John Gee, a member of the Diocese of Edmonton, is currently in Burundi, working in the Diocese of Buye for a three-month stint. We welcome this guest post to the blog.
The Diocese of Buye has operated a Bible college since the 1930s. Originally it served a catchment area including all of Burundi, Rwanda, and the eastern Congo, and was funded by the Church Missionary Society (CMS) in England. CMS discontinued its funding a few years ago, but the need for the college is as great as ever. With nearly 300 congregations, the diocese has a great and ongoing need for clergy, and the available alternatives for theological education are few. The nearest accredited Anglican seminaries are in Uganda and Kenya and the cost of going there is prohibitive for most Burundians.
This year, thanks to funding from the Diocese of Edmonton, the college is able to operate at its full capacity of 28 students for the first time in many years. Three of the students are women, which is the highest representation ever. Three of the men are in their third year and, God willing, will be ordained deacon next spring; all the others are in their first year. They are all experienced catechists from parishes throughout the diocese. Catechists are somewhat similar to lay readers and are a key component of the church in Africa, where there are never enough ordained pastors to conduct weekly services at all of the churches. Most of them are married with children, so coming to Buye for full-time education represents a considerable personal sacrifice.
The curriculum includes scripture, theology, church history, homiletics, liturgy, and pastoral training, as well as practical subjects including English, French, mathematics, health, and music. There are two full-time instructors plus a number of diocesan clergy (including the bishop) who teach individual courses. A careful process of discernment takes place throughout the three years of course work and summer placements. Some of the students will likely return to their parishes after one year as well-trained catechists; others who are found to have a vocation to the priesthood will stay for two more years and be ordained.
The college is an integral part of the Buye Hill complex which also includes the cathedral, hospital, secondary school, and residences for the bishop and other clergy, who have already noticed the renewed energy from having 28 highly committed students on site. All of them have asked me to convey their thanks to the Diocese of Edmonton for its help, which has come at a critical time and will make a lasting difference for the Diocese of Buye.