In a world “becoming much more conservative and fundamentalist” Charles Sturt University’s (CSU) School of Theology “is desperately needed”, according to Rev Dr Stephen Pickard, Director of St Mark’s National Theological Centre, and Head of the School in Canberra.
The School is set to expand significantly with the signing of an agreement on Friday (24 November) with the United Theological College (UTC) in Parramatta.
The new agreement will see undergraduate numbers swell to about 500 plus, and will greatly strengthen CSU’s links with culturally diverse communities in NSW. The Uniting Church has large Korean and Pacific Islander congregations which are well represented at UTC where some teaching takes place in Korean and Tongan and where there are good library collections in these languages.
“UTC became a partner in the School of Theology for the purposes of collaboration in research and postgraduate studies back in 1999. Now CSU and St Mark’s have invited UTC to extend their participation to include undergraduate study and to develop additional graduate courses. We now have two very important institutions that have entered into a most remarkable agreement in terms of theological education in Australia,” said Dr Pickard.
The School of Theology at CSU was created in 1995 as a result of an agreement between the University and St Mark’s National Theological Centre. St Mark’s was established by the Anglican Church in 1957.
“At St Mark’s 95 per cent of the student body are not training for Anglican orders. They represent a tremendous variety of people - some I call refugees from the church who are trying to find their way back into spirituality.”
Dr Pickard, who will leave St Mark’s next year to take up an appointment as Assistant Bishop in the Diocese of Adelaide, says “St Mark’s is very ecumenical in spirit. Ours is a genuinely organic inter-dependent ecumenical approach to theology.”
Dr Pickard describes the ecumenical approach to the teaching of theology as “highly significant”.
“We have a motto within the School: Study Theology, Deepen Faith, Serve God. St Mark’s is a place for critical engagement within theology, an open, non-confessional, critical mode of engagement. And this agreement means our students will study with an even greater variety of people - men and women.
“Well over 50 per cent of the people studying with us are women. Forty years ago in the basic seminary model of education, women had a much smaller voice, if at all.”
The proposal to extend the link between UTC and CSU has received strong support from the Uniting Church presbyteries in the Riverina, as well Bathurst, Orange and Dubbo.