The Montreal School of Theology celebrates 100 years of ecumenism

 — Sept. 23, 201423 sept. 2014

by Harvey Shepherd, The Montreal Gazette

The centenary celebration Sept. 24 of what is now known as the Montreal School of Theology will probably pass almost unnoticed, at a time when religion is often a topic of strife. But in its quiet way, the anniversary is also a reminder that religious strife and debate in Montreal, Quebec and the rest of Canada have been around for a while.

The three theological seminaries on the McGill University campus — Presbyterian, United Church and Anglican — will be celebrating 100 years of what is now known as ecumenism, a word hardly anyone used in that sense a century ago.

The celebration will be a modest affair. Presbyterian College, the (United Church) United Theological College and the (Anglican) Montreal Diocesan Theological College will have open house at their respective quarters on University St. between 3:15 and 4:15 p.m. And there will be worship at 4:30 down the street in the Heritage Chapel of what was known until 1972 as Divinity Hall, but is now McGill’s Birks Building. On Friday, a select group will ponder the future of theological education in Montreal.

The Montreal School of Theology, and its member seminaries, face an uncertain future — just as they did 100 years ago. Graduating classes of each of the colleges seldom number more than a half-dozen. But they were seldom ever much bigger than that. Today, there is debate about whether a secular institution like McGill should even be involved with a theology school. But that was also true in 1914.

What is different today is that churches do not have the clout, or access to money, that they did a century ago.

Moreover, the sudden and untimely death this past June from cancer of Ellen Aitken, who as dean of the McGill Faculty of Religious Studies, and who was a key link between the school of theology and McGill, will cast a pall over this week’s anniversary.

There were examples of inter-church and even inter-faith dialogue in Montreal and the rest of the world long before the three seminaries worked out a partnership with McGill in 1912-14. But the heyday of modern ecumenism is still associated, in Montreal, with the establishment of the Montreal-based Canadian Centre for Ecumenism, which is marking its 50th anniversary this year, and with Expo 67 in Montreal in 1967, notably with its inter-church Christian Pavilion.

The sober gentlemen who in 1912-14 created a “Joint Board of the Theological Colleges affiliated with McGill University” made an arrangement that allowed for co-operation in training candidates for the ministry by the Anglican, Presbyterian, Wesleyan (Methodist) and Congregational seminaries then on the campus, while respecting the non-denominational character of the university and the traditions of the different churches. That this happened in Montreal probably owes much to the fact that McGill was non-denominational at a time when most other Canadian universities had been established by churches. The arrangement pretty well continues to this day.

A lot of water has gone over the dam since 1912-14, including the creation of the United Church of Canada in 1925 by a merger of Methodists, Congregationalists and about two-thirds of Canada’s Presbyterians. It took McGill another 30-plus years, and more internal debate, to create its Faculty of Divinity in 1948.

Through the years, nomenclature has been adjusted to keep pace with the times. The Faculty of Divinity became the Faculty of Religious Studies in 1970. The Joint Board began using the trendier title Montreal School of Theology in 2004.

Today, it has some courses of its own, in subjects like preaching and mission, and it organizes joint worship, field placements and field trips. But most teaching still takes place either in the Faculty of Religious Studies or the individual colleges.

Despite the challenges, and perhaps partly because of the commitment by at least some Presbyterians, Anglicans and United Church people to keep their scholarly flag flying in Quebec, the century-old experiment may be around for a while yet.

Posted: Sept. 23, 2014 • Permanent link:
Categories: NewsIn this article: Canada, ecumenism, Montréal, theological education
Transmis : 23 sept. 2014 • Lien permanente :
Catégorie : NewsDans cet article : Canada, ecumenism, Montréal, theological education

  Previous post: Ancien article : Anglican XI beat Vatican in historic cricket match
  Newer post: Article récent : International Anglican-Orthodox dialogue meets in Jerusalem