With the COTE chair, Kathy Wolf Reed, giving birth to her second child only a few days ago, I prayed for since the beginning of February that the delivery would be smooth, swift, safe, and soon! I was reminded how assuring it was for me to have medical professionals around when my partner in life, Elizabeth, gave birth to our two children who both recently celebrated birthdays. How important, health care is in general. Although we did not employ a midwife, I cannot help but appreciate the courage, skill, insight, hope, and assurance that midwives’ must bring into the birthing process.
I wonder, if midwifery as a metaphor frames what we are doing together as a the Committee on Theological Education, TEF Seminary Support Network, community in theological education in the PC(USA), and the PC(USA) more broadly? Could we midwife theological schools, theological educators, church leaders and church bodies who are giving birth to what’s next in theological education and the church? Nancy Ramsay, one our newest COTE members, has reflected on the metaphor of midwifery in the art of pastoral diagnosis. She notes,
In a culture anxious about both power and authority, (midwifery as a) metaphor offers us a way of joining caring, authentic presence and expertise while recovering the collaborative, differentiated authority … .
She goes on to say, “Childbirth can be complicated. It is never painless. Babies are not always healthy or wanted. Infertility is painfully common.” Midwives sit with the woman in labor. They are a coach to coax the baby, calm and comfort the mother by actively listening to needs, and addressing those needs often before the mother asks or thinks about them. In some contexts, globally and locally, midwives visit the mother and child after the birth and help around the house doing jobs to support the mother and newborn like washing the laundry!
Whether you are reading news from the Association of Theological Schools, The Christian Century, Christianity Today, blogs on NEXT Church, seminary mission statements, or reports to the 221st General Assembly on theological education one thing is clear; something new is being born. No one really knows who or what exactly isnext, but most who are in this conversation seem to be concerned. Some have answers based on there research and others on the same volumes of research have completely different answers.
Wendy Fletcher, professor of the history of Christianity and former principal (president) at Vancouver School of Theology and chair of the board of the Forum for Theological Education (FTE) described how she sees the future of theological education as “much lighter on its feet.”
If ever there was a day when its resources are needed in front of the change rather than behind it, that day is today. Our context is one in which traditional models of Christian practice are in decline and one in which the Spirit of God appears to blowing manifold news forms of Christian practice everywhere on the ground of our culture. Only theological education that embraces this,not as crisis but as kairos, as the opportunity that God is giving us for faithful following in this generation, will thrive.
What’s next? What is being birthed in theological education is a complicated process involving multiple powers and associations, not the least of which is accreditors. The context in which the birthing is taking place should be considered as well as the health of the mother and the child.
The story of Shiprah and Puah, the midwives for Israel, may be helpful here. Their courage and respect for God over the authority of Pharoah defined them and allowed them to foster the birth of a new generation and people that they recognized as able to multiply and become “very strong.” I also like that there were two, not just one midwife who was named. They worked together.
As we read the business before COTE, we considered how we together could give birth to what God wants to live, multiply, and be strong in theological education in the days, months, years, and generations to come. Maybe we could do the same for the church and the world as we consider the business before the 221st General Assembly being posted now to be considered June 14-12 in Detroit, MI.
Lee, back in Louisville
(The text above represents a portion of my report to the COTE, Feb. 25 at its stated meeting.)