How do you learn about God? In classes, in discussion groups, quietly chatting, reading? Theological education never really stops as Episcopalians explore not only the great issues that affect the church as a whole but those small points when each individual sees God working in his or her life. On February 6 this lifelong learning--and teaching--process will be acknowledged and celebrated in parishes across the church.
Theological Education Sunday is a special time in the church calendar when all church members can be encouraged to search for knowledge of God and to help make educational opportunities available to people of all ages.
"Theological education occurs in congregations, diocesan schools, and special programs," noted Presiding Bishop Frank T. Griswold in a letter last fall to clergy and others across the church. "Corporate board rooms, hospital bedsides, prison cells and picket lines call can be places of revelation. We gain insight about our relationship to God when we reflect prayerfully on life's experiences in light of the Gospel."
He stressed that the new TES replaces a day in the church calendar when the church's 11 seminaries made an appeal for support. In 1982, the General Convention called on parishes and dioceses to provide regular financial support through annual contributions of 1 percent of their net disposable budget income. Each contribution was strictly voluntary.
Not only was the response weak (less than one third of churches make contributions), but the passage of the 1-percent resolution resulted in the day's diminishing importance in the life of the church, according to the church's Office for Ministry Development. In 1997, the General Convention asked the presiding bishop to designate a new Theological Education Sunday and, with the Council of Deans of the Episcopal seminaries, he chose the first Sunday in February.
"Actually, theological education doesn't have to be celebrated precisely on that Sunday," said the Rev. Lynne Grifo, associate coordinator for Ministry Development. "It can be at a more convenient time. The point is to understand how the whole church can embrace the mission of providing broad and accessible education to everyone who wants it."
Having set a date, the deans also began to explore new ways to talk about theological education as something more than seminarians in classrooms.
That marked the beginning of an ambitious video project likely to be launched in 2001. It will include a three-part video series made available to as many audiences as possible. Seminarians will be called on to present the videos and to talk about education.
The first video in the series, Grifo said, will stress the importance of theological education in Christian life and as a lifelong pursuit. The second will show examples of ongoing education in schools, churches and elsewhere, and the third will challenge audiences to think about they and their communities might become involved in the educational mission.
The project's proposal calls for videotaping at 30 sites around the country, producing supplementary materials such as directories of resources for use by parishes, and producing a large number of sets of the videos for widespread use. The deans anticipate that much of the financing for the project will be in place within coming months.
Resources for use in connection with Theological Education Sunday this year can be obtained from the Office for Ministry Development, (800) 334-7626, x6166.
--Kathryn McCormick is associate director of the Office of News and Information of the Episcopal Church.