guerrero of the Diocese of Arizona, and their conversation soon expanded to include, among others, the Rev. Melford Holland, coordinator of the Episcopal Church's Office for Ministry Development, and the Rev. Canon Angela S. Ifill, missioner for the church's Office of Black Ministries. It culminated with 11 Sudanese and American clergy gathering July 29-31, at the Franciscan Renewal Center in Scottsdale, Arizona, to listen and brainstorm.
"These clergy defined themselves and their theological education experiences as being in need of better preparation for leadership in their particular ministries and the wider church," said Ifill. "They shared that most of the Sudanese clergy have not been formally educated and that they come from diverse ordination processes; therefore confirming a need for continuing education."
During the three-day gathering, Ifill said they designed a plan which included organizational as well as programmatic objectives and developed a strategy for moving forward.
"We talked about the issue that Sudanese priests are often called because of their leadership abilities in their communities and for obvious reasons they haven't been able to get a lot of theological education," said Holland.
They especially need it, he said, because "they are placed in new cultures in the United States" and there are specific aspects that are necessary to know in order for them to continue to work in this context and give leadership in the church.
Ifill said that during the meeting several of the clergy were assigned specific tasks that will provide information about where Sudanese clergy are serving, what their status is, and how they are being supported financially and spiritually.
This information is important, Holland said, because "some of the Sudanese priests are licensed" and "some are canonically resident."
"We will also be communicating with other potential partners as well as some possible seminaries in an effort to put this project into motion," said Ifill.
According to Holland, the group is receiving "good support" from the American Friends of the Episcopal Church of the Sudan (AFRECS) and from the Rev. Ward Ewing, convener of the counsel of seminary deans and dean and president of the General Theological Seminary in New York City.
Some of the next steps for the group include a fall gathering to: identify the Sudanese priests; listen to their wishes for ongoing education; assess their educational background; re-gathering the present team and more in February 2008 to continue planning.
"The hope is that a design for ongoing education for Sudanese priests might then emerge," said Holland.
He said an invitation would be sent to clergy to come to Chicago prior to the May 2008 national AFRECS meeting where there may be workshops for Sudanese priests that could serve as an "ongoing design for the future about how this work" and how other kinds of gatherings might be created.
"If it is true that it takes a village to raise a child, it is also true that it takes a church to raise a priest and believing that we can do all things through Christ who strengthens us, we have made a commitment to proceed in the continuing theological education of the Sudanese clergy in this country in the Episcopal Church," said Ifill.
Also attending the gathering were: the Rev. Jerry Drino, AFRECS executive vice president and Province VIII priest-in-charge of Sudanese Ministry at Trinity Cathedral in San Jose, California; Guerrero's husband, Paul Stamp; Bill Stark of Trinity Episcopal School for Ministry in Ambridge, Pennsylvania; and Sudanese clergy, Daniel Deng Kuot of the Diocese of Nebraska; Samuel Reec of the Diocese of Arizona; Zachariah Char of the Diocese of Western Michigan, and Michael Kiju Paul of the Diocese of San Diego.
"My hope is that with the proper training, whenever Sudanese clergy run a church they run it in a way that is satisfying both to the congregation and to themselves," said Arok.