A New Stage in Ecumenical Theological Education

Since 1969 students of theology at Trinity College have benefited from a unique and remarkable educational partnership with the Jesuit Theological College and what is now the Uniting Church Theological College. Students from each college and tradition were to be taught by the others, without exchange of fees; more than just financial generosity to each other, this signalled a commitment to scholarship and ecumenism that has had few parallels in the world. The United Faculty of Theology became an associated teaching institution of the Melbourne College of Divinity, and pioneered the coursework Bachelor of Theology degree. The UFT was however never incorporated as a distinct structure, but technically remained an informal arrangement between the three Colleges.

Today came the formal announcement that the UFT will cease to operate at the end of 2014. This is a sad outcome in many respects, but there is much that is positive that will not be lost from the change. Here I want to reflect on some of the background from Trinity’s perspective, and to consider issues that remain for us all in the work of theological education, denominationally and ecumenically too.

Changes in the Colleges
In recent years each of the three partner Colleges has faced changing circumstances and new challenges. Most starkly the Jesuit Theological College has been affected by a significant downturn in Australian vocations. The Uniting Church Theological College, funded by a denominational structure which had historically been deeply committed to theological education but has had significant and very public financial issues, has faced hard questions about costs and benefits.

Trinity, too, has faced challenges. While not a department of the church, the changing reality of Australian Anglicanism has impacted the Theological School. There are now few young and single resident candidates, and more part-time and mature age students, often still in discernment (most of whom have, however, sought ordination at some point). The Dioceses of the Victorian Province, led by Melbourne, support us not quite to the extent of one staff position. We are dependent on significant support from the wider operations of Trinity College, as well on philanthropic support from individuals and parishes.

Independent Students, Dioceses, the University
The environment in which we do the work of theological education has also changed in a number of ways.

Over time, the centre of gravity in the UFT had shifted. Students of the three constituent colleges were originally the whole student body, but for very good reasons the UFT began to admit private or independent students who were not (or not yet) seeking ordination. These included considerable numbers from the traditions of the three Colleges themselves, but who unlike College students were charged tuition fees that supported a growing central UFT office. Over time, a considerable number of Anglicans who were eventually to seek ordination came to enrol initially as independent students rather than through Trinity, lessening their exposure to specifically formational elements of theological education. And these independent students, channeled into that category by a somewhat narrow sense of what College students had to be (i.e., ordinands or professed religious), actually became a majority of the student body.

While College students had for decades paid token or no tuition fees to the UFT (and only administrative capitation charges to the MCD), in 2004 the Melbourne Diocese determined that all its ordination candidates should now do so and make use of the FEE-Help program, which like HECS allows students to borrow the cost of tuition fees. This was an important step that not only provided a new funding source for Trinity, but helped to focus our attention on the importance of increasing enrolments and on having an impact on Melbourne Anglicanism wider than the training of clergy for catholic-minded parishes. It did however put Trinity’s students on a different footing from those of the other two Colleges, who paid no fees and typically received more material support.

Last but not least, the Melbourne College of Divinity, once a rather “light-touch” accrediting body, became more and more a central University administration. It attracted research funding, including support for doctoral candidates in its Colleges, and expected the Colleges more and more to account for their programs relative to wider educational regulations and standards. This process culminated in University status for what is now the University of Divinity in 2012. The new University meanwhile was signalling that it would require clearer accountability from its affiliates around their financial and organisational stability, among other things. The UFT - organisationally not a legal entity with whom an agreement could even be made - posed some anomalies.

What Now?
These changing realities led to different responses among the member Colleges of the UFT.

Trinity has for some time affirmed that access to formational experience - worship, spiritual direction, field education, and denominational as well as ecumenical forms of advice - should be available equally to students with different goals, tailored according to their specific needs. We have long stated that the “independent” student should be an exception allowed for, rather than a norm, and have thus been enrolling more Anglican students at Trinity, regardless of their place in the ordination process.

We thus proposed that each College of the UFT should henceforth be affirmed as a constituent of the University, not merely through the central and legally-intangible UFT itself. We also felt it was insufficient to celebrate the ecumenical character of the UFT as an end in itself, when there were increasing possibilities in the wider University of Divinity - which now includes Lutherans, Copts and others as well as Anglicans, Roman Catholics and Uniting Church - that could benefit our students.

Neither the Uniting Church Theological College, which has a more immediate governance nexus to its denomination and is funded to train its candidates, nor our Jesuit colleagues, with their mission focussed specifically on members of the Society of Jesus, had the same incentives for direct College affiliation with the University. This became a sticking point in our conversations. Some of our ecumenical partners were concerned at the growth of Trinity’s student body relative to those who had been “independent”, not least because Trinity’s faculty had historically been the smallest contributor to the whole. Ultimately our partners expressed an unwillingness to continue the arrangements to teach Trinity students without fees. Alternative proposals, including one by us to share all costs and revenues equally, were not favoured.

The recent news that the Jesuit Theological College will cease to operate in its present form has made some of these issues moot. While we hope there will be ways, yet to be determined, in which our Jesuit colleagues will continue to contribute to the life of the University of Divinity, the envisaged end or departure of JTC also means the end of the UFT as we have known it.

