A Reflection on the Caribbean-US Forum on Theological Education and Praxis
Sitting in the upper room of the United Theological College of the West Indies in Kingston, Jamaica, Elida Quevedo, Director of the Venezuelan Center of Theological Studies (CEVET), led us in this beautiful song composed by the Chilean author and musician Violeta Parra and made famous in the voice of Mercedes Sosa, a well known Argentinian singer. It is a song that, on one of its stanzas, says the following:
(Spanish)Cambia lo superficial/Cambia también lo profundo/Cambia el modo de pensar/Cambia todo en este mundo
Cambia el clima con los años/Cambia el pastor su rebaño/Y así como todo cambia/Que yo cambie no es extraño
(English translation) The meaningless changes/The profound also changes/Ways of thinking change/Everything in the world changes
Over time the weather changes/The shepherd's herd changes/And just as everything else changes
That I change is not strange
It is to remind us that, indeed, everything changes.
Theological education is currently in a time of change – with changing churches, changing needs, changing populations, and changing resources. The Caribbean-US Forum on Theological Education and Praxis, a Caribbean Initiative sponsored pilgrimage, was an opportunity for leaders from theological institutions in the United States and the Caribbean to come together and explore ways forward. It was a time to listen, learn, and share about current realities and to dream about the future of theological education. This included times of reflection on the contexts of the Caribbean and United States, conversation around current challenges, and opportunities to explore potential partnerships.
“It has been helpful to learn about the challenges that we each face. At times, when you are acting independently, you become easily overwhelmed. However, to know there are others in the same space that you are – facing the same challenges – is helpful. We’re really not alone. It gives us an opportunity to share resources in such a way that we can use our varied gifts in the service of God.” - Oral Thomas, Acting President/Dean of Studies, Methodist Warden and Lecturer in Biblical Studies and Theological Studies at United Theological College of the West Indies in Kingston, Jamaica
“It’s been a wonderful opportunity to connect with people from the Caribbean and the United States. It’s been very enlightening to find out how theological education is done in different places and to see how dedicated people are in teaching the traditions of the faith and emphasizing the social justice dimensions of Christian faith. I think it’s really been quite inspiring to see what people are doing and to gain an appreciation to see the diversity of ways in which people come at the task of theological education.” – Mary Clark Moschella, Roger J. Squire Professor of Pastoral Care and Counseling at Andover Newton Seminary at Yale Divinity School in New Haven, Connecticut
“Theological education tends to be challenging for different reasons – particularly ecumenical theological education. It is easier to teach theological education in a particular congregation or denomination - but when you try to relate to other denominations in theological education and formation, it becomes more challenging. Also, the fact that we are facing a lot of social, political, and economic challenges like migration, violence, economic crises. These factors also make our work more challenging. But we are confident that even when we don’t know what the future holds, we know who holds the future.” - Carlos Emilio Ham, President of the Evangelical Seminary of Theology in Matanzas, Cuba
“I think this week has been a different conversation. It’s been a way to see how theological education is going through growing pains globally – and it’s not just a concern of theological institutions within the USA. It’s not good that we’re all going through these challenges, but it’s helpful to see that we’re all trying to figure out how to reach, how to teach, how to make what we do in our learning spaces more applicable to the culture.” – Stephanie Buchanon Crowder, Associate Professor of New Testament and Vice President of Academic Affairs & Academic Dean at Chicago Theological Seminary in Chicago, Illinois
“This has been such a growing experience. I’m coming out with a sense that we have a huge challenge ahead of us, but I’m also very comforted by the fact that there are many people here who share the same goals. In spite of our differences – if you look around the room you can see that we all come from different places - we are finding there are commonalities. I’m very reassured. I’ve learned a lot and I’ve also been spiritually strengthened by this experience.” – Palmira Rios, Acting Dean at the Evangelical Seminary of Puerto Rico in San Juan, Puerto Rico
After the reflections and the sharing of experiences, the group experienced a renewed strength and conviction regarding what is changing within contexts and theological approaches as well as the permanent, ongoing task of promoting a relevant theological education.
In another stanza, Violeta Parra summarizes very well:
(Spanish) Pero no cambia mi amor/Por más lejos que me encuentre/Ni el recuerdo ni el dolor
De mi pueblo y de mi gente
(English translation)But my love doesn't change/No matter how far away I am/Nor the memory nor the pain of my place and of my people
It is the pain and the suffering of our people that guide the way into a contextual theological reflection, in order to achieve a world full of peace, justice, and reconciliation. Participants are committed to this, and that does not change.
Cambia, todo cambia…