Ecumenical theological education is strategically important to Christianity in the 21st century, stated experts at an international theological gathering that concluded this past weekend.
Participants at the fourth congress of the World Conference of Associations of Theological Institutions (WOCATI) called on churches, donor agencies and universities to help promote and fund ecumenical education, including exchange programs for teachers and students between different regions and churches.
The congress – which convened some 60 leading experts in theological education from 35 countries May 31 to June 7 in Thessaloniki, Greece – contends that ecumenical theological education is crucial for strengthening the identity of churches and facilitating ecumenical and interfaith dialogue. The theme of the six-day congress was "Theological Education: A Radical Reappraisal."
"There is an immense need for increased efforts to promote ecumenical theological education in view of the enormous challenges posed by fast growing churches, grave inequalities in access to higher theological education, and the growing trends of religious fundamentalism and fragmentation," said Dr. Dietrich Werner, coordinator of the Ecumenical Theological Education (ETE) program of the World Council of Churches (WCC).
The congress was organized by WOCATI and WCC's ETE.
Werner added that new forms of "international solidarity" and sharing for faculty development, library and curriculum improvements as well as standards for theological education are needed to meet churches' demand for well-trained theologians, pastors and church leaders.
Dr. Petros Vassiliadis, president of WOCATI, highlighted that the world conference's role was to offer a global forum for open dialogue, for the purposes of contextualization and catholicity for theological education.
During the conference, some 25 regional case studies and reports about key developments in theological education were discussed.
Among the congress's recommendations to churches, associations of theological schools and the WCC were: a greater emphasis on regional dialogue and on theological education in developing regions; and a closer cooperation between the WCC theological education programs and WOCATI.
In addition to brainstorming new theological educational perspectives, the conference also commemorated the 50th anniversary of the ETE program, which was founded as Theological Education Fund at the world mission conference of the International Missionary Council in Accra, Ghana, in 1957/1958.
Also notable was the first-time presence of the Chinese Christian Council, China's government-sanctioned Protestant church body, at the Congress.
WOCATI is a global umbrella organization bringing together some 25 regional associations of theological schools. It was inaugurated at a global conference in June 1989 in Yogyakarta, Indonesia, in cooperation with the WCC's Ecumenical Theological Education program.