The 2014 academic year has been one of transition. Both we and our Uniting Church colleagues have been granted status as Colleges of the University of Divinity. Both will continue to teach the UFT students whom we have historically known as “independent”, and will seek to continue the UFT’s tradition of academic excellence and ecumenical cooperation, in new and distinctive ways. We hope that Trinity students will continue to study with our Uniting Church colleagues, but also at other campuses of the University of Divinity that provide wider denominational and theological perspectives.

The passing of the UFT in its known form is certainly cause for sadness, but especially for gratitude for these many years of fruitful cooperation. We now stand on the verge of a new period of ecumenical theological education, characterised not just by the local cooperation of three Colleges in Parkville, but by the growing cooperation of a larger number of denomination Colleges across Melbourne and beyond it, in a strong ecumenical University. To our ecumenical colleagues, our students, and God, we give thanks.


From Trinity to Yale

Today both Trinity and Yale will be announcing my resignation as Warden from the end of July to take up a new appointment as Dean and President of the Berkeley Divinity School at Yale and Professor of Anglican Studies at Yale Divinity School. It's a day of mixed emotions (with more to come); the two formal announcements follow.

From Trinity:

A message from the Chairman of the Board of Trinity College

I wish to inform you that late last week Professor Andrew McGowan tendered his resignation as Warden of Trinity College, in order to take up the role of Dean and President of the Berkeley Divinity School—an Episcopal (Anglican) seminary founded in 1854 and affiliated with Yale since 1971—and an appointment as Professor of Anglican Studies at the Yale Divinity School. Whilst obviously disappointing for Trinity, this is an exciting opportunity for Andrew, and he will leave us with the College in a very strong position from which to manage the transition to a new Warden.

Yale has requested that Andrew commence at the beginning of August 2014, to coincide with their academic year, and the Trinity Board has agreed to this timing. An international search for the eighth Warden of Trinity College will now commence, and a subcommittee of the Board has been appointed to oversee the process. Mr Campbell Bairstow, the Dean and Deputy Warden, will be acting Warden in the interim, a role he has filled previously, while Andrew was on leave for a semester in 2012. I have every confidence that that the College will be in good hands during this time of transition.

Over the next few months, we will have a number of opportunities to acknowledge and celebrate Andrew’s very significant contribution to the life of this College, both as Warden over the past seven years, and earlier as Director of the Theological School. Andrew and his senior colleagues have led Trinity to a position of financial security and strong demand for its educational offerings. This positive base has enabled the Board to set more ambitious targets for the College, and pursue its goal of providing a world-class, transformative education to as many able and talented students as possible.

Under Andrew’s leadership, Trinity’s achievements have included the creation of the Centre for Advanced Studies and the Careers and Further Studies Office, the restructuring of the Theological School with the ambition of direct affiliation to the University of Divinity, the renovation of the Dining Hall and a number of residential buildings, and the securing of a formal agreement between the University of Melbourne and the College regarding our Pathways programs, the first such agreement since Foundation Studies began almost twenty-five years ago.

I know you will join me in wishing Andrew the very best for this next chapter in his career as a senior academic and leading educator, and in extending those same wishes to Andrew’s wife, Dr Felicity Harley McGowan. Andrew and Felicity have served the College very well indeed, and we shall miss them.

Mr Jim Craig Chairman of the Board
And from Yale:
Contact: Jared.Gilbert@yale.edu
For Immediate Release: April 7, 2014
Yale appoints Andrew McGowan as Dean of Berkeley Divinity School

New Haven, CT— Andrew McGowan has been appointed President and Dean of the Berkeley Divinity School and Associate Dean for Anglican Studies at Yale Divinity School. McGowan is currently Warden of Trinity College at The University of Melbourne, and will join the Berkeley administration on August 1, 2014.

An Anglican priest and historian, McGowan studied Classics and Ancient History at the University of Western Australia, Theology at Trinity College, the University of Melbourne, and Christianity and Judaism in Antiquity at the University of Notre Dame, where he received his Ph.D. He was a lecturer at the University of Notre Dame Australia, and was Associate Professor of Early Christian History at the Episcopal Divinity School in Cambridge, MA. In 2003 he became Director of Trinity College Theological School, in which he is also Joan Munro Professor of Historical Theology. He has been Warden of Trinity since 2007, and is currently a Canon of St Paul's Cathedral, Melbourne.

“I am thrilled that Andrew will be joining us. He is a talented scholar, a capable and experienced administrator, and a dedicated priest,” said YDS Dean Gregory E. Sterling. “He and his wife Felicity will enrich our community and help to build bridges to the Episcopal Church in the US and the Anglican Communion worldwide.”

McGowan’s scholarly work focuses on the social and intellectual life of early Christian communities. His most recent books include Ascetic Eucharists: Food and Drink in Early Christian Ritual Meals (Oxford: Clarendon, 1999) and God in Early Christian Thought (Leiden: Brill, 2009), as well as the forthcoming Ancient Christian Worship (Baker Academic, 2014).

