Perspectives for the theological education and continuing education

Consultation of CPCE churches in Strasbourg concerning continuing education in theology

From 12 to 15 November 2015, 42 representatives of Protestant churches from 13 European countries met at the Centre Culturel St. Thomas in Strasbourg for a consultation about "Perspectives for the theological education and continuing education in the Community of Protestant Churches in Europe". This consultation had been organized by the Community of Protestant Churches in Europe (CPCE) in cooperation with the German Protestant Church (EKD). It constitutes a central element in a consultation process, which is based on the document "Training for the Ordained Ministry in the Community of Protestant Churches in Europe" which has been passed by the CPCE General Assembly in Florence in 2012. The input of this document, especially in the field of continuing education of pastors, shall be taken up and developed further.


The participants exchanged reports about challenges, organization and emphases in the substance of continuing education in their respective countries and churches. Two topical presentations (Prof. Dr. Beate Hofmann / Wuppertal and PD Dr. Detlef Dieckmann-von Bünau / Pullach) were dedicated to the didactical concept of continuing education in theology, considering its European horizon as well. Besides, a visit to the Council of Europe and a conversation with Yulia Pererva, the head of its Democratic Citizenship and Human Rights Education Unit, were part of the program.


Central aspects of continuing education for pastors were developed in working groups and plenary discussion. The participants shared the conviction that the ordination of ministers obligates churches to provide continuing education. A high-quality continuing education will strengthen the attractiveness of the profession as pastor and the joy in practicing this profession. Continuing education is an essential component to further develop and promote pastoral identity and the appreciation of pastors. The churches thereby face up to their obligation for individual and personnel development.


The contexts and conceptions of continuing education in the various countries and regions of Europe proved to be extraordinarily diverse. Nevertheless, the churches are facing comparable challenges. The different processes of transformation at the economic, social, cultural, mental and religious levels in today's Europe require corresponding changes in the continuing education of pastors. In reflecting on how to improve continuing education in the future, examples from other countries are fruitful and inspiring. Especially mentioned was the increasing interest in good and interdisciplinary theology that is capable of dialogue. There was a consensus that interdependent relations between academic theology and pastoral practice should be strengthened in both directions.


The programs of continuing education need to pay more attention to today's findings in the research on learning processes. This includes the insight that students are subjects of their own learning processes and that teachers and students learn together and from each other. The choice of topics should emphasizes three main points: 1.) development of strengths and intensified reflection on practice, 2.) development of specialized fields, 3.) deliberation and reassurance. During the consultation, the special significance of the first and third point became obvious. Continuing education requires an atmosphere where the participants are at ease to encounter each other with their questions and problems and to communicate eye to eye. International cooperation offers a special opportunity because it opens spaces of encounter without fixation on particular roles and ascriptions (e.g. gender, social background, confession, status). The perspective from outside promotes self-perception and a differentiated look at one's own individual and professional fields.


Enhanced networking is important among those protestant institutions and actors of continuing education whose work is based on the principle of solidarity. An internet platform should be established on the website of CPCE; it should be interactive and should document examples of good practice and reports of experiences, among others. Participation in the national programs of continuing education should generally be open to pastors from other countries, in case of need by sponsoring a partnership. Programs of continuing education across countries, which have been successfully developed in some neighboring churches, deserve further expansion; they deepen the community of churches in the various European regions. A European Summer College for pastors is desirable, which should be funded and conducted annually by one of the member churches of CPCE. The prospect was mentioned that such a Summer College might be held at the occasion of the 45th anniversary of the passing of the Leuenberg Agreement in 2018, organized on the Leuenberg by the Swiss member churches.


On the basis of the results gained in this consultation, a working group called by the Council of CPCE will write a more extensive text on the topic of this consultation which will further elaborate and specify more concretely the perspectives of good continuing education in theology. The text shall contain a taking stock, an understanding about some fundamental principles as well as concrete recommendations. In the course of the year 2016 it shall be sent to the member churches of CPCE for comments and, after final corrections by the working group, shall be presented to the General Assembly of CPCE in 2018 for adoption.


The participants suggested that the discussion process on questions of continuing education of pastors, opened in Strasbourg, should be continued at the appropriate time, and they favoured a Europe-wide exchange of actors in the continuing education of pastors, both at a conference- and working-level.


Strasbourg, 15 November 2015

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