The Episcopal Church of the Sudan seeks to prepare preachers, teachers, pastors, and administrators for a thriving church of well over 4 million. ECS grew dramatically through a civil war of more than twenty years’ duration; millions of Southern Sudanese were massacred or driven into exile. Now there is an urgent need to strengthen educational institutions for clergy and lay leaders, so there can be a stable peace in Southern Sudan, where the church provides most of the functional infrastructure.
The Renk Visiting Teachers Program, sponsored and coordinated by Duke Divinity School and Virginia Theological Seminary, is designed to meet that need. Our goal is to help the faculty resident at Renk Theological College in Upper Nile State to strengthen its residential training program for seminarians and also to establish a continuing education program for clergy and lay leaders. Our initial project was to establish a course of instruction in biblical languages. The first team of two Visiting Teachers traveled to Renk in early January 2005—the same week peace accords were signed—and taught an intensive two-week program in biblical Hebrew. Teams of two or three teachers now travel to Renk for intensive language courses twice each year (January and July); during the summers, teachers have been in residence for extended periods of five or six weeks. Greek instruction began in Summer 2007. As a result of this program, Renk Theological College has qualified for accreditation at the diploma level. It is the only seminary of the Episcopal Church of Sudan that offers instruction in both biblical languages. In Summer 2008, the first indigenous Hebrew teacher, Fr. Abraham Noon Jiel, was certified to give instruction at the basic (first-year) level. We are now working on the training of Greek teachers; our goal is that RTC will serve as the foremost center in ECS for the training of language teachers.
We have expanded course offerings into several other areas:
- Anglicanism (taught by the Revd Dr Jo Bailey Wells, Duke Divinity School)
- “Manna and Mercy,” an intensive week-long Bible study focusing on peace and justice (taught by Rev. Alan Storey, the Methodist Church of Southern Africa)
- Courses on Exodus, Leviticus, and the Letter to the Hebrews (by Ellen Davis and Andrew Rowell, both of Duke Divinity School)
- In Summer 2007 and again in Summer 2008, Dr. Peter Morris, M.D, MPH, M.Div. (Duke Divinity ’07), spent two weeks in Renk, working at the Church’s public health clinic and lecturing in public health.
Depending upon the level and target audience, each course is attended by fifteen to forty-five students, parish clergy (both women and men), lay leaders, and bishops.
This collaborative effort between educational institutions in Sudan and in the U.S. is experimental, yet it has already been recognized as offering a promising model for collaborative theological education, in the Anglican Communion and beyond. The pattern of partnership that has emerged between Renk and Duke/VTS could be replicated within Sudan and in other parts of East Africa. The Program bears fruit on both sides of the partnership: North American faculty, students, and churches are discovering a clarified sense of vocation and a joyful appreciation of the global church. The Episcopal Church of Sudan, isolated by two lengthy wars lasting for nearly a half century, is now taking its place in an active international exchange. His Grace Rowan Williams, Archbishop of Canterbury, visited Renk Theological College in February 2006 when he dedicated Renk’s new cathedral. As the northernmost church in Southern Sudan, that $175,000 structure is a highly visible reminder that Renk is the gateway into the South, where Christian faith has grown so remarkably under intense persecution. As a result of the Archbishop’s interest, a roundtable was convened at Lambeth Palace in February 2009 to work on consolidating and advancing ECS’s work. International (Sudan, U.K., U.S.) teams of partners have been formed in four areas: theological education, public health and nutrition, sustainable agriculture, and partnership development.