Berkeley trustee Stephen Carlsen, who chaired the search committee, stated, “Andrew brings together first class scholarship, practice and service in the global setting of the Anglican Communion. In our interviews we found a personable, articulate leader to advance the vision of Berkeley Divinity School.”

The search committee began its work in September 2013 led by Carlsen, with close support of Dean Sterling. A draft vision statement of the BDS Board of Trustees, which prioritizes vibrant community, ecumenical learning, and innovative models for ministry, guided the committee.

David R. Wilson, the incoming chair of the Berkeley Board of Trustees, explained, “Andrew is a visionary with the skills and drive to take the vision of Berkeley Divinity School, refine it, and then turn it into action that can be transformative within Berkeley, the Episcopal Church, and the Anglican Communion.”

McGowan will join the divinity school at a time of great challenge and opportunity for the global church, and theological institutions are called upon as leaders in navigating these changes.

“McGowan recognizes that the integration of Berkeley with YDS and Yale makes this place a remarkable resource for the institutional Church as it faces major change,” commented Carolyn Sharp, Professor of Hebrew Scriptures.

McGowan succeeds outgoing dean Joseph H. Britton, who served 11 years in that capacity.

Founded in 1854 as a seminary of the Episcopal Church, Berkeley affiliated with Yale Divinity School in 1971, and is the only Episcopal seminary to be fully associated with a major research university. For more information about BDS or YDS, please visit: berkeleydivinity.yale.edu and divinity.yale.edu.


Frank Patrick Henagan (1933-2014)

One of those alumni of the College who sent us reflections on Frank Henagan's time at Trinity was honest enough to observe that there had been those students and staff who initially sneered at or dismissed Frank. Frank did not, after all, possess the gifts which are most clearly valued in an academic community - or at least did not seem to, because in fact as we have already been reminded Frank had more by way of formal educational achievement than most people knew, having matriculated and studied at RMIT. Nevertheless his unprepossessing demeanour, and the predominantly manual labor to which he unstintingly applied himself at Trinity, did not fit the most prevalent conceptions of wisdom and education or its fruits.

Wisdom and knowledge are not the same thing however; nor are wisdom and education, even if they are related. Most of us came over time to see that Frank was a wise man. This was true not only in regard to the practical wisdom that was easy to see in his great love of sport and in matters of physical fitness; it was also the case with regard to various larger and smaller matters of human endeavour and character - his pithy assessments of people, ideas, and projects were always worth attending to. I remember the time when at a Senior Management Team, confronted with some imponderable matter, Don Markwell suggested “Let’s ask Frank!”. And we did.

Wisdom is more than an attribute about which to celebrate or eulogise Frank, however. Wisdom is something which points to the deepest truths of our reality. It is the subject of a set of writings in the Bible’s Old Testament in particular, including parts of the Psalms as well as the books of Job and of Proverbs, not so well known perhaps because they are not stories, and are focussed not on the miraculous or the other spectacular manifestations of the divine in human life, but on those things learned from experience and from observation of creation itself, accessible to all, if only grasped by few. Wisdom, we are also told, comes from God and has something of divinity about it.

The model human being in this Wisdom Literature is not the prophet, priest, or king, but the sage - the wise man or woman who understands the realities of life, not least its limitations and its vicissitudes, makes choices accordingly, and so not only lives well but fosters the well-being of others.

Psalm 90, which we have heard sung today somewhat laconically representing this view, reminds us that we are like the quick-growing grass of summer, and that our years number "threescore years and ten” or for the strong perhaps “four score”, and praying “so teach us to number our days that we may apply our hearts to wisdom”.

Frank of course, happily for us, was strong enough indeed to get his four score; but for a community like this one, focussed on excellence and suffused with privilege, Frank Henagan was indeed a sage, a living reminder of what true wisdom is, and of how different it might be from the mere accumulation of learning or the glib rhetoric of success. The apostle Paul in today’s first reading claims that "God’s foolishness is wiser than human wisdom, and God’s weakness is stronger than human strength.” George Herbert  speaks of the recognition that the simplest, least glamorous activity could, when God was seen in it, and when done for the sake of others, become “drudgery divine”.  Wisdom and its attendant divinity consist not of the spectacular, but of the real.

Many were challenged to emulate Frank’s self-discipline, or to count their blessings, or by heeding his advice learned numerous other sound and practical things about themselves and life. The most abiding lesson of Frank’s wisdom to us all however might be theological - a reflection of the insight that Wisdom is not merely benign or even precious, but relates us to the mystery of God in creation, which although we experience it in many ways and through many good things, is never to be confused with them.

Frank quietly but surely placed his own faith in this claim - and proclaimed it more than once in this Chapel as an unlikely but profound preacher. The gifts that he shared with us belong to and point to a truer wisdom, a more profound beauty, and a more ancient love than any we yet know in full. As we pray that we too may so number our days that we may apply our hearts to wisdom, we commend Frank, and ourselves, to this eternal love, this transcendent beauty, and this holy wisdom.